By Clark Howard, ClarkHoward.com
OCTOBER 1, 2013 – If you end up losing a body part, prosthetics can be expensive. But the miracle of new technology has a cost-effective answer.
I recently read an Associated Press report about a South African carpenter who lost 4 fingers using a circular saw. He could not afford the cost of a limb that would allow him to continue earning a living. So he decided to use a 3D printer to make a prosthetic.
From that experiment, a company was born called RoboHand.net. The company’s design are available open source for non-commercial use. They’re not looking to make any money from this; it’s just about helping people. The really amazing thing is it’s now possible to make a custom hand fit for the exact hand size of an individual who needs it for $500!
In other news, it was last year that CNET reported a company called LayerWise used a computer-assisted drawing to make an exact titanium replica of a woman’s jaw and then “print” it up on the spot before the surgery.
It may sound like science fiction, but it’s happening right now. And as you can probably tell, a 3-D printer is machine that instead of making a photocopy of a piece of paper actually makes an item by creating it layer by layer out of platic, metal or other material.
Meanwhile, another company called Bespoke Innovations is planning to make artificial limbs that are highly customized to the individual with the help of 3-D printers. Best of all, these prosthetics can be made at a mere one-tenth their usual cost.
Yet another company called LGM has developed a type of 3-D printer that goes on the back of a flatbed truck and can go around to build a home for you on-site wall by wall.
In addition, there are implications here for women’s clothing. Women want clothing that’s as flattering as possible and right for their body types. 3-D printers that can make custom clothing fitted exactly to a woman’s contours should give boutiques a real run for their money.
Finally, one automaker is already adopting mass customization in its factories: BMW. Some time ago, I read a separate story about how customers can pick from hundreds of different drink holders, for example. The assembly line is designed in a way that every single vehicle can be made to taste, completely different from the one that came down the line before it or after it. Of course, BMW is at a price point that can support customization!
But the real marketplace will be for goods that are customized and potentially much more affordable.