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Printing solutions for patients: Fargo manufacturing facility creates 3-D printed prosthetics, orthotics

Derek Holt leans against an early prototype of Protosthetics’ 3-D printing kiosk Thursday, May 11, 2017, in their Fargo lab. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor1 / 4
Josh Teigen, from left, Cooper Bierscheid and Derek Holt of Protosthetics, are seen Thursday, May 11, 2017, in their Fargo lab. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor2 / 4
Josh Teigen, president and chief visionary of Protosthetics, shows some of the company’s own 3-D printers Thursday, May 11, 2017, in their Fargo lab. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor3 / 4
Protosthetics makes custom 3-D printed prosthetics and braces as seen Thursday, May 11, 2017, in their Fargo lab. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor4 / 4

FARGO—The team at a new manufacturing facility here gets by with a little help from their friends Yao, Shaq, Larry, Wilt and Kareem.

That's not the the interns starting later this week—it's the NBA player nicknames given to customized 3-D printers that are much taller than standard units on the market.

Height is an important consideration for Protosthetics, a company that designs, makes and distributes devices ranging from waterproof leg prosthetics to orthotic pieces that help with comfort and movement.

Things like a transfemoral socket, which allows above-the-knee amputees to connect to artificial legs, can get too tall to build in a standard 3-D printer.

That's why the growing startup that moved this spring into its new facility at 617 4th St. N. has printers solely dedicated to printing parts so it can build more Protosthetics Tallboy printers and keep up with demand for its custom prosthetics and orthotics.

Protosthetics will open its doors for an open house and ribbon-cutting ceremony at 3 p.m. Tuesday, May 16.

Helping people

Protosthetics got its start about 15 months ago, setting up in a small leased space in Barnesville, Minn., that it got after winning a grant.

It quickly outgrew that spot, and Chief Visionary Josh Teigen said the team knew they wanted to come to Fargo. After some searching with Kilbourne Group, they settled on this nearly 9,000-square-foot facility that formerly housed Welu Dental Laboratory.

Teigen, a Fargo native and graduate of the University of North Dakota's School of Entrepreneurship, had a couple of businesses in the past. It was Protosthetics' Chief Futurist, Cooper Bierscheid, who told him about the possibilities of using 3-D printers to make prosthetics.

"I was like, 'Well, that's way cooler than what I'm doing now,' " Teigen said.

They joined forces and launched the company, hiring Chief Swiss Army Knife Derek Holt along the way.

Bierscheid, a native of Watertown, S.D., had a "dream job" offer after earning a manufacturing engineering degree from North Dakota State University, but he turned it down to start this new company.

"My goal has always been to invent products that help people," he said.

Holt said he left his job at Integrity Windows because he could see the potential with Bierscheid and Teigen.

"Being here, I'm designing two new things today," he said. "It's fun and I have direct input."

That includes making its own version of water legs, solving a problem for millions of Americans. Teigen said traditional prosthetic legs aren't meant to be worn anywhere they can get wet or dirty, meaning amputees often have to use a shower chair or sit on the floor of the shower.

Their solution, the Amphibian Leg, can be made in around five hours once a scan of the patient is sent by a clinic. The custom devices are durable enough to wear around the beach or during sporting activities, though the primary use is making it easier to shower.

Water legs aren't covered by health insurance and traditionally are quite expensive, while Protosthetics' version can get to patients for $1,500 or less.

The team is hard at work these days building more custom printers and kiosks that house each printer. Their goal is to have 35 or so of these kiosks up and running by the end of the summer.

The business also plans to someday lease custom-built printing kiosks directly to clinics. The advantage, they say, is that clinics could print devices in-house, speeding up delivery to patients who need water legs or other products as soon as possible.

"When you think about our end user, mobility is their challenge," Teigen said.

Business profile

What: Protosthetics

Where: 617 4th St. N., Fargo

Online: www.protosthetics.com

Ryan Johnson

Ryan Johnson has been a Forum reporter since 2012 and previously wrote for the Grand Forks Herald.

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