Question of the Week: 3D Printing A Skeleton Model

By on August 17th, 2022 in news, question

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Skeleton model requiring repairs [Source: Pete B]

This week’s question relates to a very unusual 3D printing requirement.

Fabbaloo reader Pete asks:

“The environmental center where my wife works has a human skeleton with a broken leg. They would like to replace the leg but the skeleton was donated, the donor moved away, and they don’t know who made the skeleton.

So, they asked me if a replacement for the broken leg could be 3D printed. I said ‘Yes’ but I’m not sure who could do it.

Do you know of any service bureaus that could take on such a project?”

To replace all or part of the skeleton, it would seem that the right technical approach would be to do a detailed 3D scan of the corresponding parts on the other leg, and then mirror them in CAD to create the 3D models to be printed. These could probably be 3D printed on any desktop FFF machine, but would require a bit of sanding and painting when done. It looks entirely doable, but you’d likely have to hand over the skeleton to someone for scanning.

This means you’re looking for a party that could do the scanning, modeling, printing and finishing.

That kinda falls in-between the hobbyist level, where it’s fairly easy to find someone to print off a 3D model — but without scanning and modeling, and the contract manufacturing level, which is likely overkill for this project.

There are certainly smaller firms that could do this, but I have no idea what they would charge, as it likely depends on a number of factors specific to this project. I’ve done several Design of the Week stories where firms seem to be doing work of this type, so they certainly exist. They are just a little bit hard to find. I chased thru a number of my stories and didn’t immediately find any appropriate service in your area.

One approach I think might work is to contact a couple of the 3D scanning manufacturers, who should be well aware of clients that operate their equipment and those companies are likely to do this type of work. Artec 3D and Einscan might be two places to start.

There may also be some 3D resellers able to do this. I noticed one of my local resellers (a 3D reseller that markets SOLIDWORKS, Stratasys, scanners, etc.) also offers 3D scanning services. You might have a reseller like that in your area.

I seem to be able to find a number of scanning services in my area with a simple google search. Remember that 3D scanning requires the physical object, so scanning services tend to be a local service where they have easy access the objects to scan.

Alternatively, you could become a general contractor and have someone do the scanning, then another party do the printing and finishing. But that requires you to identify multiple parties, and worse, you’ll have to coordinate between them. This could be trouble — imagine that you pass on the scan to the printer, who tells you it is unprintable. Then what do you do?

The best approach is likely to find a party that can either do all the work, or be willing to be that general contractor, as they will have more experience doing so.

I do have some concerns about possible costs. As you might imagine, redoing an entire leg would seem to require scanning of many different bones, each of which would require a pass through the scan-model-print-finish workflow. That could be quite expensive as these steps are each requiring some labor. It’s quite possible the cost of doing this might be less than simply buying a fresh, new skeleton. The size of the work makes it unlikely someone would donate all that work – but someone might if only one bone or print was in question.

Pete, I’m not sure if all that helps, but I hope that gives you and readers some starting points for finding a scan to print service.

By Kerry Stevenson

Kerry Stevenson, aka "General Fabb" has written over 8,000 stories on 3D printing at Fabbaloo since he launched the venture in 2007, with an intention to promote and grow the incredible technology of 3D printing across the world. So far, it seems to be working!

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