Facial Prosthetics Get A Makeover Thanks To 3-D Printing

Losing a piece of your face is bad enough. But what comes next is also a hassle. If you wear a facial prosthetic–like a fake ear or nose–you run the constant risk of the attachment falling loose and becoming damaged, particularly when outside.

“This makes [wearers] nervous in public situations,” says Zach Challies, a postgraduate design student from Wellington, New Zealand. “If it is knocked off–a likely possibility in busy public situations–it can cost [hundreds of dollars] to replace.”

With the aid of 3-D scanning and printing, Challies has been working on a couple of fixes. One is a cheap plastic “scaffold” that sits inside a prosthetic nose and helps keep it in place. The other is a full replacement nose that sits on top of the guard, and allows wearers to do sports and other physical activity.

“The guard sits underneath an inexpensive plastic prosthetic that will detach if knocked, leaving the guard in place to protect the wearers nasal cavity,” Challies explains. “If the prosthetic facade is knocked off and broken, it’s cheap enough to have a few spare or for it to be re-printed.”

The guard–the first product–doesn’t replace a traditional prosthetic. But Challies reckons it could lengthen its lifespan, so wearers don’t have to make replacements so often. The sports prosthetic is cheaper, though it doesn’t look realistic. “It could be worn everyday, but it requires a certain amount of acceptance and courage to face the public with a non traditional prosthetic,” he says.

Prototyped at Victoria University, the designs were national-stage winners at this year’s James Dyson Award. An overall, international winner is announced November 6.BS