Speaker: Volunteers with 3-D printers will not take your job

CHICAGO — The emergence of 3-D printers in the creation of O&P devices will not mean that low-skill volunteers will replace skilled O&P practitioners and fabricators, according to Jeff Erenstone, CPO, here at the American Academy of Orthotists and Prosthetists Annual Meeting and Scientific Symposium.

Erenstone, who is chief executive officer of Create O&P, which provides practices with 3-D printers, said the reason is because O&P fabrication will require skill and education, regardless of how easy the process of designing and reproducing the device becomes.

Jeff Erenstone

“People keep talking about 3-D printing as a great ‘disruptive technology,’ with some people who ask, ‘Does this mean we aren’t going to be able to be practitioners anymore?’ because they imagine people with these printers in their basement, who can displace them and start making prostheses,” Erenstone said.

However, he added that 3-D printing is a technology – a tool – and not the whole profession of O&P, which is much more robust.

“Perhaps there are places where individual tools for fabrication will be displaced, but unless you are a plaster salesman, I don’t think you have anything to worry about because your skills as a clinician are still going to be valuable,” he said. “Your ability to look at a shape or a patient and understand the biomechanics, what to do about that, how to make the appropriate fit, the diagnostic process to actually fit the device – all of that – is still 100% necessary.”

Erenstone also discussed how 3-D printed O&P devices are “better” than traditionally created devices, and how, in some ways, they are not.

Holding up two plastic check sockets – one created with a 3-D printer and the other fabricated through conventional means – he said the device created with the 3-D printer is not stronger than the other, and is in some cases weaker, nor is it cheaper per volume. In addition, with a skilled technician standing by, the traditional socket could be fabricated in less time than the one created with a 3-D printer.

However, where the 3-D printer has the advantage is in the process, not the product, he said.

“3-D printed devices are better because they provide faster design, they are completely quantifiable, they are completely adjustable and they are completely reproducible,” Erenstone said. “3-D printing is a tool, but it takes a skilled practitioner and technician to use it. We should call it by its real name – additive manufacturing.” – by Jason Laday


Erenstone J. Is 3-D printing O&P devices disruptive. Presented at: American Academy of Orthotists and Prosthetists Annual Meeting and Scientific Symposium; March 1-4, 2017; Chicago.

Disclosure: Erenstone reported he is the chief executive officer of Create O&P.

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