UNYQ – Materialising the Digital

UNYQ’s ‘Catwalk, Rivet and Vittra from stigma to style: 3D printed prosthetic covers.’ as seen in ‘Materialising the Digital’ at The Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences, produces dramatic medical aesthetic innovations through various digital processes. These fairings are not only state-of-the-art, practical and unique designs, but the material manifestations serve a very aesthetic and ethical purpose too. UNYQ has the ability to recreate the body form of amputees to gain a better quality of life. This particular aim is achieved through iterative experiments with the materials, technology and ideas. It is an affordable process to produce a customised piece of armour, created to fit the exact specifications and personality for that individual. The significance of this development highlights the incredible diversity of 3D printing and the patient-orientated medical advancements and treatments that can be achieved for people needing assistance.

The central ideas which UNYQ explores are the craftsmanship and functionality of artificial body parts and fairings and how these can improve the quality of life for the wearer. The designs of the armour are unique, personal and visually pleasing. As Pangburn (2015) states; “The conversation changes. It’s no longer about ‘what happened.’ It now starts with ‘Wow, that’s cool!” (Pangburn, 2015). UNYQ has brought back the element of craftsmanship and design to medical appendages this allows individuals to express their personality through the colours and design. The armour returns symmetry to the body and hides the mechanical look of the prosthetic. “Fairings do more than just protect the prosthetic: they also help to restore symmetry, fill out pant legs – and beyond the purely aesthetic considerations, fairings can be a powerful way for prosthetic wearers to express their personality and tell their story… sort of like you would with a tattoo.” (fundable, 2017). UNYQ’s design fits various prosthetics and body types, as it can be individually customised to the exact anatomy of the person, and the additional prosthetic. We see this in the exhibition as each fairing was a different size. 3D printing has made this possible and revolutionises how we create artificial body parts and fairings. The demographic the armour caters to is a potentially vulnerable customer, so the armour helps build confidence in the wearer. 3D printing also makes the fairings affordable, removing the financial stress of expensive and aesthetically pleasing prosthetics. According to Wadhwa in Forbes; “The printers themselves have become cheaper, faster, and better able to handle stronger materials. The technology’s adoption in healthcare has taken off. Batteries have gotten smaller, and equipment lighter” (Wadhwa 2016). The social stigmas of disability are also challenged as the armour becomes and extension of the person wearing it, they are given this superhuman advantage of creating their own leg. “We are taking something that used to be a source of frustration or indignity and turning it into a means for self-expression and pride.”  (Karena 2016).

One of the intentions of the work is to create a consumer orientated and customised prosthetic covering, from the dimensions to the design, style and fit. Previously the look of prosthetics had drawn attention to the individual, due to the uncanny visual similarity to the existing leg, socially it was a topic that was avoided.  What UNYQ provides takes away the robotic and generic look, and brings personality and almost super-human qualities to the prosthetic.  The material manifestation of the work gives the fairings the properties to function incredibly well on existing prosthetics.  The creation of the work ‘Catwalk, Rivet and Vittra from Stigma to Style’, encompasses new technologies and materials with craftsmanship and design to construct a state of the art medical fairing suitable for anyone to wear. In order for all these components to successfully work together, research regarding the correct materials was needed. Polymer and ABS were the chosen materials, as they could be used for 3D printing, “Objects 3D printed this way will be stronger and more impact-resistant. Therefore, it is better suited for mechanical parts and for objects that need to be weatherproof.” (Grieser, 2016). The properties of ABS/polymer align to the necessities of the fairings in regards to cost, durability, strength and weight and  it is an “ideal material for structural applications when impact resistance, strength, and stiffness are required.” (Plastics International, 2017).  With the development and experimentation of 3D printing, we now understand the immeasurable scope to which we can create anything produced with materials that can work with the printers. UNYQ have harnessed and experimented with this uprising technology, to create a prototype not only for practical use but for innovative design. However, these developments take many progressions and forms of iteration before “all the patient needs to do is snap a few pictures with a smartphone app, choose colours and designs, and UNYQ will design a prosthetic cover, or fairing, that fits perfectly and looks stylish.” (Scott, 2016). However this goal has been achieved through UNYQ’s iterative process.  

The way we preserve the aesthetic of the human body has come with great difficulty due to the restrictions of technology. Imagery scanning allows the transformation from an image of a leg to the end product of a polymer fairing. UNYQ’s process begins through 3D scanning (Photogrammetry) which is a scan created purely through photos, this makes it incredibly accessible to receive correct dimensions for the fairings. Mobile applications are critical to the correct customisation of the fairing. (UNYQ, 2016)  “The process of fitting the patient for a prosthetic leg is done with UNYQ’s smartphone app. All that’s required is eight photos for an above knee amputee, and UNYQ is able to use photogrammetry software to create a CAD file that can go straight to the printer. What was once done by a team of people using their eyes can now be done more precisely by machine in minutes. ”  (Wadhwa, 2016). The presentation of the works during the Museum display, although only 3 works are sampled,  highlights the extent to which each fairing can be modified and altered. They also look simple and visually pleasing and this is what makes them so successful in a market where design and expression had been neglected.

