Digital Design for Diabetes: 3D Printing Variable-Density Diabetic Orthotics to Mitigate Lower-Limb Amputations in New Zealand
Currently, there are approximately 228,000 people in New Zealand who have been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. Without critical intervention, this number is projected to reach epidemic proportions within the next 20 years. The development of type 2 diabetes is most commonly seen in those who are obese and can cause significant physical, mental and financial complications for the patient. Arguably the most detrimental of the physical complications is diabetic neuropathy, which is a form of nerve damage caused by the long-term blood vessel damage, and can eventually lead to amputation of the patient's foot or entire lower leg. There are numerous factors that play a role in the eventual need for amputation; however, the presentation and development of diabetic foot ulcers (DFUs) are considered to be the most substantial.
This research focuses on mitigating diabetes-related amputations and improving the overall well-being of those with diabetes in New Zealand by developing a range of customised orthotics to assist in the prevention of DFUs. Contextual research into diabetes, an analysis of current treatment strategies/products, and experimentation with innovative new materials and manufacturing technologies will be used to inform new product concepts. An experimental and iterative research process is used to explore bio-based materials and 'foaming' 3D print filament. Digital control of the 3D printing process combined with data-driven geometry control through parametric software, is then used to generate variable physical and mechanical properties from a single material for use in multi-density orthotic production. The intention is to replicate the properties of the foams and varying density EVAs that are traditionally used to make customised orthotics.
The design output of this research is a digitally-generated, 3D-printed orthotic product that can effectively assist in preventing the presentation and development of DFUs, subsequently mitigating diabetes-related amputations in New Zealand. Additionally, this research aims to provide performance specifications for future bio-based, multi-density materials that can be controlled using additive manufacturing technologies.