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3D-printed prostheses in developing countries: a systematic review

Background: According to the World Health Organization, only 5%-15% of people in lower-income countries have access to prostheses. This is largely due to low availability of materials and high costs of prostheses. 3D-printing techniques have become easily accessible and can offer functional patient-specific components at relatively low costs, reducing or bypassing the current manufacturing and postprocessing steps. However, it is not yet clear how 3D-printing can provide a sustainable solution to the low availability of limb prostheses for patients with amputations in lower-income countries.

Objective: To evaluate 3D-printing for the production of limb prostheses in lower-income countries and lower-middle-income countries (LLMICs).

Study design: Systematic Review.

Methods: Literature searches, completed in April 2020, were performed in PubMed, Embase, Web of Science, and Cochrane Library. The search results were independently screened and reviewed by four reviewers. Only studies that examined interventions using prostheses in LLMICs for patients with limb amputations were selected for data extraction and synthesis. The web was also searched using Google for projects that did not publish in a scientific journal.

Results: Eighteen studies were included. Results were reported regarding country of use, cost and weight, 3D-printing technology, satisfaction, and failure rate.

Conclusion: Low material costs, aesthetic appearance, and the possibility of personalized fitting make 3D-printed prostheses a potential solution for patients with limb amputations in LLMICs. However, the lack of (homogeneous) data shows the need for more published (scientific) research to enable a broader availability of knowledge about 3D-printed prostheses for LLMICs.

Strength testing of low-cost 3D-printed transtibial prosthetic socket

Measurement and production of traditional prosthetic sockets are time-consuming, labor-intensive, and highly dependent on the personnel involved. An alternative way to make prostheses is using computer-aided design (CAD) and computeraided manufacturing (CAM). Fused Filament Fabrication (FFF) may be an alternative to make low-cost prosthetic sockets. This study investigates the tensile properties of potential printing materials suitable for FFF according to ISO527 (Standard Test Method for Tensile Properties of Plastics). To ensure that FFF-printed sockets are safe for patient usage, the structural integrity of the 3D-printed prosthesis will be investigated according to ISO10328 (International Standard Structural Testing of Lower Limb Prostheses). Tough PLA was the most suitable print material according to ISO 527 testing. The Tough PLA printed socket completed 2.27 million cycles and a static test target value of 4025 N. Future research remains necessary to continue testing new potential materials, improve print settings, and improve the socket design for the production of FFF-printed transtibial prosthetic sockets. FFF using Tough PLA can be used to create transtibial prostheses that almost comply with the International Standard for Structural Testing of Lower Limb Prostheses.

Design and production of low-cost 3D-printed transtibial prosthetic sockets


Only 5% to 15% of individuals with amputation living in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) have access to proper prostheses. Mainly, prosthetic costs are too high, and facilities are not within reach. Measurement and production of traditional prosthetic sockets are time-consuming, labor-intensive, and highly dependent on the experience and skills of the personnel involved.

Materials and Methods 

This report describes the workflow to produce low-cost patella tendon bearing transtibial prosthetic sockets. Using computer-aided design (CAD) and computer-aided manufacturing (CAM), transtibial prostheses can be easily produced in rural areas. The size of the residual limb was scanned with a handheld 3D-scanner (Einscanner Pro Plus), and the sockets were printed using fused filament fabrication (FFF) with an Ultimaker S5. The foot was made locally, and the other prosthetic parts were imported. The 3D-printed socket costs US $20 (excluding value-added tax [VAT]). The total material cost of the prosthesis, including the other prosthetic materials, amounts to approximately US $100 (excluding VAT). Assuming the asset cost of the devices, the costs of one local employee, overhead expenses, a profit margin, and the VAT included, a 3D-printed prosthesis could be sold for US $170.


This report provides a blueprint to produce low-cost 3D-printed transtibial prosthetic sockets. Further research will be conducted to replace the imported prosthetic parts for local products and to automatize the digital design process.

Clinical Relevance 

With this workflow, prosthetic sockets can be produced consistently, which makes it a suitable method in LMICs.

