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Ohio company uses 3-D printing technology to make artificial limbs

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Youngstown-based JuggerBot3D created a prosthetic leg for "Laney," a company executive's three-legged dog, to demonstrate its 3D-printing technology that it and a team of plastics producers are promoting for the production of medical devices.

THE BLADE/DAVID PATCH
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Making the socket for a prosthetic limb today is a 4½ hour process, but 3-D printing technology could one day cut that time nearly in half.

Advances in the printing technology — also known as “additive manufacturing” — could also reduce material waste, the chief executive officer of a Youngstown-based company said during a demonstration Tuesday morning at Mercy Health St. Vincent Medical Center.

There are still “challenges,” Dan Fernback, CEO of JuggerBot3D, told his audience of medical and technology professionals, in such areas as materials limitations, process reliability, and implementation cost.

But Mr. Fernback and Zac Divencenzo, the company’s chief operating officer, showed off a prosthetic leg made using one of their printers for Laney, a company executive’s dog that was born with only three usable legs.

JuggerBot3D, Mercy Health, and several other companies including Perrysburg-based FibreTuff Medical Biopolymers are working together on the technology’s development under a collaboration announced Tuesday by CIFT, the Ohio Manufacturing Extension Partnership affiliate for northwest Ohio.

Tom Hughes, FibreTuff’s chief executive, said the materials his company is developing for prosthetic and orthotic devices also could be used for medical implants involved in spinal, trauma, and sports medicine — a $40 billion annual market.

FibreTuff manufactures the plastics at a plant in the Williams County community of West Unity, then ships them to Keene Village Plastics in Mayfield Heights, Ohio, which molds the material into filaments suitable for extrusion in JuggerBot3D’s printers.

Robert Joyce, the company’s founder and president, said he was testing plastics for automotive applications with University of Toledo engineering professors when it was suggested to him that some of the materials he had developed might be suitable for medical use.

Rebecca Singer, CIFT’s president and CEO, said that during the collaboration, the companies involved will work on refining and qualifying materials formulas, designing and printing products, and developing prototypes for “smart” devices that incorporate tiny electronic sensors added during the manufacturing process.

The process of 3-D printing “allows devices to be created with incredible accuracy, in shorter time, enhancing the overall recovery plan for the patient,” Ms. Singer said.

Megan Reichart, director of innovation for Mercy Health System, said participation in the project is “part of Mercy’s commitment to developing innovative solutions across its ecosystem,” with outcomes including business spinoffs, enhanced patient care, and community engagement.

Throughout the hour-plus presentation, a JuggerBot3D printer slowly produced a plastic cylinder with a web of plastic strands inside it to reinforce its strength.

Mr. Fernback said the machine could have made a copy of the dog leg, but that’s a 12-hour product that wouldn’t have gotten very far during the time available.

The cylinder will be “a materials specimen for compression testing,” he said, “something that builds relatively quickly for demonstration purposes.”

Mr. Divencenzo likened the 3-D printing process to “taking a glue gun and making a pattern,” then repeating that pattern — or variations on the pattern — in layer after layer.

The layers the printing machine makes, however, are just 300 microns — three-tenths of a millimeter — thick, so one of the keys to the process is ensuring the material flows properly through the machine. Mr. Divencenzo said. In tests, he said, JuggerBot3D has compared three FibreTuff formulations with three “benchmark” plastic materials now used in simple medical devices.

Contact David Patch at dpatch@theblade.com or 419-724-6094.

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