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Central Alabama Prosthetics Team Embraces Technology with Charleston VA in 3-D Printing Project

Prosthetic test socket being printed. Image provided by Charleston VA.
Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center generating a prosthetic prototype using 3-D printing technology.

When Peter Williams, a prosthetist at Central Alabama Veterans Health Care System, heard about the possibility of using 3-dimensional printing to fulfill Veteran needs, he didn’t let the opportunity pass by.

Williams contacted Nicole Beitenman, the 3-D printing initiative leader at the Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center in Charleston, South Carolina, to begin collaborating.

Beitenman and Williams began generating prosthetics prototypes using 3-D printing technology. By doing this, a prosthetic test socket for an amputated patient can be returned to CAVHCS within 48 hours. Previously this process could take up to two weeks.

“We are currently still in the trial-and-error phase. But as of now, this process will allow us to expedite wait times for Veterans waiting for their prosthesis. The biggest pro of this project is that because we are working from VA to VA we are not incurring additional outside costs," said Williams.

The trial process consists of taking a 3-D scan of the limb needing a prosthesis, uploading the scan to the computer, sending the scan to the printer. The engineer in Charleston prints the prosthesis and mails it to Central Alabama, a process that takes weeks when an external vendor is involved. By doing this from VA to VA, the prothesis can be scanned, prepared and shipped within days instead of weeks.

“For CAVHCS, one of our long-term goals is to be able to 3-D print definitive sockets for patients in-house in under a week turn-around time,” said Beitenman. 

In 2020, Veterans Health Administration (VHA) Innovations launched the Agile Design and Product Transformation (ADAPT) Initiative. Because of the advancements in the printing process, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the Charleston VA was selected as 1 of 3 national 3-D printing hubs to support the country where the supply chain was experiencing significant delays.

In addition to the projects with CAVHCS, Beitenman’s team prints projects for use within their local hospital, VISN and all of VA. Some of the projects include, but are not limited to, dental guards, equipment tags, equipment casings, equipment covers, an assortment of wheelchair accessories (cup holders, trays, joysticks, etc.), medical personal protective equipment, testing supplies and more.


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