Improving Lives: 3-D Printing and Prosthetics

Part of NCC’s 2019 annual National Endowment for the Humanities theme, “Social Entrepreneurship and Justice.”

Myra Saturen,

How does one create a large-scale, successful business which has a humanitarian purpose?

A good entrepreneur spots an unmet need and fills it.  Dr. Michael Gorski, MBA (accounting), PhD (research psychology), saw a gap in the manufacture of prosthetics and orthotics.   He created Filament Innovations, to make reliable and robust 3D Printing affordable for all businesses.  The company, located in North Whitehall, specializes in larger-scale, high quality FDM printers with strong structural components on the cutting edge.  Applied to prosthetics, this technology improves lives for people who have had amputations.

Invited by Kathi Jo Weinert, professor, Disability Services, and Bill Mutimer, associate professor, theatre, Gorski spoke at Northampton Community College (NCC) on November 19 about his manufacturing company, Filament Innovations, in North Whitehall.  The presentation was a part of NCC’s annual National Endowment for the Humanities theme, “Social Entrepreneurship and Justice.”  Mutimer is this year’s chairperson. 

Gorski started his business in a small spare bedroom in 2015, moving to his present plant in 2018.  The company focuses on larger-scale, more industrial 3D printers built by hand. It supports American manufacturing by purchasing parts from U.S. firms.  Their clients include the U.S. Army, the Department of Veterans Affairs, Abilities in Motion, and others.   In fact, the NCC Fab Lab, at the Fowler Family Southside Center, has one of Gorski’s 3-D printers, from which molds can be made.

One of Filament Innovations printed products is a check socket, a clear plastic mold used to make a definitive socket, which connects the limb with the prosthetic.  A key advantage is the company’s efficiency.  Filaments Innovations uses larger machines with a high-flow system that gets a functional knee socket made in one hour rather than the usual twenty-five to thirty.  Presently, the definitive socket is made according to methods currently available.  This will soon change, as the manufacturer explores advanced polymers and improved designs to make a definitive socket and prosthetics using its 3-D printers. 

At one veteran’s hospital, Filament Innovations printers run 24/7, enabling the staff to see more patients in a day.  Filament Innovations trains prosthetics staff on how to use their 3-D printers.  The goal of the high-flow system produced by Filament Innovations is to have a patient arrive in the morning and leave the same day with a prosthesis, made in the traditional way, meticulously fitted to their leg. 

Gorski has found introducing his printers to businesspeople challenging because the technology is new and unfamiliar.  But he feels that embracing the new is essential to a business’s survival.  “If you do not change your mind-set in a business, then that is the kiss of death,” he says.

Filament Innovations works with the organization LifeNabled, which serves amputees in Guatemala, where many adults and children have lost limbs for various reasons.  One woman was attacked by a group of men and lost her arm.  Using 3-D printing, LifeNabled was able to print an arm, and now she visits LifeNabled when they come to Guatemala with other people who need prosthetics.  Another woman lost both legs at the age of twenty while picking lemons in her yard and stepping on a landmine.  Twenty years later, she has artificial limbs, thanks to 3-D printing. 

“This technology changes lives,” said Weinert.   “People can walk to the market, children who lost limbs can run again.  The woman who lost both legs in rural Guatemala now can walk independently again, improving the quality of her life in her daily skills.  She thanked Gorski for giving back in this way. 

What kind of employee does Filament Innovations look for?  Gorski’s greatest need is for designers.  “I look for a great personality, which means the willingness to learn.  The willingness to learn means everything to me,” he said.  Education in business and engineering is also valuable.

Gorski says he was “born and raised as an engineer.”  At the age of four, his father taught him engineering by working on cars and continued to teach his son throughout the years. 

Northampton Community College's NEH series is made possible by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the generous support of donors.  NCC partners with the Bethlehem Area Public Library, the Eastern Monroe Public Library, Historic Bethlehem Museums and Sites, Bethlehem Area School District, the Monroe County Historical Society, and the Stroudsburg Area School District.