Startup Focuses on the Promises of 3-D Printing

Megumi Fujikawa reported in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal that, “Fuminori Ando thought he would never be able to wear traditional Japanese summer sandals. The design of his artificial leg didn’t allow it.

“Then the 41-year-old, who lost his right leg below the knee soon after he was born, heard about SHC Design Inc., a startup that is using three-dimensional printing to produce custom-made polymer limbs. Mr. Ando, who has a day job at an internet company, started working part time for SHC Design helping with patents, and it crafted him a free prosthetic leg designed to accommodate the sandal. The artificial limb includes a specially curved heel, as well as a space for the sandal’s strap between the big and second toes.”

The Journal article noted that, “The 3-D printing craze erupted a few years ago with visions of industrial parts and even whole minicars being churned out inexpensively. Much of the hype has yet to be borne out, but SHC Design’s technology suggests the promise of 3-D printing when combined with other advances.

“In the case of prostheses, the other advance was an elastic polymer that is soft to the touch and suitable for medical devices. Developed by rubber maker JSR Corp., which has teamed up with SHC Design on this project, the polymer is fed into a printer specially designed to output soft materials stably. Guided by a template that SHC Design’s software creates from a scan of the customer’s healthier leg and the desired footwear, the printer sprays out a prosthetic leg.”

The article added that, “SHC Design, which has received some subsidies from the Japanese government, plans to begin selling its system—the 3-D printer and software—as soon as next April in the Philippines and Japan, said operating chief [Yutaka] Tokushima. It will cost about $2,000, he said. A scanner is also required and must be purchased from another provider.”

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