Comparing additive manufacturing technologies for customised wrist splints

Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to compare four different additive manufacturing (AM) processes to assess their suitability in the context of upper extremity splinting. Design/methodology/approach – This paper describes the design characteristics and subsequent fabrication of six different wrist splints using four different AM processes: laser sintering (LS), fused deposition modelling (FDM), stereolithography (SLA) and polyjet material jetting via Objet Connex. The suitability of each process was then compared against competing designs and processes from traditional splinting. The splints were created using a digital design workflow that combined recognised clinical best practice with design for AM principles. Findings – Research concluded that, based on currently available technology, FDM was considered the least suitable AM process for upper extremity splinting. LS, SLA and material jetting show promise for future applications, but further research and development into AM processes, materials and splint design optimisation is required if the full potential is to be realised. Originality/value – Unlike previous work that has applied AM processes to replicate traditional splint designs, the splints described are based on a digital design for AM workflow, incorporating novel features and physical properties not previously possible in clinical splinting. The benefits of AM for customised splint fabrication have been summarised. A range of AM processes have also been evaluated for splinting, exposing the limitations of existing technology, demonstrating novel and advantageous design features and opportunities for future research.