3D PrintAbility

A digital toolchain

3D PrintAbility is a digital toolchain that combines 3D scanning, modelling, and printing technologies with custom software and affordable hardware to produce prosthetic and orthotic mobility devices.

In 2016-2017, we are working with clinical partners in Cambodia, Tanzania, and Uganda to study the efficacy and value of 3D PrintAbility to orthopaedic workshops, clinicians, and patients in low-resource countries. This clinical study phase presents opportunities to continuously improve the toolchain.

Here’s how 3D PrintAbility works.

1. Scan

The residual limb is scanned, creating a 3D model.

2. Design

The 3D model is customized to fit the patient.

3. Print

A prosthetic is printed in about 6 hours.

Why it was designed

3D PrintAbility was designed to increase access to mobility devices in low-income countries where conventional manual production is time-consuming, there is a shortage of trained orthopaedic personnel, and resource constraints mean that hospitals need to do more with existing staff to better meet demand.

The toolchain provides orthopaedic clinicians with a new set of tools to create custom prosthetic sockets and orthotic braces for children and youth with disabilities.

It builds on the skills and expertise of clinicians, allowing them to minimize time on manual production and maximize time on decisions about device design, fit, and patient care.

How it works

3D PrintAbility mirrors the manual production process in a digital environment. Instead of plaster casting, it uses a 3D scanner to capture the external shape of the limb. Instead of rectifying the device by adding or subtracting in plaster, it uses 3D modelling software to add or subtract materials. Instead of wrapping the cast in polypropylene (a plastic polymer), it wraps the device digitally to create a 3D model which is then produced on a 3D printer.

3D PrintAbility study participant Roseline takes her first steps using a 3D printed mobility device in 2015. She participated in the clinical studies in 2015 and 2016-17 in Uganda.

Benefits of 3D PrintAbility


Faster production time

Potential to cut time from assessment to fitting from about 5 days to less than 1.5 days for a prosthetic leg

Better access

Potential to increase access to mobility devices for people with disabilities

Better fitting devices

To help reduce the burden of lower limb amputee disease and related health conditions

Potential for increased productivity

Potential gain of up to 333% in orthopaedic workshops

Skills development

Orthopaedic clinicians will develop expertise and skills in 3D scanning, modelling, and printing

Safer work environment

Reduces the need to use fabrication equipment, such as ovens and grinders, driving down the risk of workplace injuries

Shorter hospital stays

With 3D PrintAbility, a patient can be fitted and discharged within one overnight stay

Cost savings to patients

Shorter hospitals stays reduce costs for patients and their families enabling more patients to leave with their new device


Our first venture and longest-running project, 3D PrintAbility resulted from a two-year project developed and supported by cbm Canada, the University of Toronto, Autodesk Research, and Grand Challenges Canada in partnership with Comprehensive Rehabilitation Services in Uganda (CoRSU).

3D PrintAbility proved viable with a six-month clinical study in 2015 at CoRSU: for the first time, 32 Ugandan children and youth with lower-limb disabilities tried out 3D printed transtibial (below-the-knee) prosthetic sockets.

Nia is field testing 3D PrintAbility with clinical partners in Cambodia, Tanzania, and Uganda in 2016-2017. This testing is a big step towards 3D PrintAbility’s deployment to early adopter sites later in 2017.