While most coverage and media discussion of 3D printed prosthetics focuses on the devices themselves, in reality, the prosthesis is actually just a part of a more complex and nuanced process of prosthetic rehabilitative care, which starts well before an individual receives a prosthesis and continues long after they have been fitted.

Andreas Bastian Interview Series

Andreas Bastian is a researcher, designer, and engineer with deep experience in developing and applying cutting edge 3D printing technologies. A principal research scientist at Autodesk, he has explored novel configurations of stereoloithography technologies, scalable parallelization of toolpath based technologies, and industrial applications of additive manufacturing capabilities. Previously, he has developed novel FDM hardware and low-cost metal printing experiments as an artist in residence at Autodesk and developed an open source laser sintering system as part of the openSLS research he conducted as a fellow at the Advanced Manufacturing Research Institute at Rice University and Dr. Jordan Miller’s Physiologic Systems Engineering and Advanced Materials Laboratory. As the lead R&D engineer at MakerBot Industries, he conducted research into core mechanisms of the FDM process.

As a director and chair of the research and technology board at ECF, a non-profit devoted to developing low-cost systems for prosthetic care, Andreas leads design and development of high performance 3D printable prosthetics and of LimbForge, a scalable software platform for their deployment. Central to his work is the belief that 3D printing technology can only affect change when it is realizing thoughtful, human-centered design.

Previously he has worked with the e-NABLE community where he developed novel thermoforming techniques, guided community design efforts, and designed popular assistive devices. Andreas will be a speaker at 3DHEALS2017.

Q: What is your vision on the intersection of 3D Printing and healthcare?

A: 3D printing provides an incredible opportunity to better address the needs of patients that have not been met by conventional manufacturing techniques. I hope for a world in which products are not designed for the average person, but a world in which design systems exist to allow the rapid creation of highly contextual, appropriate products that address previously unmet needs.

Q: What do you specialize in? What is your passion?

A: I specialize in making scalable systems for the design and delivery of custom 3D printed prosthetic devices. While most coverage and media discussion of 3D printed prosthetics focuses on the devices themselves, in reality, the prosthesis is actually just a part of a more complex and nuanced process of prosthetic rehabilitative care, which starts well before an individual receives a prosthesis and continues long after they have been fitted.

3D printed prosthetics

Photo Credit: Andreas Bastian/ ECF

Q: What inspired you to do what you do?

A: I began exploring the idea of 3D printed prosthetics as one of the e-NABLE community’s earliest members. Within that community, I participated in the design and release of some of e-NABLE’s most popular devices, but gradually learned that the crowdsourced design and manufacture of assistive devices was not scalable. And without a thoughtful, patient-centered design process, it would not produce designs that met real needs. When we take a step back, prosthetic devices are remarkable things when viewed through the lens of product design. They are fundamentally human-centered objects. The design intent behind a prosthesis is not necessarily to replace a lost limb, but to address the individual’s greatest perceived loss. This is remarkably personal and unique to that specific individual. So from a design perspective, there is a promising fit between the product design requirements of a prosthesis and the capabilities presented by 3D printers.

What motivates me is that 3D printing is really about design. 3D printers are ultimately only as valuable as the things that they make and the things that they make are only as valuable as the design that defined them. And when it comes to scaling prosthetic care, the challenge is not one of designing a single device, but one of designing a system for appropriate, impactful design, and this is what my team is building with LimbForge.

Q: What is the biggest potential impact you see 3D printing having on the healthcare industry?

A: I see three very important impact mechanisms playing out over the coming years:

  1. Custom Geometry
    3D printing is often a great fit for body-interfacing parts, such as orthoses, braces, surgical guides, and medical implants. Many applications in the medical space will find 3D printing to be a better pathway to customized devices than conventional processes.
  2. Complex Geometry
    Structural complexity can be highly functional and valuable in certain applications, such as oseointegratition implants, in which the fine stuctures made possible with advanced design and metal 3D printing capabilities facilitate bone growth into the porous surface of an implant.
  3. Supply Chain Disruption
    “Digital supply chains” will become increasingly important for clinics in under resourced and remote areas where traditional shipping and distribution methods fall short.
3D printing prosthetics

Photo Credit: Andreas Bastian/ ECF

Q: What challenges do you see arising in implementing 3D printing in healthcare sector in the next 5 years?

A: The biggest challenge I see is that 3D printing is not yet a mature manufacturing technology. We cannot yet rely on a 3D printer to produce the same part twice, let alone at production volumes. And as 3D printing sees more adoption as a distributed manufacturing technology, we will need to see significant advances in in-machine process monitoring and validation to address the challenge of distributed QA, especially for applications in the medical space.

Beyond this there are numerous challenges in materials development, software, and certification, but those are all secondary to the challenge of making 3D printing into a technology that we can truly call additive manufacturing.

Q: What is the best business lesson you have learned?

A: Ultimately, there is only one reason people adopt 3D printing: it has to save them money. Granted, there are many situations in which it makes sense to adopt 3D printing for the marketing and PR value that surfing the hype wave brings, but this is not sustainable. I have had conversations with the heads of additive manufacturing at major automotive companies and spoken at length with clinic administrators in Port-au-Prince about 3D printing technology and how it can be useful to each party and it all comes down to one thing: does it save time, money, or both.

Q: Tell us about what your organization does.

A: ECF makes a piece of software for clinicians called LimbForge. LimbForge is a platform for the customization and manufacture of 3D printed prosthetics. It allows clinicians to quickly and easily configure and print highly customized upper limb prosthetic devices. ECF’s upper limb prosthetics are designed to address the highly contextual needs of a given patient population and are informed by the needs of specific patients as well as an understanding of cultural and societal norms that surround a patient. The goal is to develop devices that are sensitive to the cultural context of the patient and that provide the social functionality demanded by patients as well as physical functionality.

Using LimbForge and 3D printing and scanning technology can save clinicians time normally spent shaping prosthetic devices by hand and can allow them to see more patients in a given day. Additionally, by designing standardized printed interfaces and components, LimbForge enables a “digital supply chain”, which is extremely valuable in areas where it can take weeks, months, or even years to source.