3 D Printing for Assistive Technology

3D printing is a process of making a three-dimensional solid object of virtually any shape from a digital model.   It is achieved using a process, where successive layers of material are laid down in different shapes.  While 3D printing technology has been around since the 1980s, it has not been until recently that 3D printers have became widely available commercially.

3D printing has applications in a wide range of industry sectors and now interest can be seen within assistive technology(AT).   For example, with designs such as the following; a device used to assist removing a jar lid and an alternative grip to hold the iPad.

jar opener

iPad grip

An easy way to introduce yourself into this whole area would be to consider a printing service.  There are now many printing services around.  Printing cost are generally based on the amount of material used and it starts at about €10.

One such services is Hacketts here in Dublin that can provide full-colour process, with high-resolution models.

To get started have a look at Thingiverse which is design community for making and sharing 3D printable things.

To build your own models  you’ll need some software. There are lots of free, and open source design tools to choose from such as 3dtin.com, Tinkercad.com, Sketchup, OpenSCAD  or Blender.  Also view some of the many 3D printing tutorials online.

An important point for clinicians to keep in mind is that prescribing a model for a user will make you the manufacturer so Medical Device Directive for customised devices needs to be followed.

Sean Loughran
Enable Ireland AT Training Service


  1. Have you ever heard of Thermoform, a pre 3D printers cousin I guess. A plastic sheet heated and stretched on a mould, has been around for many years. It is sort of 2 and a half dimensional, giving the user a raised profile but no where near as accurate as a 3D printer. I have come across it when print books are adapted for Vision Impaired persons, the illustrations being thermoformed to allow tactile access.

    1. Hi Nadine,
      Yes, I think the manufacture of disposable cups, containers, lids, trays etc. for the food and general retail industries are manufactured using the transforming process. The difference I think with 3D printing is that it is more for low volume items, such as prototyping. The transforming process uses a heated plastic sheet or film which is formed to a specific shape in a mold. So I guess it doesn’t allow for the intricate objects that 3D Printing can produce. Thanks for your comment.

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