Designed Prosthetics (2014)

Designed Prosthetics (2014)

During his post-graduate studies – which involved amongst other things using the Connex multi-material printer, studying human anatomy and creating small-scale models – Zach Challies was accepted for a Summer scholarship which evolved into his Master of Design Innovation thesis ‘Designed Prosthetics’ under the supervision of Bernard Guy and Ross Stevens.

Materials and processes – close up

For this project Zach was able to utilize the existing 3D printing facilities at VUW and newly acquired scanners.


The traditional CAD program Solidworks was stretched to its limits by the huge data sets generated by the scanners and the need to frequently fine tune little details. Zach found the Rhinoceros5 program with the Grasshopper plugin dealing with these better and giving detailed control over each feature and process step. By ‘writing code’ in Grasshopper it was easier, faster and more accurate to adjust the design models to the details of the facial scan.



As this project started out as Summer scholarship research under Bernard Guy and Ross Stevens’s direction, the school had invested in two state-of-the-art Artec Spider Scanners. These scanners provide a very high degree of detail with a resolution of up to 0.1mm.


A prosthesis needs to be flexible/compliant enough not to be an intrusion to the human body and solid enough to maintain its shape and function. The diagram illustrates the range that needs to be covered just for a nose. For this project the flexibility or Shore range achieved by using the Stratasys Connex 2 printer was crucial to the research.

In the initial stages though – for quicker turn-around times and feedback on design models (general fit, practicality and aesthetics) – faster desktop style FDM printers were used.

All of these printings were done in-house at VUW.

Base materials

The Connex printer uses Vero (a rigid, strong material) and Tango (a rubber-like material) polymers that can produce combinations covering the required Shore A scale from 27 to 100.

Project level

Master of Design Innovation thesis, MDI, supervisors Bernard Guy, Ross Stevens.

Technology and the human component

For the summer scholarship Zach became part of a team that was researching ways of using improved 3D scanners and printers to create a better fitting and more economical facial prosthesis. The team included Wellington maxillofacial surgeon Wayne Gillingham, who is at the forefront of using 3D printing technologies for medical applications. The client in this project had lost his nose due to Melanoma and he had raised various issues regarding traditional prosthesis production and management. As the research commenced it became apparent that straight-forward scanning and printing of samples wasn’t the only thing that needed consideration: the client and his attitudes, fears and hopes played a large part of informing the research team which avenues to abandon and which to continue. Personal feedback on actual fit, feel and the process itself were valuable data sets to incorporate into the conclusion of the thesis.

Zach explained with respect and insight the boundaries and hurdles that needed to be navigated to achieve a result that was satisfactory to the client and the research team. The human components – client, technician, maxillofacial surgeon and designers – and their emotional contexts (fear of exposure and rejection, fear of causing emotional pain) gave valuable insights to be considered during the design process. Zach and the team made a great effort at understanding all of these issues and finding acceptable solutions to create a productive and supportive environment for all involved.

International recognition of research

Taking his research beyond the confines of academic life, Zach submitted it to the James Dyson Awards – New Zealand section and won. As news of the win spread, the story was picked up by various 3D tech and general design blogs. Each highlighting a different detail relevant to their readers and drawing attention to the fact, that this kind of research is not just relevant to New Zealand, but because of its digital nature can have a worldwide impact.

Zach Challies

Zach Challies started at Victoria University in Wellington (New Zealand) with the intention of developing his knowledge and interests in media and graphics design. Towards the end of his first year he had the opportunity to create a 3D print and the result compelled him to change his major to Industrial Design with 3D printing and manufacturing technologies in particular. The creative and academic environment during his studies encouraged him to continue after his undergraduate success and attain a Master’s degree.