The Drape Forming Method for Prosthetic Sockets


How to drape form with Orfitrans Excel

The drape forming method is a tried and tested method for the fabrication of prosthetic sockets, liners and orthoses. In contrast to the bubble/blister forming method, drape forming involves using a flat, heated thermoplastic sheet and manually forming it around a mould.

Thanks to its self-adhesive properties, Orfitrans Excel lends itself perfectly to this method. It is a light-weight material that pulls easily and uniformly for comfortable sockets and orthoses.

Read on to discover our best drape forming tips and tricks and learn how to get optimal fabrication results from Orfitrans Excel.

For this article, we’ll be focusing on the fabrication of a transtibial prosthetic socket.

When to use drape forming

Both drape and bubble forming work perfectly to create qualitative, durable O&P products. The choice between the two methods is entirely dependent on the personal preference of the prosthetist.

The drape forming method has a couple of specific benefits:

  • Vacuum equipment is not required. (If preferred, however, drape forming can be combined with a vacuum).
  • Drape forming makes it easier to maintain an even thickness across the entire socket or orthosis.

You could consider using drape forming in the following instances:

  • When you are working with smaller moulds.
  • When an even thickness is essential.
  • When using thinner thermoplastic sheets.
  • For orthotic applications.

Drape forming a transtibial prosthetic socket

Thermoplastic Materials

Orfitrans Excel is the material of choice for the drape forming method, because of its self-adhesive properties. These thermoplastic sheets are available in a wide range of thicknesses, but we do recommend choosing a thickness of 3, 4 or 5 mm.

For this article, we are using a 4 mm thick Orfitrans Excel sheet.

Step 1: Prepare the positive mould

  • Position and install a plaster, foam or wooden positive mould.
  • If using, connect a vacuum system. We’ll be showing the drape forming method without a vacuum.
  • Treat the mould with a very light layer of silicone spray and rub it in.

Spraying the plaster positive mould with silicone demoulding spray.

If you prefer, you can apply a cotton stockinette to facilitate socket removal. Do keep in mind that the pattern of the fabric can transfer onto the thermoplastic material.

Read our article about creating the perfect positive mould for more tips and tricks.

Step 2: Heat the thermoplastic sheet

Orfitrans Excel 4 mm should be heated at a temperature of 130°C (266°F) for 6 minutes (convection) or 3.5 minutes (infrared). Have a look at the Orfitrans Activation Poster for an overview of activation temperatures/times for all Orfitrans materials.

  • Heat the Orfitrans Excel sheet in a convection or infrared oven.
  • Place the material flat on a Teflon sheet.

Step 3: Form the sheet on the positive mould

  • Position the positive mould at a horizontal angle.
  • Take the Orfitrans Excel sheet out of the oven and drape the material over the positive mould.
  • Create a seam along the underside of the mould by pressing the material together.
Man draping an Orfitrans thermoplastic sheet over a positive mould.
Two gloved hands moulding an Orfitrans thermoplastic sheet on a plaster positive mould

  • While the material is still hot, use scissors to cut away excess material and to create a seam.
  • Wearing heat-resistant gloves, form and press the material around the mould. Make sure it conforms well and try to avoid air bubbles.

Man using scissors to trim a drape formed thermoplastic transtibial socket.
Two gloved hands moulding a transtibial prosthetic socket.

Step 4: Smooth out the seam

  • Use pliers to secure the bond of the seam.
  • Carefully trim any excess material with a cutter.

Pliers clenching the seam of a drape formed transitibial socket
Cutter trimming the seam of a thermoplastic prosthetic socket

  • Grind and polish the seam to make it flat and smooth.
  • To make the seam extra flat, you can lightly reheat the area with a heat gun.
  • Using a narrow round object, such as a screwdriver, roll along the seam to flatten and smooth it out. Take your time for this step; the seam should become almost undetectable.

Man using a heat gun to smooth the seam of a drape formed transtibial socket
Screwdriver flattening the seam of a drape formed transtibial socket

Step 5: Finish the socket

Remove the socket from the mould to trim and polish the edges. Read more about this final step.

Inside of a drape-formed thermoplastic transtibial socket
Finished semi-clear thermoplastic transtibial socket

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