The next time anybody tells me that 3-D Printing Will Go the Way of Virtual Reality, that it is a techno-fantasy, I will make him sit down and watch this video of Emma Lavelle. She suffers from arthrogryposis, a congenital condition that leaves her muscles underdeveloped, so she doesn't have the strength to lift her own arms. There is a device called a WREX (Wilmington Robotic Exoskeleton) designed to help people with this condition, but it is too heavy, expensive, and not designed for a growing child. But 3D printing has enabled researchers to make a smaller, lighter and more adaptable WREX.
David McGahan at Ponoko explains:
Researchers at the Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children in Wilmington, Delaware deemed CNC milling unsuitable to produce intricate parts with light enough weight and the durability required. However, 3D printing the parts, turned out to be the perfect manufacturing solution. As Emma grows, the size of the WREX assembly can be adjusted in the CAD files. Also, as Emma’s WREX design is still a prototype, iterations can be developed and continually tested and refined. If any parts are damaged, a replacement can be produced and ordered on demand.
Emma's arms were made on a Stratasys 3D Printer, the same machine we have seen used to build entire cars. And it isn't just a one-off prototype, fifteen kids are using these magic arms now. 3D printing is not just for toys anymore.