As VP Medical Devices, Healthcare, 3D Systems, Katie Weimer leads the company’s Denver, Colorado and Leuven, Belgium healthcare operations, specializing in Virtual Surgical Planning (VSP®), 3D printed medical devices and patient-specific anatomical models, surgical guides and templates. Katie joined Medical Modeling in 2008 (acquired by 3D Systems in 2014) and is passionate about enabling better healthcare through innovative technologies. Katie received her master’s degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Missouri-Kansas City, and writes and speaks frequently on her expertise in personalized surgery.
Katie, could you let us know about your background and what brought you to 3D printing in the first place?
My background is in mechanical engineering. I graduated from the University of Missouri-Kansas City with a master’s degree in mechanical engineering with an emphasis on computational biomechanics where I focused my attention on rigid body modeling of the knee and TMJ. During my thesis research, I did medical image processing to convert MRI and CT images of anatomy into 3D STL files so I could build computational models. After graduate school, I moved to Colorado and came across a company called Medical Modeling (MM) in Golden. MM focused on 3D printing anatomical models for mostly craniomaxillofacial procedures. The company was a startup that did not have a career web page, so I sent a ‘cold call’ email, which led to an interview, which led to my first professional job doing image processing and 3D printing of anatomical models. I spent the next several years of my career improving my skills in modeling and 3D printing, and a few short years later was on the forefront of developing 3D Systems’ Virtual Surgical Planning (VSP®) service, which was the world’s first service center approach to pre-surgical planning and patient-specific models, guides and templates. In 2014, MM was acquired by 3D Systems and I transitioned from building the VSP business to Director of Product Development. I now lead the 3D Systems’ Denver, Colorado and Leuven, Belgium healthcare services operations. I am incredibly honored and grateful that I have the opportunity to be a visible role model in the company.
Could you let us know more about your current role as VP Medical Devices, Healthcare for 3D Systems?
In my role as VP of Medical Devices for 3D Systems, I oversee the end-to-end digital manufacturing solutions as they relate to 3D printing in healthcare for our Denver, Colorado and Leuven, Belgium sites. Specifically, this includes: volume production of functionally-optimized devices, patient-specific devices and anatomical models, and patient-specific surgical planning. Although most of my history is in healthcare, we are pushing to leverage our know-how for the aerospace industry as well.
What are today’s main challenges for 3D Printing in Healthcare?
The 3D printing industry has needed to see the shift from 3D printing as a prototyping technology to a production technology for it to really go mainstream. 3D Systems’ new Figure 4 platform does just this. It is a modular, high-speed, production-ready system that allows for automation of the production workflow with precision and speed that will no doubt impact how we manufacture medical devices. In healthcare, we are excited to see how this high-speed automated system changes the market, but what may be more interesting is the broad range of materials Figure 4 can use for printing. I am confident that advancements in material development for platforms like Figure 4 and other production-ready systems for jetted and sintered materials will drive new applications in healthcare.
The industry is working continuously on developing new materials, specifically materials that are biomimetic. When we print a patient-specific anatomical model of a jaw deformity, we want that 3D printed model to act more like the actual bone of the human body. Similarly, if we are creating a patient-specific model of a congenital heart defect, we want to provide the surgeon with a model of the heart that feels like a heart, can pump fluid like a heart, and responds like a heart to cuts or sutures. This has the potential to open up opportunities in advanced anatomical modeling and expand the use cases for 3D printed models from visual references to practice models for teaching, training, and pre-surgical simulation. This will also expand the library of available surgical simulation models by allowing lifelike models to be printed that represent complex and unique anatomies that are currently very difficult or rare to train on before a clinician sees his or her first case in the OR.
As materials become biomimetic, we also want them to be biocompatible so they can be used in the operating room for short-term tissue contact, anatomical modeling, patient-specific guides, disposable instruments, and even long-term implantables.
