It has nearly been a decade since I fell in love with 3D printing (formally known as Additive Manufacturing, or AM). While it presents many benefits over previous manufacturing techniques, my passion mainly fell in its role in the optimization of products. As a graduate researcher working at the intersection of orthopedics and personalized medicine, I was particularly interested in its potential to create highly functional medical devices that can be customized on a per-patient basis. Following the completion of a PhD and further involvement in various innovation projects, I have embarked on my next journey to bring this technology to the masses as Community Engagement Manager for a flagship startup - Shapeshift 3D.
I am confident in this leap as I am a believer in its team, its unique offering and the technologies it utilizes - chiefly AM and adjunct technologies. Together, they unlock many doors that will lead to better products at equal or better costs and I am convinced that many who ignore them will ultimately become obsolete. Here, I discuss various concepts leveraged by AM to illustrate my point.
Biomimicry (i.e. the use of nature as inspiration for design) has long been practiced. We can see this on a daily basis - from velcro’s inspiration from the burdock plant to sports helmets incorporating honeycombs and structures like the inside of animal bones - various designs have capitalized on the billions of years of optimization nature has undergone to optimize their properties. Yet, the complexity of some structures and the limitations of design and manufacturing techniques had, up until 3D printing and computational design, inhibited us from capitalizing on them.
A 3D printed foldable cycling helmet produced by Montreal-based Kupol, incorporating honeycomb structures.
The freedom of design extends beyond this. The functionality of certain products may require structures such as complex hinges or tubing systems (ex. jet intake nozzles). While these would have previously been produced as multiple parts and assembled, or again, simply impossible to manufacture, they can now be materialized fully thanks to AM. Finally, designers are no longer limited by the manufacturing process in their quest toward optimizing functionality.
Bio-inspired patterns are highly aesthetic - blurring the line between the organic and fabricated. As with functionality, this is not limited to when nature is leveraged but also relates to the unprecedented freedom given to designers to reach their desired aesthetic, thus optimizing form.
Furthermore, when developing products that interact with an organic body, for example knee devices that offer stability, there is a need for optimal fit as it ultimately affects comfort, which can be a factor determining adherence to a prescribed use. With the use of 3D scanners to generate digital files of a patient’s morphology, designers can now morph a product to conform the wearer perfectly and manufacture the bespoke device as a one-off using 3D printing. The process of customized fit is not new however and many techniques had previously allowed for it. The archaic processes used however limit the optimization of functionality and form at the benefit of fit.
This tradeoff is what Shapeshift 3D is solving and why I am betting on it. We are offering the choice of no compromise, not only between the benefits of 3D printing, but to maximize benefits with no impact on costs and scalability. This, I am confident, will lead the way toward mass-customization and optimization for the masses.
This tech is made possible by an incredible team. It is composed of diverse and passionate key players that each bring something unique, and I am truly honored to join its ranks. As a startup at the intersection of engineering and design, it is in an ideal location – Montreal is known not only for its artificial intelligence ecosystem, but also for excellent creativity, and design capabilities. With an aging population and high quality of life, it is fertile ground to commercialize products that will keep its population moving through custom-fit and highly functional products. I look forward to contributing to a paradigm shift that will unlock the power of custom for the masses.
This piece is the first of a series of articles that will cover not only what Shapeshift3D does, but how it is done. It will dive into a wide range of topics relating to the tech, but also to the concepts that have been central to its successes to date, from the incredible workplace atmosphere and how it is fostered, to the entrepreneurial practices it implements and how it creates and captures its unique value proposition.
Shapeshift 3D develops a fully integrated online platform that specializes in the fit-customization of human-body applications, empowering users and facilitating the custom-fit process.