3D Printing Spotlight On: Katie McKinley, Head of Business Development and Strategic Partnerships, axial3D


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The medical industry has seen a number of changes as 3D printing has become a part of it. Those changes been positive ones – even lifesaving ones, as surgeons use 3D printed organ models to plan extremely complex surgeries before operating, or 3D printed implants repair damage caused by severe injury or illness. The benefits of 3D printed organ models, in particular, are becoming more widely known throughout the industry, and demand is growing, though not all hospitals have the capabilities to 3D print their own models. That’s where companies like axial3D come in.

The Belfast, Northern Ireland company 3D prints highly detailed models based on patient scan data and provides them to healthcare facilities with a fast turnaround time. Head of Business Development and Strategic Partnerships Katie McKinley handles axial3D’s commercial operations, and she is a firm believer in the continuing effects 3D printing will have on the medical field. McKinley is part of one of the most exciting and fast-growing industries out there today, and she was willing to share some of her insights for our latest Spotlight on Women installation.

Please tell us about yourself, your background and current work. 

“My academic background is thoroughly rooted in Sales and Marketing. After completing a Masters in ‘International Business Management’ between the UK and Canada I joined a digital pathology start-up as an assistant in the sales team, where I got my first taste of ‘start-up’ life. Over the next 9 years I progressed, ultimately leading the new business sales effort and managing global medical imaging partner relationships. I also sat on the Senior Leadership Team where I was one of three women on a nine-strong team.

In summer 2016, I had a chance meeting with axial3D’s Founder and CEO Daniel Crawford. I knew immediately the company was something I wanted to be a part of – and I thought my background and experience could help the company as it started down the road of market development. I have been able to draw on the similarities of my last industry with the medical 3D printing industry – they are both disruptive technologies, and both are set to transform personalized patient care. I manage the commercialization functions within the company, from sales and marketing, to partnerships and business development. We are quickly building up a team of fantastic people to support our rapid growth.”

When did you first learn about and become interested in 3D printing?

“Before axial3D, my level of knowledge about 3D printing was strictly limited to news articles, but it all felt very distant and futuristic. After meeting Daniel and discussing axial3D’s applications for medical 3D printing, I embarked on my own research journey, trying to understand everything I could – not just about 3D printing technology, but specifically, the healthcare applications and the other companies operating in this space. The technology has ground-breaking potential and seeing how it has impacted manufacturing and other industries, I’m excited to be involved as it moves into healthcare, driving a radical shift to personalized treatment across all medical disciplines.”

How do you see 3D printed surgical models changing healthcare?

“There is a growing body of research on the benefits of surgical planning, and in one publication from 2010 by Dr. Hak and Mr. Rose Denver Health/University of Colorado, there is a fantastic adage –  ‘Every fracture does not require the same type of plan, but every operation requires some sort of plan.’

In axial3D we have seen the use of surgical planning models remove the need for multiple procedures; cut hours from standard surgical time; and support patient consenting and staff communication. Now more than ever, where diagnosis and treatments are personalized – we believe surgical planning should be personalized, and physical planning is the gold standard.

Our mission is to make medical 3D printing as accessible as possible, making the process of getting a 3D printed model faster and easier through software and services. We envisage medical 3D models being provided to a clinician alongside every CT or MRI dataset.

As it becomes routine to use surgical planning models and more hospitals adopt the technology, the impact on theatre efficiencies will drive huge cost savings for healthcare providers, healthcare standards will improve as comprehensive surgical plans are created and physically communicated, and there will be a general elevation of patient care.”

How do you think 3D printing will continue to affect the healthcare field in the future?

“It is undeniably going to transform the healthcare landscape in the next 10-20 years. Applying 3D Printing in the surgical field for planning models, and patient specific instrumentation is fantastic, and a future of 3D printed organs, 3D printed personalised drug combinations, or 3D printed tissue models for research is just phenomenal. As patient stratification becomes the norm, all areas of the healthcare pathway will be under pressure to work smarter. 3D printing seems to be the obvious solution to support the healthcare shift from blockbuster care provider, to personalised prevention, treatment and cures.

For us, hearing feedback about how the use of the model has helped a surgeon to ultimately improve patient outcome is hugely motivational for the entire team.”

What has been your experience with diversity in the 3D printing/tech field?

“In my experience, the technology sector is growing and becoming more diverse with each passing year. Seeing women increasingly move into software development, R&D, quality control and other ‘traditionally male’ areas is fantastic, and in Belfast there are many groups to support women in carving out their careers in technology focused fields.

Having only been in the 3D printing world for around 1 year, there seems to be a huge amount of diversity, and my perception is based on both axial3D’s company make up and other companies we work with. axial3D’s Senior Leadership Team has a 50/50 split, and companywide we have a 40% / 60% split of female to male. Given that our two largest departments are software engineering and 3D print operations, this a step in the right direction, and it is a key focus for the company to create a culture of inclusivity and success.”

Do you think that your overall experience has been different than that of a man in a similar position?

“I believe women typically must work harder to achieve recognition in most fields, technology, 3D printing, medicine, sales, marketing – it really doesn’t matter. It is not to say my experience has been better or worse, but I have no doubt it has been different. Men and women are under different pressures, have different motivational drivers and most importantly, are under different societal expectations – but year by year this is changing, and as more and more young people move into industry, balance is being achieved, and the gaps are closing.”

axial3D Leadership Team, L-R: Katie McKinley, Daniel Crawford, Niall Haslam, Cathy Coomber

How can technological industries better support and promote diversity?

“In my opinion here are three key areas that should be addressed to build on the already great work of promoting diversity in the technology industry.

First, it is getting the message to younger, school-aged individuals that the STEM fields are for anyone who wants to develop the skills in that space. Secondly, that we see more women in leadership positions, particularly on boards and in senior management. And finally, industry has a role to play in ensuring their staff are part of a culture where success is recognised, whether someone (male or female) shouts about their success, or they quietly continue onto the next project, there needs to be a method of ensuring everyone’s success is known by peers. This can only be achieved by attentive leadership, a culture of celebrating success, and where needed, some professional coaching to help individuals develop communication techniques.”

What advice would you give to a young woman looking to pursue a degree or career in a technological field?

“There are no barriers to stop you! Today, particularly in academic settings, diversity is alive and well. Could you imagine someone remarking about a woman being in a ‘non-female’ discipline?? I suspect there would be uproar, and rightly so.

Technology expertise is highly transferable from industry to industry, so you can be sure of interesting career prospects, and many tough (but exciting) decisions as you decide on your direction.

For those in, or moving into, a male dominated industry, I would say join women in business, women in technology, or women in ‘insert industry here’ groups – they really do help you see how many fantastic and successful women there are in your field, and if you are having issues, there is a network to support you, who may well have been in exactly your position.

I am thoroughly enjoying my professional journey in technology – the medical, the 3D printing, and the software development aspects, and if I can support other women as they move into and through their career, it would make it even more rewarding.”

It’s hard to imagine getting a better introduction into 3D printing than through 3D printed medical models. It’s one of the most important applications of the technology today, and McKinley is working right at the forefront of it. Growing demand for 3D printed medical models means that the field will continue to expand, and an expanding field means new jobs opening up. For women seeking careers in 3D printing, the medical field isn’t a bad place to start.

If you are interested in sharing your story, or know a woman we should get in touch with for this series, please reach out any time. Send us an email or connect on Twitter. We’re looking forward to sharing more stories about women in 3D printing. Find all the features in this series here.
We are also featuring educators focusing on training and teaching 3D printing skills; see all these features here.

Share your thoughts on this and other 3D printing topics at 3DPrintBoard.com or below.


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