Here’s the step-by-step process that Sunnybrook has developed for building a craniofacial prosthetic with 3-D printing.
Meet the newest member of the team in the Craniofacial Prosthetics Unit (CPU). It chugs through the long, dark hours of the overnight shift. And it doesn’t take any breaks.
This team member is a 3-D printer, brought in to help Sunnybrook’s craniofacial team save time and eventually reach more patients. “The new printer takes away the four or five hours it would take us to sculpt an ear in wax,” explains anaplastologist Ann McLaren. “We are so keen to learn and use this new technology. It is the future.”
Used worldwide to make everything, from trinkets and cup holders to medical devices and cars, 3-D printers generate solid three-dimensional objects from a digital file through a layer-by-layer printing process.
At the CPU, McLaren and her colleague David Morrison create prosthetics for people who do not have an eye, ear or nose due to illness, injury or birth defect. It’s a long process with many steps as well as a lot of artistry.
The recent addition of this 3-D printer to their team is streamlining their workflow. McLaren, a figurative sculptor and former makeup effects artist for the film industry, explains how the CPU team uses the 3-D printer in the process of making prosthetic ears.
Prosthetics help restore patients’ self-confidence. Some of McLaren’s patients have told her that, before they got prosthetic ears, for years, they wouldn’t get their hair cut, so the hair would conceal the missing ear. Or they’d always wear hats.
“[Now] they are excited they can wear their hair tied back, or wear an earring, or go [somewhere] and not have people stare,” McLaren says.
“We are delighted to have the 3-D printer as part of our team. It’s changing lives.”
All photography by Kevin Van Paassen