Los Altos native and master industrial designer Scott Summit discussed “How 3D Printing Is Changing the World” for a Morning Forum of Los Altos audience March 4.
Summit, founder and chief technology officer of Bespoke Innovations, has given TED talks and lectured on design at many universities and corporations nationally and internationally. Bespoke Innovations focuses on connecting the complex medical needs of the body with the versatility offered by 3D scanning and printing. 3D Systems acquired Bespoke in 2012.
Among other objects, Summit designs and 3D prints artificial limbs personalized for individuals.
“A personalized artificial leg fits perfectly, is comfortable, flexible and looks and works much better than one crafted using traditional machining techniques,” he said.
The 3D printing process involves making a three-dimensional object from a computer (digital) model. In 2010, according to Summit, the price of 3D printers dropped substantially.
“Today, a 3D scanner costs as little as $400 and a 3D printer as little as $1,000,” he said. “The price drop in 3D printers gave anyone with an idea (that can be expressed on a computer) the opportunity to become a manufacturer. Art and design possibilities are almost unlimited, as complexity of design is not a problem for 3D printers.”
Printing in 3D is used in a variety of areas, including the design process for creating custom surgical tools, car parts, cookware, clothing, eyewear and jewelry. 3D printing is relatively fast and cheap. Manufacturers do not have to maintain inventories, because items can be made quickly once they are ordered, Summit said.
Many medical applications use 3D printing technology.
“Potentially, 3D printed braces are used to set broken bones,” Summit said. “These braces fit well and, because they are polymer, they are waterproof.”
Individualized crutches may also be made, he added. Other uses include a surgeon scanning an individual’s body, then 3D printing customized body parts. 3D printing has also changed the practice of orthodontia – orthodontists now use 3D printing methods to create customized braces that are comfortable and nearly invisible.
Summit said 3D printers produce objects that optimize weight-bearing loads and stress, important as well for airplanes, motorcycles, bicycles, automobiles, musical instruments and, one day, buildings and bridges.
“3D printing allows problem solving in ways never thought of before,” he said. “3D printers can make personalized shoes – finally, there can be comfortable shoes. A nascent technology evolving is the use of robot suits, which allow paralyzed people to walk. The dream is that 3D-printed robot suits will replace wheelchairs in the future.”
Morning Forum is a members-only lecture series that meets at Los Altos United Methodist Church. For membership details and more information, visit morningforum.com.