Parametric Design Software for Healthcare 3D Printing


(“This was originally posted on”) Nicholas Jacobson

MIXIN’ It Up: A Designer’s Approach to 3D Printing — Part II

The world has changed dramatically since the first blog post I wrote until now. In the 8 days since Colorado quarantined, my research lab, Inworks, formed a group of volunteer makers and organizers to produce PPE for hospitals. In these 8 days, we went from a group of 12 people to over 1000 volunteers and have provided thousands of pieces of 3D printed PPE to hospitals throughout the state. Our process has been similar to the process I described in my first post and is being led by designers with a wide variety of skills. It is a hopeful sign that 3D printing and design is filling a gap to help save lives during this disaster.

Here are a few photos from my work quickly iterating through designs with front line hospital staff:

As our startup begins to take shape we have begun to storyboard out our software. For this blog post, I plan to share with you some insight into this process and what we have been thinking about during these conceptual stages.

My Harvard Instructor for Computational Design, Panogotis Michalatos, has said that ‘Software is the best way to package knowledge in usable form and distribute it’. The knowledge we are trying to package is a complicated mixture of Digital Media, Structural Engineering, Material Science, Robotics, and Medicine with a heavy dose of topological design. Our concept is to systematically think about the design process and workflow needed to extract the most data from everyone involved in the process of creating a model, and try to codify and encode that within a software package. This is in stark opposition to current medical software where a 3D component has been created as an afterthought, an addendum to an existing platform. This is a very generic approach to a very broad and diverse set of problems. These platforms are shoehorning in design-based workflows and modeling kernels, and severely limiting the ability for continued innovation.

For example, most if not all, currently available 3D CAD applications are simply unable to manage spatial variations in material properties. That’s because most design applications have been built upon a surface modeling paradigm, where a ‘solid’ object is defined as an object enclosed by a set of discrete boundaries. This is known as Boundary Representation or BREP. Where is the volume? That’s where voxels come in — they are interesting because they offer a new paradigm, where objects can be defined as a dense representation of material properties (as they vary) throughout a 3D volume. This means we now have greater control over how our designs/models look, feel, and function.

As you can see, we believe the highest form of creativity arises from developing a new technique that unleashes new concepts. We are hoping our software will improve 3 areas: 1) Designer/Surgeon Interface- Currently, we speak very different languages; When a Doctor says ‘Myocardium’ our designers need to hear ‘complex topological surface’ and our material scientists need to hear ‘shore 30 — linear elastic’. Having a common interface, a rosetta stone, will allow us to fully exploit our design potential 2) Design Generation and Simulation tools — utilizing voxel technologies to represent volumetric and functional properties in high resolution. 3) Parametric Design Tools– By leveraging the world of computational and parametric design we can explore a deeper subset of anatomy by building patient-specific elements and implants. In architecture, we call this site-specific construction and there are a host of tools in the architecture and design space ripe to tackle these opportunities.

To get there, our process recently has been to talk with everyone involved about what they see as a massive contribution from their respective, myopic discipline. At the same time, we are polling our Doctors to see what they would consider the ‘holy grail’ of functionality for both the software specifications and the physicalizations we will be creating. In doing this, we are able to have conversations that both satisfy inherent needs and inspire a conversation about possibilities. Over the past couple weeks, I’ve had the pleasure of talking with Academy Award Winning Animators, animators have historically been powerhouses of digital 3D tool making, and Senior Scientists at Harvard University all alongside a vast team of surgeons and radiologists from many different disciplines. Our early conversations are leading us to a totally new way to design physical objects.

The last question we are hoping to ask is: what can using this software teach the user? To demonstrate why we ask, do the following: Grab a piece of paper and try to model the brain, then grab clay and try to model the brain… The modeling process changed your intuitive understanding of the problem. Even though the solution was the same, a brain, the tool changed your approach and range of what can be realized. By understanding this concept, we find it critical to explore what our new software can teach the users simply though the act of making.

We are at a fun stage in the process, full of dreaming and big ideas. We feel this is necessary to our growth by laying a foundation of lofty goals that can lead to meaningful impact. The next stages are undoubtedly difficult as executing on these ideas can dream-crushing as we work our way through the FDA 510k clearance process. Stay tuned for further blog posts on progress!

About the Author:

Nicholas Jacobson is a practiced architect and designer; he designs buildings for the aerospace industry, OR’s, high-end residential, and off-grid structures in extreme environments. He has been 3D printing since 2002 and focused on biomedical 3D printing since 2014. Currently, he spends time working alongside surgeons to find new opportunities for 3D printing and improving patient care. He received a Bachelor’s in Architecture (Cum Laude) from the University of Wisconsin SARUP and an M.Des (Design Technology) from the Harvard Graduate School of Design.

His work and research have been published in books, scholarly journals, magazines, and newspapers; these include: ACADIA, AD, CAADRIA, Code LA, Huffington Post, Modern Luxury, Nature, New York Times, Popular Science, and Vogue and shown work both nationally and internationally. He has lectured at Harvard University, Stanford University, University of North Carolina, University of Puglia, the University of Denver, and for companies such as AutoDesk, Zaha Hadid Architects, Thornton Tomesetti, Stratasys, and Trimble.

About MIX Surgical Technologies

A biomedical 3D printing and design studio. Focusing on patient-specific 3D printed models for surgery. We use advanced technology in modeling, segmentation, and printing. This includes multi-material ‘Voxel’ printing for ultra-high resolution functional gradients and multiple data sources.

Related Articles:

MIXIN’ It Up: A Designer’s Approach to 3D Printing, Part I- Voxel Printing

3D Printing Design for COVID-19 Show Notes and Recordings

Interview with Gavan Wilhite, Software Design for Bioprinting Prellis Biologics

Generative Design Versus Topology Optimization

Generative Design and 3D Printing



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