By Thomas Gnau
An area company is harnessing the power of additive manufacturing to change patients’ lives for the better, while building the tools to help others do the same.
Visit the home of Dayton Artificial Limb in Clayton, and you’re actually visiting three companies — the Dayton Artificial Limb clinic, Prosthetic Design, Inc. and Montgomery Motor Sports, which makes motorcycle parts.
What unites all of those businesses?
“Better, faster, cheaper, in a nutshell,” said Brad Poziembo, a prosthetist.
Prosthetic Design, located at 700 Harco Drive, Clayton, is using the speed and flexibility of additive manufacturing — or 3-D printing — to make artificial limbs and prosthetics faster and stronger.
The company can have a prosthetist such as Poziembo meet with patient at the Harco Drive clinic in the morning. (Poziembo says he also makes house calls.) The prosthetist can scan that patient’s limb or extremity, capturing the necessary dimensions with a scanner attached to an iPad.
Quite often, Poziembo said, that patient can visit a nearby Bob Evans restaurant for a late breakfast or early lunch, return to the clinic, and a new limb will be ready for fitting.
“We’re able to fit patients, same day,” Poziembo said.
Michael Mullins, 50, of Harrison Twp. is a longtime patient of Poziembo’s. He has a artificial limb on his lower left leg.
On first meeting with Mullins, you very likely will have no idea that he sports a prosthetic. He walks and moves about normally.
“How can I say it? This is my fun time of the year,” Mullins said with a smile. “When I’m wearing (long) pants, unless you know, you can’t tell I have a prosthetic.”
For Mullins, a factory injury years ago worsened into a foot wound that would not heal. At one point, a doctor — the third one Mullins had consulted for the problem — told him that unless he agreed to an amputation, he would not enjoy any kind of quality of life.
In September 2014, Mullins met Poziembo with questions and concerns.
So far, the limb has worked for him.
“I do all kinds of stuff,” Mullins said. “I think it’s kind of funny. I painted my house … this works out perfectly.”
A growing part of the Harco-based business is making the 3-D printing machines that make prosthetic components.
At the end of October, Prosthetic Design sold the third-generation of its machine — dubbed the “PDI Squirt Shape 3D Printer” — to the South Texas Veterans Health Care System in San Antonio, Texas.
For years, Prosthetic Design has developed 3-D printing technology specifically designed to fabricate lower extremity prosthetic sockets.
That same technology is used by the sister company, Dayton Artificial Limb Clinic, which started fitting patients with 3D-printed prosthetics in 2013.
Company owner Tracy Slemker has been exploring the use of 3-D printing in fabricating artificial limbs and components since the late 1980s. Visitors to the company’s offices will see dozens of patent award plaques lining the walls.
Part of the company’s history is tied to Reggie Showers, a professional motorcycle drag racer who lost both of his lower legs in an electrical accident as a teenager.
“We made him special legs (for riding),” Poziembo said. “A lot of people didn’t even know he was an amputee.”
At first, additive manufacturing technology was too slow in the fabrication work. But Slemker devised ways to speed the process, focusing on a particular custom part, a “socket,” that connects the prosthetic to the patient.
The company estimates annual sales of $1.2 million.
“Other printers, they do a bunch of things well,” Poziembo said. “Ours do one thing — and that’s make sockets.”