The process of photogrammetry is the cameras ability to register an image and its location through geometry and measurements. These measurements include the camera orientation and provide an understanding of the distance between the camera and the object. Photogrammetry can be directly linked to and influenced by remote sensing and image procession which is critical to better understand the object and to perform a better interpretation of the image we see. The advantages of photogrammetry are the contact-free sensing. For UNYQ, it allows them to access a large group of people all over the world, without having the individuals needing to be physically present in a scan. All the client needs is a mobile phone to take a series of images to send. The multiple images UNYQ asks its clients to capture of the amputated leg, allows them to best recreate the 3D geometry of the object. The camera measures the intensities (photons), which register with the pixels in the camera and creates that image. Multiple images shape a 3D image, as long as the same vectors are included in each image. Another massive advantage is the ability to change and modify the 3D object within the software, by going back to the original image to retrieve the original data. If a mistake is made it is a process that is flexible and has the ability to have multiple iterations without impacting the final 3D image. although the advantages outweigh the disadvantages, occlusions and visibility constraints prove difficult if the individual does not take the photos correctly, or the pixels in the camera don’t have enough clarity. The way the scanning works from the projection from the 3D world to the 2D world allows for manipulation to the image, which can include human error and mistakes on the 2d image on the screen. You lose 1 dimension and recreating that dimension through 3D creations software isn’t perfect but a very close manipulation to the original.  (Photogrammetry I – 01 – Introduction, 2015)  As each digital entity evolves, it pushes the influencing elements to also develop this not only allows more medical technological advancements but also impacts the world socially and economically.

UNYQ is growing expanding their 3D printed medical embellishments such as the scoliosis brace, which is pushing boundaries in medical gold class bracing methodologies. (UNYQ 2016). There are 2 avenues has, UNYQ armour and UNYQ align. The armour includes the above the knee fairings (AK) and the below the knee fairings (BK). The website highlights how diverse the options for customisation are, including many different styles in both, which we see a sample of in the Materialising the Digital. There are options for a matte and glossy finish, and some of the colours include: carbon, copper, titanium, coral, lavender and gold. There are a selection of skin tones, with a total of 29 colour options. All together it includes 58 different colours  and 17 AK and BK styles.  “To the amputees that wear them, prosthetic limbs are much more than just accessories — they’re an extension of your body – and of who you are, as well. UNYQ harnesses state-of-the-art 3D printing and photogrammetry software to create beautiful custom prosthetic covers that offer prosthetic leg wearers unprecedented levels of protection and comfort — and look good doing it.” (Fundable 2017).  The other avenue UNYQ align ‘a scoliosis treatment based on proven bracing methodologies and patient centric philosophy. The fashionable and breathable brace is the newest advancement in UNYQ’s ever evolving medical embellishments. ‘The Align is also able to help patients track their personal data, which can be used in the treatment process. To do this an Intel chip, said to be the size of a button, has been included in the brace.’ (Burgess, 2016) 

The conversation between the two different armours elevate the importance of this evolution of medial fairings, and creates a complex hybrid of technologies to better the quality of life of disabled people.  With the consistent develop of technologies and digital practice it pushes any company or organisation to keep up, always aiming for the state of the art materials and technologies, which is a fantastic opportunity for the consumer. The final outcome of the project pushes boundaries of medical embellishments and fashion as models are wearing the fairings and brace in fashion shows. “It was rare for a device that can be used for medical treatments to be launched at a fashion show. “Francis Bitonti, Peter Wildfeuer and Li Chen used innovative topology optimisation technology to create the most lightweight and beautiful scoliosis brace,” Eythor Bender, UNYQ’s CEO added.” (Burgess, 2016) The UNYQ movements also sheds a very ethical light on disabilities and projecting a superhuman quality on the wearer to overcome the negative limitations and connotations. There are amputees wearing the fairings taking part in physical activities such as cross-fit and cycling.

The significance of the work is radical and has been executed flawlessly. The aims UNYQ intended to achieve have been exceeded, through the iterations and development of other series. What is intriguing about the work is, the various avenues and partnerships forming to create a 3D printed medical orientated movement. Bringing equality and freedom to those restricted by loss of limbs, or medical conditions that prevent people from having a good quality of life.


Burgess M, 2016 This 3D-printed brace built by an algorithm could help treat scoliosis, wired viewed: 25th April 2017 http://www.wired.co.uk/article/studio-bitonti-algorithm-intel-cast

Fundable, 2017, ‘UNYQ’ viewed: 1st April 2017,  https://www.fundable.com/unyq-funded

Grieser, F 2016, PLA vs ABS: Filaments for 3D Printing Explained & Compared, ALL3DP. viewed: 1st April 2017, https://all3dp.com/pla-abs-3d-printer-filaments-compared/

Plastics International, 2017, ABS Tecaran® viewed: 2nd April 2017, http://www.plasticsintl.com/abs.htm

Pangburn, DJ 2015, 3D-Printed Covers Bring a Stylish Touch to Prosthetic Limbs, Good viewed: April 19th 2017, https://www.good.is/articles/unyq-3d-printed-prosthetic-covers

Scott, C 2016, Things Look Brighter for Wounded Veterans Thanks to 3D Printed Prosthetics Companies Like UNYQ, 3D print, viewed: 12th April 2017,  https://3dprint.com/118818/unyq-3d-printed-prosthetics/

Karena, C 2016, Eythor Bender quote, 3D printing lets the disabled take control, Sydney Morning Herald, viewed: 16th April 2017 http://www.smh.com.au/technology/technology-news/3d-printing-lets-the-disabled-take-control-20160614-gpih8g

Wadhwa, T 2016, The Digitalization of Prosthetics Is Transforming How Wounded Service Members and Veterans Recover, Forbes, viewed: 20th April 2017, https://www.forbes.com/sites/tarunwadhwa/2016/02/02/the-digitalization-of-prosthetics-is-transforming-how-wounded-service-members-and-veterans-recover/#3f2f57965d5c

UNYQ, 2016, UNYQ: Personalised Prosthetics, viewed: 25th April 2017 http://unyq.com/

Stachniss, C 2015 Photogrammetry I – 01 – Introduction (2015) Youtube Video, July 9th 2015, viewed: 26th April 2017 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_mOG_lpPnpY.


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