3D Printing an Upper Limb Prosthesis

28th May 2021

With so much noise around 3D printing in the prosthetics industry, it can sometimes be confusing for people to understand the benefits of this technology and how it applies to an upper limb prosthesis. At Open Bionics, we’re perhaps the most experienced provider of 3D printed prosthetic devices and have kept up to date with the 3D printing industry as it has grown and expanded. Let’s explore this innovative technology to better understand why people are so excited about it. 

3D printing is another word for “additive manufacturing”. It’s a manufacturing technique that uses material to build up a part. There are many different ways to make parts, ranging from artisan, handmade processes all the way up to highly industrialised and automated processes. 3D printing in upper limb prosthesis bridges the gap between handmade techniques and industrial processes. This results in a high level of design freedom, with the repeatability and procession of an industrialised process.

At Open Bionics, we’ve used 3D printing to push the boundaries of upper limb prosthetic solutions while adhering to important prosthetic design principles and industry regulations.

For upper limb prosthetics, this means several major benefits:

Freedom of design

At Open Bionics, we’ve used 3D printing to push the boundaries of upper limb prosthetic solutions while adhering to important prosthetic design principles and industry regulations. We’ve been able to build in new features like the ventilation and adjustability of our socket interface , shown below. This shape would be extremely difficult to make by hand, but with a 3D printer, it’s no more difficult than making a standard socket of a fixed thickness. With the intricate design of the frames of the Hero Arm, we’ve managed to reduce the weight of a bionic arm by 30-50%.


Having a repeatable process means that once the design has been done, we can make more parts from the same design files. This means Hero Arm users can buy several different cover designs to personalise their prosthesis. Our Hero Arm covers have been accurately designed to fit each user’s prosthesis using retaining magnets. This allows for users to transform the look of their Hero Arm by simply clicking on a new set of covers.

Distribution of new innovations

At Open Bionics, we’re always looking for new ways to improve upper limb prosthesis. For the Hero Arm we introduce product improvements around 2-3 times per year. In 2019, we reduced the size of the battery enclosure by 8mm, last year we introduced magnetic covers to make it easier to change cover designs, and this year we switched to a more robust and water resistant 3D printing process.

With traditional manufacturing methods, each of these changes would have required educating and training hundreds of clinicians and technicians, making sure they all had access to the correct equipment and supply chain, and encouraging them to consider the changes instead of continuing to use the process they’re more familiar with. With centralised 3D printing fabrication, everyone gets the benefits immediately when they’re released, resulting in much faster adoption of technology.

Even though we are using 3D printers every day to make our products, we are still constantly learning new things and coming up with new ideas for how to use 3D printing to make the best prosthetic products we possibly can, so we’re super excited to support the prosthetic industry in its adoption of additive manufacturing techniques and the enhancements this technology will offer to people and their upper limb prostheses.

Author – Joel Gibbard, CEO and Co-founder at Open Bionics

Find out more about the Hero Arm

The Hero Arm uses myoelectric sensors which detect underlying muscular contractions generated from specific muscle groups in the arm. These are then amplified and converted into intuitive and proportional bionic hand movements.

If you’re interested in trying the Hero Arm, register your details and we’ll contact you for an informal chat about how we can help you begin your bionic journey.


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