To read this content please select one of the options below:

3D printed tooling for thermoforming of medical devices

Jairo Chimento (Mechanical Engineering, University of South Florida, Tampa, Florida, USA)
M. Jason Highsmith (School of Physical Therapy & Rehabilitation Sciences, College of Medicine, University of South Florida, Tampa, Florida, USA)
Nathan Crane (Department of Mechanical Engineering, University of South Florida, Tampa, Florida, USA)

Rapid Prototyping Journal

ISSN: 1355-2546

Article publication date: 2 August 2011




The purpose of this paper is to evaluate the performance of 3D printed materials for use as rapid tooling (RT) molds in low volume thermoforming processes such as in manufacturing custom prosthetics and orthotics.


3D printed specimens of different materials were produced using the Z‐Corp process. The parts were post processed using both standard and alternative methods. Material properties relevant to the 3D printed parts such as pneumatic permeability, flexural strength and wear rate were measured and compared to standard plaster compositions commonly used.


Three‐dimensional printing (3DP) can replicate the performance of the plaster materials traditionally used in prosthetic/orthotic applications by using modified post process techniques. The resulting 3D printed molds can still be modified and adjusted using traditional methods. The results show that 3D printed molds are feasible for thermoforming prosthetic and orthotic devices such as prosthetic sockets while providing new flexibility.


The proposed method for RT of a mold for prosthetic/orthotic manufacturing provides great flexibility in the manufacturing and fitting process while maintaining proven materials in the final device provided to patients. This flexibility increases the value of digital medical records and efforts to develop model‐based approaches to prosthetic/orthotic device design by providing a readily available process for recreating molds. Depending on the needs of the practitioners and patients, 3DP can be incorporated at a variety of points in the manufacturing process.



Chimento, J., Jason Highsmith, M. and Crane, N. (2011), "3D printed tooling for thermoforming of medical devices", Rapid Prototyping Journal, Vol. 17 No. 5, pp. 387-392.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2011, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Related articles