A laboratory where hundreds of eyes, ears and noses are stored sounds like the stuff of horror movies – but designer Tom Fripp’s workshop is not the least bit scary.
Instead, the workshop contains the technology needed to revolutionise the way thousands of people with facial disfigurements are treated every year.
Tom’s firm Fripp Design, based at the Advanced Manufacturing Park in Catcliffe, Rotherham, has devised a 3D printing method which can make prosthetic facial features for as little as £150 – making the process cheaper, quicker and more accurate.
Currently, patients requiring facial reconstruction after illness or injury have had to wait while parts are made by hand – but using the printing system the company can create more than 100 eyes in as little as an hour.
Tom, who studied industrial design at Sheffield Hallam University, said the development was a ‘game-changer’ and some of his products are now just months away from hitting the market.
He said: “We have hundreds of noses and ears, there really are an infinite number of options for the patient.
“The technology will make prostheses a lot more affordable for a lot more people. I’m glad we can give people that opportunity.”
Each year, more than 400,000 people in the UK suffer temporary or permanent facial disfigurement.
The traditional method of making a prosthesis begins with a plaster cast of the affected area.
Then a wax mould is carved from the cast and the replacement body part made in silicone from the mould.
This process takes weeks and can cost up to £3,000.
But Fripp Design’s system involves scanning a patient’s face in 3D, before the required part is ‘attached’ using computer software and printed off soon afterwards with starch powder before silicon is added.
Meanwhile, eyes are also printed from powder, with coloured details such as the iris and blood vessels included.
But Tom admitted that he is aware of some resistance from craftsmen and women who specialise in making handmade prosthetics and may be worried about the effect new technology will have on their trade.
He said: “I can understand it from their point of view, as they are a little bit concerned about keeping their jobs.”