The effect of annealing on deformation and mechanical strength of tough PLA and its application in 3D printed prosthetic sockets


Fused filament fabrication (FFF) using tough poly lactic acid (PLA) was determined to be the most suited method to achieve low-cost prosthetic sockets. However, improvement in the material properties is desirable to strengthen these sockets. This study aims to evaluate annealing as a potential method to improve material properties by a heat treatment of the object after 3D printing.


Four different annealing methods and a control group were tested according to ISO standard 527–1 and ISO standard 527–2. The four annealing methods included: oven; sand; water; and glycerol annealing. Tests were performed on longitudinal and transversal 3D printed samples. Deformation was determined on 3D printed test rings.


Annealing using an oven, sand and water resulted in a significant increase in tensile strength in longitudinally 3D printed tensile test samples. However, the tensile strength was decreased in the transversally 3D printed tensile test samples. The tensile modulus had no significant increase in the longitudinally and transversally printed samples. Sand annealing resulted in the least deformation, with a shrinkage of 2.04% of inner diameter and an increase in height of 1.99% for the horizontally annealed test rings.

Research limitations/implications

The annealing of prosthetic sockets is not recommended as a decrease in tensile strength in transversally printed tensile test samples was observed. More research is needed towards the strengthening of tough PLA in both print directions.


This paper fulfils the need for understanding the impact of annealing on 3D printed items intended for daily use, such as a prosthetic socket.

Quality of life of patients with 3D-printed arm prostheses in a rural area of Sierra Leone


In Sierra Leone, access to prostheses is limited due to absence of practical knowledge, materials, trained staff, and high cost. This paper investigates the impact of a 3D printed prosthesis on the health-related quality of life (HRQoL) in prosthesis recipients.


Patients with upper extremity amputations were included in this case study from December 2018 until July 2019. Data on the HRQoL was gathered until April 2020 in Masanga Hospital, central rural Sierra Leone. At two follow-up moments the HRQoL was assessed by applying the standard EQ-5D-5L questionnaire. These two follow-up moments varied between one week and just over a year after receiving the prosthesis. A second patient questionnaire was used to assess prosthesis satisfaction.


Seven patients were included. The results of the EQ-5D-5L questionnaire show no deterioration of the HRQoL in any patient and the overall HRQoL increased by almost 20% compared to the null measurement. One patient was lost to follow up after the first re-visit. The responses to the second questionnaire indicated that patients are satisfied with the prosthesis and use it in various situations. Patients often mentioned they feel more included in society when wearing the prosthesis. One patient says wearing the prosthesis helped in accepting the amputation. As a result, enough self-confidence was experienced without the prosthesis and the patients stopped wearing the prosthesis.


The overall HRQoL in patients wearing a 3D-printed prosthesis increases compared to not wearing one. Assessing the HRQoL at regular intervals is important for the long-term follow-up and to safeguard sustainability and long-term success of this project. Nevertheless, defining the HRQoL is challenging due to cultural differences and misunderstandings. Therefore, the use of alternative questionnaires to define the HRQoL should be investigated. To improve and warrant long-term success, identifying long-term problems is important, and the second questionnaire accounts for this need.

Pioneering low-cost 3D-printed transtibial prosthetics to serve a rural population in Sierra Leone – an observational cohort study


There is a huge unmet global need for affordable prostheses. Amputations often happen in Sierra Leone due to serious infections, complex wounds, traffic accidents and delayed patient presentation to the hospital. However, purchasing a prosthesis is still beyond reach for most Sierra Leonean amputees.


We applied computer-aided design (CAD) and computer-aided manufacturing (CAM) to produce low-cost transtibial prosthetic sockets. In February and March 2020, eight participants received a 3D printed transtibial prosthesis in the village of Masanga in Tonkolili district, Sierra Leone. Research was performed using questionnaires to investigate the use, participants’ satisfaction, and possible complications related to the prostheses. Questionnaires were conducted prior to production of the prosthesis and five to six weeks after fitting the prosthesis. A personal short-term goal was set by the participants.


Competitively priced and fully functional prostheses were produced locally. After six weeks, all participants were still wearing the prosthesis and six of the eight participants reached their personal rehabilitation goals. Using their prostheses, all participants were no longer in need of their crutches.


