A 3D printed orthotic device made from castor oil

Alternatives to plastic are emerging in the 3D printing market.
Written by Greg Nichols, Contributing Writer

Alternatives to plastic are finding increasing utility in 3D printing applications. The latest example: A 3D printed orthosis made from castor oil.

The orthosis is designed by the company Daniel Robert Orthopédie in partnership with 3D printing company Sculpteo, and it represents a notable example of 3D-printing based commercial manufacturing that can accommodate large order numbers while allowing for unprecedented customization and individualization. It also represents a hopeful turn away from petroleum-based substrates in medical device manufacturing, which might be considered a canary industry given the high threshold for performance and durability.

The substrate is a bio-sourced and recyclable polymer known as PA11, derived from castor oil, a product of castor beans. The material is light, flexible, and breathable, giving material advantages over Polyamide 12, a comparable and more common petroleum-based material. Sculpteo is able to print using PA11 via a powder-based technology that creates a uniform and smooth surface with no visible layers. Castor beans are plentiful, particularly in India, Brazil, and China.

Founded in Switzerland, Daniel Robert Orthopédie is one among a growing number of orthosis and prosthetics companies using 3D printing for custom fit products. Via Sculpteo, which is an online commercial 3D printing solution, the company has access to a responsive platform to place orders in large quantities quickly and competitively, which is a major advantage of 3D printing over injection-mold manufacturing. Given the difficulties parents have keeping children up to date with their orthotics devices, the customization of 3D printing is a growing boon to the sector.

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Sculpteo was founded as an independent online platform for 3D printing services but was acquired by BASF, the German multinational chemical company, in 2019. BASF is now using Sculpteo in part to showcase new 3D printing materials while developing the business into a worldwide network.

The real boon is to SMEs that have never been a natural fit for mass-produced products due to economies of scale. Sculpteo offers a professional 3D printing service as well as an expert Design studio.

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