From Lab to the Literal Field: Custom-Fit, 3-D-Printed Medical Devices and Wearable Sports Gear

XO Armor courtesy photo, used with permission
XO Armor courtesy photo, used with permission

Presented: December 14, 2023 12:00 pm
Presented by: Michael E. Zabala, Ph.D.

In early fall of 2019, Dr. Michael Zabala received a phone call from his neighbor, Robbie Stewart, the head athletic trainer for Auburn Football.  A wide receiver had a broken hand, and Robbie wanted to know if the Auburn University Biomechanical Engineering Lab could make a custom device to protect the player’s hand but also allow him to play.  The Lab responded, and the injured player scored a touchdown the first time he wore the device.  After that, Dr. Zabala and his graduate students spent extensive time in the lab testing a multitude of material types and 3-D-printing methods to determine the ideal combination of maximized impact strength and minimized print times.  This work ultimately spawned a company, XO Armor, Inc., and what is now a widely used technology that combines smartphone app-enabled, 3-D scanning, and on-site 3-D printing to provide custom-fit medical devices and wearable sports gear.  This technology has been used in a wide range of settings from hospitals to sports medicine facilities, and providers can now offer custom-fit durable medical equipment on demand.  Some examples of these devices include various casts for broken bones, ankle braces (including what are commonly called “ankle-foot orthoses”), braces for other injured joints like the wrist, splints for injured fingers, and any type of protective guard for contusions located anywhere on the body.

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