We have come a step closer to the production of low-cost prostheses for low-and middle-income countries (LMICs). The goal of our project is to perform long-term follow-up and to refine our concept of 3D printed prostheses for LMICs to provide practical solutions for a global health need unmet to date.


€ 15,000 was collected during a crowdfunding campaign in collaboration with the Dutch Albert Schweitzer Fund. Internship allowance for MvdS was obtained from the University of Twente. 3D-scanner, 3D-printer, and printing material were donated by Ultimaker BV and Shining 3D.

People with amputations in rural Sierra Leone: the impact of 3D-printed prostheses

We report the case of a man with a transhumeral amputation in a rural area of Sierra Leone. The patient had fractured his humerus during a football match. Due to lack of transportation and medical centres nearby, the patient was seen by a traditional healer. Although the traditional healer expected the fractured bone to heal within 3 days, the open fracture became infected. This finally resulted in a transhumeral amputation. The patient began to have a lack of self-confidence and felt excluded from society. He could not afford a conventionally fabricated prosthesis. Fourteen years later, the patient received a lightweight three-dimensional-printed arm prosthesis developed at the Masanga Hospital. The patient was very satisfied because the prosthesis met his criteria of aesthetics and functionality. His story highlights the socioeconomic hardship of being a person with an amputation in Sierra Leone and the need for affordable technological solutions.

Improving Lives in Three Dimensions: The Feasibility of 3D Printing for Creating Personalized Medical Aids in a Rural Area of Sierra Leone.

The aim of this feasibility study was to investigate how a 3D printer could be put to its best use in a resource-limited healthcare setting. We have examined whether a 3D printer can contribute to making prostheses, braces, or splints for patients who underwent major limb amputation because of complex wounds, for example, due to burns and subsequent scarring, accidents, conflicts, or congenital abnormalities. During a 3-month period, we investigated the benefits of customized, 3D-printed arm prostheses, splints, and braces in Sierra Leone. Using a handheld 3D scanner and a 3D printer, patient-specific medical aids were designed, manufactured, and tested. Questionnaires regarding patient satisfaction and the functionality of the prostheses were used for a short-term follow-up. Four esthetic prostheses were designed: two prostheses of the hand, one of the forearm, and one of the entire arm. Follow-ups were conducted after 3 to 4 weeks to investigate the quality of the prostheses and to complete a patient questionnaire. Even though the prostheses primarily fulfill esthetic needs, they also exhibit some degree of functionality. In addition, four splints for hands and arms were made to prevent scar contractures after skin transplantation. Finally, a brace for a young boy with kyphoscoliosis was manufactured. The boy has accepted the brace and will be followed up in the months to come. Long-term follow-up is required to prove the sustainability of the 3D-printed brace and prosthetic arms. Further research into how to sustain and refine this project is underway.

Design Evaluation of FFF-Printed Transtibial Prosthetic

Sockets Using Follow-Up and Finite Element Analysis

Background: Participants in Sierra Leone received a Fused Filament Fabrication (FFF)-printed transtibial prosthetic socket. Follow-up was conducted on this group over a period of 21 months. To investigate the failure of some of the FFF-printed transtibial sockets, further strength investigation is desired. Methods: A finite element (FE) analysis provided an extensive overview of the strength of the socket. Using follow-up data and FE analyses, weak spots were identified, and the required optimization/reinforcement of the socket wall was determined. Results: Five sockets with a 4 mm wall thickness were tested by five participants. The strength of the 4 mm prosthetic socket seemed to be sufficient for people with limited activity. The 4 mm sockets used by active participants failed at the patella tendon or popliteal area. One socket with a wall thickness of 6 mm was used by an active user and remained intact after one year of use. An FE analysis of the socket showed high stresses in the patella tendon area. An increased wall thickness of 7 mm leads to a decrease of 26% in the stress corresponding to the observed failure in the patella tendon area, compared to the 4 mm socket. Conclusions: Follow-up in combination with an FE analysis can provide insight into the strength of the transtibial socket. In future designs, both the patella tendon and popliteal area will be reinforced by a thickened trim line of 7 mm. A design with a thickened trimline of 7 mm is expected to be sufficiently strong for active users. Another follow-up study will be performed to confirm this.