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E-Nable: Low-Cost 3D Printed Prosthetics

E-Nable: Low-Cost 3D Printed Prosthetics

A Global Network Of Passionate Volunteers Using 3D Printing To Give The World A "Helping Hand."

 “At beginning it was most difficult. I have no experience in 3D printing, so I tried various kinds of 3D printers, but they are limited by the size of build plate. Because Raise3D has bigger printer, then I can print prosthetics with adult size. This is wonderful.”

Dr. Edward Choi

Doctor of Virus Amynology

The e-NABLE Community is a global network of teachers, students, engineers, scientists, medical professionals, tinkerers, designers, artists, philanthropists, dreamers, coders, makers and everyday people who just want to make a difference and help to “Give The World A Helping Hand.” They provide 3D printed hands and arms for those in need of an upper limb assistive device.

E-Nable Sierra Leon is a branch of the organization in West Africa made up of a group of volunteers. During the the 90s, hundreds of adults and children lost their hands and arms to the brutality of the Civic War. E-Nable Sierra Leon aims to produce wrist-powered hands and elbow-powered arms at the cost of £50-200 a piece.

Completed 3D printed prosthetic arm and hand.

Offering prosthesis devices in an area such as Sierra Leon involves its own list of challenges.  By utilizing 3D printing, the E-Nable team has been able to offer specially made prosthetic hands and arms to a population that was previously unserviceable.

Before introducing 3D printing, the E-Nable team struggled with

  1. Limited options with long turnaround times and high cost associated with traditional prosthetics manufacturing.
  2. Inability to serve areas such as Sierra Leon due to high costs.
  3. Inability to produce large numbers of custom parts.


Since applying 3D printing, the E-Nable team in Sierra Leon has

  1. Produced 52 sets of prosthetics within two months.
  2. Lowered the cost per prosthetic to $50
  3. Optimized the time to create customized parts by utilizing the thermomolding properties of PLA material

Company: E-Nable Sierra Leon
Industry: Charity specialized in 3D printed prosthesis
Interviewee: Dr. Edward Choi
Title: Doctor of Virus Amynology

Process: Albert Fung, a talented biology illustrator from Canada, first designed a CAD template for the initial prosthetic.  Using this, the team is able to optimize the model for each patient's situation.  For a client in Sierra Leon, this meant customizing a prosthetic to handle the extreme climate, on a limb with little infrastructure, and in an area with poor economic support.  With the cost and time efficiency of 3D printing, Albert Fung and Dr Choi utilized one year, created 5 versions, and have optimized their design for Sierra Leon.

With current version available, the E-Nable team measures the dimensions of the local amputee’s forearm and customizes it within the CAD template. All pieces of prosthetics are then 3D printed and can assembled with simple joints lock, cords and springs. The main part of the prosthetic is printed flat and can be softened by boiling water. This heated prosthetic allows the team to easily shape it directly onto the amputee’s arm for a precision fit.

Fingers, elbows, joints, and other components of the prosthetic arm.

Local volunteers assembling the prosthetic arms.

ChallengesBefore 3D printing was adopted, Dr Choi and his teams only available option was the traditional prosthesis making process. If they decided to move forward in this method, the costs to both E-Nable and the Sierra Leon patients would have been impossible to achieve.

Common market prices for traditional prosthetics typically costs less than $5000 for a purely cosmetic piece. The costs can reach up to $10000 for a functional prosthetic arm that only offers a split hook.

The traditional process for making prosthetics is involved and requires hand-made parts and labor. Plaster casting is done over the residual limb to fabricate a diagnostic check socket. The check socket is first formed in transparent plastic to allow the observation of pressure points and problem areas. Usually multiple size sockets are made and modified to achieve the right fit which accumulate time and resources to minimize fitting issue.

Dr Choi (left) and Sierra Leon amputee using 3D printed prosthetic arm.