3D modelling orthotics; biggest bottleneck or opportunity?

Cédric Gilissen
December 15, 2020

Time is often defined as the biggest bottleneck of 3D printing. It’s true that when using FDM, SLS or some other 3D printing technologies, it can take a while for a big print to be completed (you can find more information on different printing techniques in our expert guide on 3D printing).

But printing time is passive time; it doesn’t require intervention or constant monitoring of a technician. When managed correctly, printers can be set up to print while you sleep and drastically decrease the lead time for the creation of custom made orthotics.

3D modelling entails a second and more impactful time constraint. 3D modelling certain orthotics manually from scratch can take hours, or even days, for more complicated designs to finish. A common mistake for orthopaedic technicians - who impulse buy a 3D printer - is not having researched how to go from scan to 3D model. Therefore, the 3D modelling stage is often identified as the biggest bottleneck for implementing 3D technologies in the O&P field.

"3D modelling will remain a bottleneck as long as the orthopaedic industry doesn't invest the necessary time and resources into 3D modelling. Only then will we capitalise on its potential. Modelling skills take time to acquire. We must be willing to accept mistakes in learning new skills to replace traditional methods." Kantharuban Neminathan, CAD CAM Orthotic Designer at The London Orthotic Consultancy & LOC Manufacturing Ltd

That’s too bad because it’s the step where your creativity can have the most considerable impact on the orthotic, and by using the right software and services, it can be refreshingly uncomplicated. The use of CAD-software requires a specific skill set and lots of experience, which is uncommon among orthopaedic technicians and implies a steep learning curve.

Understanding how CAD software works is quite a complex and time-consuming process. Luckily, specific semi-automated O&P software has been developed in order to facilitate the 3D modelling process of orthotics. Two main categories can be distinguished:  

1.      O&P Customization Software

These are very application-specific; only used to digitally create a particular type of orthotics (e.g., insoles). These software solutions are easy to understand and intuitive but don’t allow the user to model. Standard templates are generated with the possibility to change a limited amount of parameters such as dimensions and colours.

2.      O&P Modelling Software

These are more versatile; generally, different types of orthotics can be modelled, even from scratch. These are designed to enable a smoother design process for O&P applications compared to general CAD software. Even though this kind of software is sometimes faster than general CAD software, it can still be very complicated. 


In general 3D modelling requires a lot of technical knowledge. For instance, during the modelling phase, you need to keep in mind the capabilities of the printer that you use for the manufacturing of the orthotic. If not, it’s likely that the print will fail. For more complex orthotics, it’s a good idea to outsource the modelling step to experts who have put procedures and templates in place, to automate parts of the process, and thus operate more time-efficient and cost-effective. For more information on the different types of 3D modelling, you can consult our latest expert guide.

This year, we introduced a revolutionary scan rectification and 3D modelling solution. A user-friendly 3D modelling tool that guides you step-by-step through the designing process enables you to customise and model orthotics for the wrist and forearm together with the patient. You get the same creative freedom as with CAD software but without the steep learning curve. Design the shape of the splint yourself: splint length, the position of alveoli, thumb immobilisation,… Fancy a demonstration? Let us know.


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