Inside3DP Exclusive: The Man Who Designs Beautiful Artificial Limbs
Scott Summit is a designer and possibly one of the most interesting people working in the industry, constantly pushing the boundaries of 3D printing. Scott started Bespoke Innovations which makes 3D printed prosthetics and fairings.
The company was acquired by 3D Systems and now Scott is working there to help bring beautiful and functional 3D printed things to enrich people’s lives.
Scott’s bespoke fairings surround prosthetic legs and let the wearer individualize their prosthetic. This takes a functional but boring or ugly thing and turns it into a beautiful thing through which the wearer can express themselves. This improves the quality of their lives through 3D printing and design. Scott has also now designed bespoke 3D printed back braces. I love his work and think he’s a great guy and he was kind enough to answer some of my questions.
Joris Peels: What kind of a designer are you?
Scott Summit: I’m an industrial designer, but my focus tends to be more on the innovation end of things than styling. I’ve always been interested in looking at how new technology and design stand to improve peoples lives.
JP: What kind of things do you like to make?
SS: I’ve been involved in design and development of products ranging from prosthetic limbs, scoliosis bracing, exo-skeletal robotics, printing in space, and the design of a number of machines, including the Cube III, which is about to be released.
JS: When did you first become interested in 3D Printing?
SS: I was working at a research group 20 years ago, and we had – among many new tech tools of the time – an SLA 250. This was one of the first made, and we scratched our heads trying to figure out how to use it and where its unique capabilities applied. Since then, the technology has evolved into the arts, medicine, and pretty much every other industry, and this has ramped up the excitement level in every way.
JS: Is it important that your fairings are beautiful? Why?
SS: We tend to feel that we’re not designing equipment that a person has to use, but actually creating something that will become a part of their body. When you look through that lens, it becomes a more challenging and meaningful task. We try to offer something to that person that cannot be achieved in any other way, and capture them in the product that we create for them.
JS: How much is a 3D printed back brace?
SS: The scoliosis brace costs are still being sorted. It’s complicated, since it’s technically a medical product. But the goal is to create a product that the patient will fall in love with, and wear willingly through the duration of their treatment. If we can achieve that, then they will avoid ‘full spinal fusion’ surgery, which is as gruesome as it sounds. It costs around $100K, and our price is less than one tenth of that, and far less painful.
JS: How do you make them?
SS: We use the doctor’s ‘first phase’ of the process, which is when they create a temporary ‘check socket’ to test for fit. Once they have arrived at an acceptable fit, we scan that socket to then use as our digital underlay. Then it’s a matter of some CAD magic, and we create the 3D data that will drive the printed parts. Note that the brace is divided into three parts, and ‘woven’ together to create the brace. This helps us to lower the cost of a full brace, since we can nest many braces into a single run. And we can take full advantage of layer strength, since we can orient each part to our liking.
JS: Do you try to use Good Design principles (as in Rams) in your work?
SS: I try to infuse as much Good Design into everything that I do. I always try to create products that have meaning to the user, and never use design as a vehicle for selling.
JS: Is design underutilized in medicine?
SS: Design tends to be utilitarian when used in a medical context. This is necessary and appropriate for most applications, but it can overlook the human need at times as well. A current scoliosis brace, for example, looks more like a medical experiment than fashion. As a result, kids don’t wear them as much as they should, simply because they hate the brace. If design becomes that tool that engages the child with their brace, then design becomes medicine. This is one area where design has multiple benefits, but there are many in this area to be explored.
JS: How do you see the future for 3D printing and medicine?
SS: I feel that 3D printing and medicine make for a natural marriage. This has already transformed some industries – hearing aids, orthodentistry, surgical guides, etc – but I suspect we’ve only opened the door. The benefits that 3D printing has to many medical areas represents a vast potential to improve the lives of people with needs. We’ve seen another profound new development recently, thanks to the introduction of consumer printers. We’re now seeing ‘garage innovators’ coming up with their own inventions and prototyping them at home. This may not be applicable for all areas of medicine, but bringing more creative minds into the mix can only infuse the field with rich ideas, I suspect.
JS: What impact will 3D printing have on the world?
SS: On the world? That’s a big question. It’s already showing areas where it has improved industries, lives, and the cultivation of ideas. But I think this is just the beginning. I’m excited to see what happens when the current generation of kids reaches the age where they can take their ideas out into the world. This generation will never have known a time when you couldn’t hold an idea in your hand the day after you design it. That’s the kind of fuel for a new age of innovation.
You can find Scott’s TED below and find out more information about custom 3D printed fairings and back braces here.
Joris Peels is a heavyweight 3D printing industry commentator who doesn’t shy away from discussions and is never short on educated, animated opinions. Joris blogs about 3D printing at VoxelFab and works as a consultant in the 3D printing industry. He previously worked for Shapeways and i.materialise and as a developer of Origo, a 3D printer for kids.