In 2010, a British company called Fripp Design and Research began a project with the Manchester Metropolitan University to develop a solution to a global healthcare problem. Together they found that people who were in need of prosthetic eyes were unable to obtain them due to its high cost. As a result, they teamed up to design and produce 3D printed prosthetic eyes as a cheap alternative. They have made it possible to not only reduce the time it takes to print prosthetic eyes, but also decrease the cost by 97%. Purchasing a glass eye can vary from $2,500-$8,300 or more just to produce one prosthetic eye. The reason why it’s so expensive is due to the fact that they are molded in acrylic and painted by hand to match the patient’s eye color.
The process “to hand make a prosthetic eye takes between four and eight hours depending on the individual painting the eye. This results in a wait time of approximately ten weeks. With our system, we can 3D print up to 150 in one hour and customize approximately five eyes per hour. Each one is different from the other,” founder Tom Fripp told Dezeen a design magazine.
What the company and the university did was digitally create a prosthetic eye and overlay it into a 3D form using CAD software. To get a detailed looking iris, they used high resolution photos of eyes and drew them using Photoshop. They then printed it from a mixture of gypsum and silica powder in full color using a Z-Corp 510 machine and encased the form in resin. The company has made available small, medium, and large sized eyes. However, at the time they were still refining the ability to produce a natural looking iris color due to its high demand. This form of customization and accurate reproduction of existing eyes is difficult but “it’s something that we are working on,” Fripp stated.
The results of the prosthesis have proven to be possible and have gained an interest from India, where many eye patients lose their eyes from getting surgical procedures done by unqualified medical professionals.
“Because of the high number of relatively poor individuals in the country, they tend to simply go without. However, our system will allow them to purchase a prosthesis,” Fripp said.
Flashing forward, in 2016, Fripp Design and Research obtained a patent for their prosthetic eye which has tested successfully for impact and weathering. The company is now working in the medical field on a few projects. Although this project was meant to be a solution for people who are in need of a prosthetic eye at an affordable cost, the future of 3D printing within the medical field is something that will surely become highly valuable.
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