There has been a remarkable evolution in software over the last 10 years across precision healthcare applications. Many of these patient-specific healthcare solutions start with medical imaging data, and the image processing software involved has become substantially more efficient with the introduction of semi-automated processes. Surgical planning software also continues to evolve as major medical device companies, service centers, and start-ups all are developing applications around virtual surgical planning. Lastly, for patient-matched design applications such as dental aligners, bracing and surgical guides, more streamlined workflows for automated design of applications are becoming the standard to compete with the short turnaround time and low cost standards that are hitting the market.
Anything exciting coming up you’d like us to know about?
3D Systems recently announced general availability of the new NextDent 5100. Powered by Figure 4™ technology, the NextDent 5100 facilitates high-speed 3D printing for production of dental appliances and sacrificial castings. This revolutionary solution features an industry-defining value proposition that combines best-in-class speed and performance at a price point that is accessible to virtually all labs and clinics. In addition, we will be participating in a number of conferences where customers can see some of the amazing work we’ve done with our patients and surgeons as well as the new printers and software that have been developed. Check it out here: www.3dsystems.com/news/events.
What is the most impressive or impactful use of 3D printing you’ve seen so far?
The thing that keeps me driven each and every day is the fact that we utilize 3D printing to directly impact human beings. I have been in many operations throughout my tenure at the organization, the surgery with the McDonald twins was life-changing for me. Being able to see how virtual surgical planning, 3D printed models and guides were used in the operating room to assist in the separation of these two boys is something that I will never forget.
What makes the 3D printing industry particularly interesting for you:
- As a business person?
3D printing is a fast-paced, cutting-edge technology where we really do get to write the future. This technology allows us to break traditions and has enabled a whole new industry segment and sub-set of medical devices that couldn’t exist without 3D printing.
- As a woman?
Historically manufacturing has been a male dominated field, the new technology allows for a new wave of diversity where historic norms of male dominated culture don’t exist, 3D printing is a new way of manufacturing and doesn’t have that history.
What do you think of the 3D printing industry today? And how would you like to see it evolve?
The 3D printing industry is ever changing and where we see a significant opportunity is the transition from manufacturers using 3D printing for prototyping only to including full production runs of mass customization of products. For example, we partnered with Align Technology who created a highly customized additive manufacturing workflow that enables the production of more than 320,000 orthodontic aligners per day. Since 2009, Align has been able to harness the power of 3D printing to grow their patient base nearly 6X – serving 5.8 million patients today. What Align has done with 3D printing technology has disrupted the orthodontic industry. I believe that many more companies will embrace 3D printing and realize the powerful impact it can have not only on their business but in the care that is provided for patients.
In your opinion, how could we encourage more women to become involved with 3D Printing?
We need to continue to write blogs, editorials and take part in Q&A’s like this. We need to tell women not to be intimidated. You do not have to try to be just like everyone else. Figure out what you are really good at and then try to do that every day as part of your job. People who know their strengths and the value they bring are much more confident in their ability to achieve their goals. Advocate for yourself. When it comes to salary negotiations, ask to be paid fairly at the same rate that your similarly qualified male candidates are paid. Get support. Successful people ask for a lot of help. Offer support. Be generous with your colleagues in praise and collaboration. Try not to volunteer for everything. When possible, volunteer for projects that give you the experience you will need to advance to the next level. Be willing to fail (we all do) and see your mistakes as opportunities to learn and grow. And finally, instead of feeling pressure to find the perfect job, try to think of creating the perfect job, over time, through the value you bring, the relationships you create, and the difference you make.
Favorite 3D tool (could be a software, machine, material…you name it)? My favorite would have to be the SLA-1, this is the very first stereolithography printer which was invented by Chuck Hull and sits in the lobby of our Denver facility.
Favorite moment in your day job? I love to get feedback from a surgeon or customer that what we did or provided mattered to the success of the patient or their surgery.
What’s on your 3D Printing wishlist for the next 5 years? More advancements in technology that allow us the opportunity to continue to impact lives.
Another inspiring woman you’d like us to interview? Diana Kalisz, VP of Materials, 3D Systems. Diana has been around 3D printing since the start and has contributed greatly to the overall success of 3D printing.