Ohio State Student Pioneers 3D Printing For Artificial Limbs

Nov 21, 2019

Aaron Westbrook decided, back when he was a high school student in New Albany, that he could develop a better prosthetic arm than the one he received when he turned 14.

“It was really heavy. The technology itself was outdated, and it took very long to create. It cost a lot of money,” says Westbrook, who was born without a right hand.

Traditional prosthetics can cost tens of thousands of dollars and take up to nine months to build. 

“That launched me into doing my own research and then eventually launching the organization with our mission to provide advanced eco-friendly, 3D printed prosthetics,” Westbrook says.

Now a sophomore at The Ohio State University, Westbrook started Form5 Prosthetics to make more economical and easier-to-use artificial limbs. His nonprofit is now located in an industrial complex in Gahanna.

Westbrook says that excluding equipment costs, he can build his prosthetics for only a few hundred dollars.  Form5 gives away its devices at no charge.

He says certain recycled plastic can transform into arms, and other upper limb prosthetics.

“We use a multitude of different materials, but 3D printers primarily use PLA or ABS plastic," he says. "A lot of our final devices are made out of ABS. ABS is a very strong, rigid material. Cars are actually made out of ABS.”

Prosthetic devices created by Form5 Prosthetics.
Credit Debbie Holmes / WOSU

Westbrook explains he currently owns four printers. It can usually take up to one week to complete an artificial limb in a 3D printer.  However, a simple prosthesis can be printed in a day.

“The best way to describe it is, it’s like a hot glue gun, where there’s a hot nozzle and material is fed through, but instead of glue this would be plastic,” Westbrook says. “The printer itself and the computer inside is programmed to print a pattern over and over again until it forms that full object.”

As a business major, Westbrook continues to collaborate with Ohio State engineering students. Last weekend, he held a workshop with several students to hear their design ideas. 

“We were looking for some additional design help, engineering help, and really kind of give these students that are learning this in the classroom the opportunity to take it into the real world and do something really good with it,” Westbrook says.

Westbrook shows a mold used with a 3D printer.
Credit Debbie Holmes / WOSU

Westbrook says he also included the insights of five people with limb differences, who all received a new prosthetic designed to be task-specific.

“We worked with a young girl for a device to hold a pic so she could play guitar,” Westbrook says.

Westbrook has been working with Ohio lawmakers to update state law on making prosthetic devices. The new law broadens the designs allowed and includes 3D printing.

“This is a really revolutionary update in regulation as Ohio is one of 15 states in the country to have a similar law like this,” Westbrook says. “So a lot of eyes are on us as a state.”

Westbrook says Form5 Prosthetics will keep working to expand its abilities to make prosthetic limbs at no charge.

“I don’t understand why this industry is charging people a high amount of money for something that they need to do what they love or go after a hobby or a profession,” Westbrook says.