‘3D Printing Meets Human Needs’: 3D Systems Keynote at Inside 3D Printing Santa Clara Explores Opportunities in “3D Printing-Plus”


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20151022_095728While yesterday’s morning keynote at Inside 3D Printing Santa Clara kicked the day off with an out-of-this-world look at technology with Made in Space President Andrew Rush, this morning’s keynote was much more down-to-Earth. Scott Summit took to the stage today to present a keynote called ‘3D Printing Meets Human Needs: New Opportunities to Explore.’ Summit, who founded Bespoke seven years ago and now works as the Design Director at 3D Systems, brought an engaging and informative perspective to the conference as he walked through the contributions that 3D printing technology can make–now–to benefit the quality of life for a variety of people in need.

“It isn’t about 3D printing,” Summit used as a refrain throughout his presentation, introducing the idea of “3D printing-plus.” He explained, “3D printing is a tonic, is an ingredient.”

Applications for 3D printing are more important, he put forth, than the actual technology itself: the critical point is the “plus” of the “3D printing-plus.” That is, 3D printing + philanthropy can lead to a sum far greater than either part; likewise for other applications. Example equations include:

  • 3D Printing + Data Visualization = greater information understanding
  • 3D Printing + Health Care = improved quality of care
  • 3D Printing + 3D Scanning + Health Care = improved medical outcomes
  • 3D Printing + Medical Sensing = proactive health care
  • 3D Printing + Space Travel = opportunities for long-term life in space
  • 3D Printing + Philanthropy = global health challenges addressed

Clearly a common thread here is, in fact, 3D printing. None of the advanced solutions Summit examined and presented for consideration could be possible as they were with 3D printing. But there’s so much more than an extruder or a powder bed at play here, as the other common thread immediately apparent lies in the betterment of real-life problems, with the combinations here providing real-life solutions.

“Can you print this?” Summit spoke of an email he and his team received from 3DS’ CMO/EVP, Cathy Lewis, with a file attached; while they’d expected an .stl or .obj attachment, what they found was a surprise: it was a .wmv file. Following some trial and even more error, Summit’s team eventually realized what they were working with, as they worked toward a physical realization of digital synesthesia. Lewis revealed to them after a time that the sound file was in fact six seconds of recorded dolphin sounds. Once Summit’s team had an approach at hand, he was able to excitedly tell his wife a pretty great sentence:

“We’re using Rhino and Grasshopper and Python to hack dolphins!” he relayed.

Ultimately, the creation Summit’s team came up with produced a visualization of an actual dolphin conversation, in which one dolphin was able to ‘explain’ to another what its previous pen had looked like via echolocation. The means were impressive, but the end result was a wholly new understanding of the depths of these dolphins’ communication capabilities.

“It wasn’t about 3D printing,” Summit said, “it was about visualizing data.”

20151022_100544Summit then turned to other uses for 3D printing technology, starting with what had led him to found Bespoke seven years ago: health care. An 8-year-old girl, named Anais, had what was likely the world’s first customized 3D printed fracture brace for her arm. At a time when few adults were familiar with the potential of 3D printing technology, an elementary student was showing off her customized brace created just for her, down to having her name as part of the design.

20151022_101048Following her successful healing, as well as two other young girls’ 3D printed tibia braces, Summit found another patient in need of a customized healing device: himself. As we covered back in July, Summit was able to create a stabilization device as his arm healed, forestalling the need for a full fiberglass cast from knuckle to bicep.


“So, this slide’s going to take some explaining,” Summit said. (He was right!)

Moving on to touch on other potential applications for additive manufacturing, Summit mentioned Sugar Labs’ ongoing work toward developing 3D printable food–including the idea that in the future a toilet may be able to analyze the data found in the DNA and gut bacteria of its users, send that data to linked devices, and have a 3D printer in the kitchen prepare specially-designed dishes that could react to existing or potentially developing issues.

From there, it was back to space and on-demand, on-site 3D printing.

“The Martian came out recently, and I know we were all thinking it–what the hell is this guy doing on Mars without a 3D printer?” Summit asked with a grin.

He mentioned the research of Dr. Julielynn Wong, who is developing solar-powered 3D printers that can print medical and other necessary parts anywhere. These printers can be used in rural and otherworldly locations, bringing splints and medical supplies where they might be needed most.20151022_102044Braces provide another use for 3D printing, where Summit and his team have seen success with devices for carpal tunnel and for scoliosis. There’s a problem with many store-bought carpal tunnel braces, Summit noted, which begs the question: “How do you make it not suck?” When a brace is worn more, the problem it’s meant to address can be fixed, and when the problem is addressed, it might just be fixed. Similarly, braces for scoliosis often go unworn, as they tend to be designed for 8-to-10-year-old girls.

“The reason the brace doesn’t work isn’t that the brace doesn’t work–it’s medically sound. Have you tried to make an 8-to-10-year-old girl do something she doesn’t want to?”

The low-profile brace possible through 3D printing isn’t just functional, it can be fashionable. The youths wearing the braces can take a part in designing them to their liking, and the slim-fit profile is unobtrusive and takes away the stigma that can be attached to wearing one regularly during the often-called ‘awkward years’ of life.

“The brace can be fashion she gets to wear, not medicine she has to wear,” Summit said. “You get to choose fashion, you don’t get to choose medicine.”


Farther in the future, Summit sees that a fully 3D printed exoskeleton, like this one developed for Amanda Boxel, who is paralyzed from the waist down, will replace wheelchairs. He is working with XL Bionics on this process–which is “a long, long way off.”

From the start of Bespoke, Summit’s mission has been focused on bringing a human element to healing–and that initially began with prosthetics. He wanted to turn what had been “fairly mechanical” pieces into a functional, artistic “homage” to the human body, “treating it as an art object.” And “that,” he said, “is what led me to 3D printing.”

From legs custom made for victims of the Boston Marathon bombing to a design for a Hollywood actress who requested a “chrome fishnet stocking” design, the prosthetics Summit has designed and worked with his team to create keep the focus on, above all, the person they’re intended to help. Keeping the human element in any medical device is a primary focus, and helps to ease a difficult need. He also works with e-NABLE to create individual, high-quality, low-cost hands.

“It’s less about printing a hand…it’s a crowd-sourced, nimble, philanthropic, distributed manufacturing,” he said.

Another push of Summit’s is his hope that trade shows like Inside 3D Printing might benefit from the exhibit hall–instead of printing a neat, but not necessarily useful, object to show off the capabilities of machinery, Summit referenced the popular rook design that is so often created for this purpose.

“Let’s ditch the rook, let’s print the hand,” Summit said.

If trade show floors used their dozens of running 3D printers to craft e-NABLE hands, there could only be benefits all around. The machines are showcased–and the hands could be shipped off (insert Summit’s comment about “international arms trade” here) to help those who need them most.

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