How 3D Printing Made Prosthetic Limbs Possible for Sierra Leone

Mar 16, 2018

“In the beginning, it was the most difficult. I have no experience in 3D printing, so I tried various kinds of 3D printers, but they are limited by the size of build plate. Because Raise3D has a bigger printer, then I can print prosthetics with adult size. This is wonderful.”

– Dr. Edward Choi_Doctor of Virus Amynology


Industry: Charity specialized in 3D printed prosthesis
Interviewee: Dr. Edward Choi
Title: Doctor of Virus Amynology


3D printing solutions are applicable across many situations and industries. 3D printing techniques are lauded for their fast processing times and low cost.


How Does 3D Printing Affect the Medical Field?

The impact of 3d printing on the medical field which immediately comes to mind, is 3d printed medical devices, such as surgical equipment and face masks. However, there are other positive impacts such as fast processing times, low costs, and the ability to do print jobs of any size. 3D print jobs are efficient for prototypes and parts which require a great deal of customization, such as 3d printed implants and prosthetics. One organization currently doing work in this area is e-NABLE.



e-NABLE Aims to Help Patients in Sierra Leone

e-NABLE is a global network of individuals such as medical professionals, designers, engineers, and scientists who provide 3D printed prosthetic hands and arms for those in need of an upper limb assistive device. e-NABLE dedicates a branch of its organization to Sierra Leone in West Africa, where adults and children lost their hands and arms during Sierra Leone’s brutal civil war.


Prosthetic Limbs for Sierra Leone

At the time the traditional prosthetic making process was the only method available to Dr. Choi and his teams. The traditional process for making prosthetics requires hand-made parts and labor. Plaster casting is done over the residual limb to fabricate a diagnostic check socket. The check socket is first formed in transparent plastic to allow the observation of pressure points and problem areas. Usually, multiple size sockets are made and modified to achieve the right fit which accumulates time and resources to minimize fitting issues. Common market prices for traditional prosthetics typically costs less than $5000 for a purely cosmetic piece. The costs can reach up to $10000 for a functional prosthetic arm that only offers a split hook. If the team used the traditional prosthetic process, the resulting high costs would prevent e-NABLE from assisting Sierra Leon patients.


3D Printed Prosthetics Have Fast Processing Times and Low Cost

Albert Fung, a talented biology illustrator from Canada, first designed a CAD template for the initial prosthetic. Using this as a base, the team was able to optimize the model for each patient’s situation. For patients in Sierra Leon, this meant customizing a prosthetic to handle the extreme climate, on a limb with little infrastructure, and in an area with poor economic support. Thanks to the time efficiency and low cost of 3D printing, Albert Fung and Dr. Choi created five versions of the initial prosthetic design and optimized the design to accommodate individuals in Sierra Leone within one year.


e-NABLE 3D Prints Prosthetic Hands for Sierra Leone

Now the e-NABLE team measures the dimensions of the local amputee’s forearm and customizes it within the CAD template. All pieces of prosthetics are then 3D printed and can assemble with simple joint locks, cords, and springs. The main part of the prosthetic is printed flat and can be softened by boiling water. This heated prosthetic allows the team to easily shape it directly onto the amputee’s arm for a precision fit.





Before introducing 3D printing, the E-Nable team struggled with:
1.Limited options with long turnaround times and high costs associated with traditional prosthetics manufacturing.
2.Inability to serve areas such as Sierra Leon due to high costs.
3.inability to produce large numbers of custom parts.


Since applying 3D printing, the E-Nable team in Sierra Leon has
1. Produced 52 sets of prosthetics within two months.
2.Lowered the cost per prosthetic to $50


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