Innovative Surgery Guided by 3D Printing Alleviates Pain for Champion Sled Hockey Player

Product: SLA Print
Industry: Medical and Forensic

When Mark Weimer emerged from the fog of pain medication after major spinal surgery, he didn’t think about how he was feeling. He thought about what he wasn’t feeling: the pain in his quad muscles, emanating from his lower spine, that had plagued him for a year and a half.

The relief was the result of a 15-hour operation by Dr. George Frey that combined his award winning methodology for pedicle screw navigation with 3D imaging and printing technologies pioneered by 3D Systems.

Partnering for the patient’s benefit

Dr. Frey and his wife, Heidi, head up Mighty Oak Medical in Englewood, Colorado. The company’s patented FIREFLY® technology provides a simpler and faster way to accurately place pedicle screws for spinal repair while navigating around crucial anatomy such as the spinal cord, nerves and blood vessels.

From the beginning, Mighty Oak has teamed with the 3D Systems Healthcare Team in nearby Littleton, Colorado.

“We needed a 3D printing partner that was known for quality, reliability and expertise in the medical device space,” says Heidi Frey. “3D Systems has been an amazing partner at every level—they are supportive, responsive and dedicated to excellence.”

3D Systems offers an end-to-end suite of precision healthcare solutions, including virtual reality simulators, 3D printed anatomical models, and patient-specific surgical guides and instrumentation. The company also manufactures precision 3D printed medical devices.

Since the late 1990s, 3D Systems has partnered with medical device providers representing a wide variety of procedures for nearly every aspect of human anatomy. The company has developed personalized solutions for more than 100,000 surgical procedures.

3D printed spine reference model used in the surgery

Path of a champion

Dr. Frey was connected to Mark Weimer through his neuro surgeon who has treated Weimer since his initial operation after a fall from construction scaffolding partially paralyzed him in 1984. Weimer later underwent an additional spinal fusion surgery in 2001 to help correct loss of muscle strength in his right arm.

Following his injury and initial surgery, Weimer took advantage of a computer training grant to become an IT specialist in data warehousing. He also continued to pursue his love of hockey, joining a Colorado sled hockey program in 1996.

Weimer played on the 2000 national sled hockey team in Lake Placid, home of the famous “Miracle on Ice” victory of the U.S. hockey team over Russia in the 1980 Winter Olympics. In 2010, he captained the team that won the Sled Classic Championship sponsored by the National Hockey League (NHL), and the following year he starred on the Colorado Avalanche team that captured the 2011 National Sled Hockey Championship sponsored by USA Hockey.

Weimer retired after scoring a goal and an assist in the 2011 championship. He turned to coaching young sled hockey players and has stayed in shape by hand cycling. His hockey achievements were recognized by his induction into the Colorado Adaptive Sports Foundation Hall of Fame in 2012.

A complicated case

Since his accident, Weimer had always dealt with some level of nerve and spinal discomfort, but in late 2014 he started experiencing something new: severe pain in his quad muscles, along with bowel and bladder problems. Weimer’s neurosurgeon referred him to Dr. Frey for further examination.

“As the years went by, Mark’s spinal fusion and his neurological condition caused the remaining discs and vertebrae below the fusion to deteriorate,” says Dr. Frey. “This caused further compression of the nerves and spinal cord, resulting in severe neuropathic pain.”

Preparation for surgery started with a CT scan of Weimer’s spine. The results were sent to 3D Systems, which performed data segmentation to extract a 3D representation of Weimer’s spinal anatomy.

Weimer’s case was more complex than most other spinal procedures, according to Dr. Frey and Chris Beaudreau, Director of Medical Services at 3D Systems.

“Mark had bone growth over the rods inserted from his previous surgery,” says Dr. Frey. “Although the rods were being removed, any disruption to the surrounding bone could affect the placement of the FIREFLY guides, so plenty of planning was needed to work around the anatomy.”

“Due to his previous surgical procedures, there were significant imaging artifacts within the CT scan that required extensive medical image processing in order to render the anatomical area of interest into three-dimensional digital models,” says Beaudreau. “It was also going to be an extensive spinal procedure, so instead of modeling two or three vertebrae, we needed to process nine vertebrae, the sacrum bone at the base of the spine, and both hips.”

3D printing from the source

3D Systems sent the 3D models of Weimer’s spinal anatomy to Mighty Oak Medical, which used them to design the trajectory of each pedicle screw and to prepare the 3D printed guides that would determine accurate screw placement on Weimer’s spine.

Using the FIREFLY design, 3D Systems printed pedicle screw guides for each vertebra that required operation. An anatomical bone model was also printed for pre-surgical planning and reference in the operating room.

The surgical guides and bone models were printed on a 3D Systems ProX® 800, a stereolithography (SLA) system known for building parts with outstanding surface smoothness, feature resolution, edge definition and tolerances.

SLA technology was invented by 3D Systems co-founder Chuck Hull in 1983. The company continues to innovate with the technology, lowering costs while delivering ever-greater speed, capacity, accuracy and ease-of-use.

The ProX 800 offers a wide range of materials for the broadest applications and use cases. For Weimer’s reference model and screw guides, 3D Systems used a plastic material and validated process that allows parts to be sterilized for use directly in the operating room.

Surgical success and recovery

Dr. Frey operated on Mark Weimer at Swedish Medical Center in Englewood on July 22, 2016. When Weimer resumed consciousness, his most recent pains were gone and previous pains had lessened considerably.

“Mark is currently undergoing a rigorous rehabilitative process and is recovering nicely from his fusion surgery,” says Dr. Frey, who expects the recovery period to last about a year.

At 63, Weimer continues to work in the IT field and pursue hand cycling in his free time. He also enjoys watching his grandsons, ages 9 and 13, take his place on the ice as the next generation of champions.

Birdstone Proves Packaging Design with Clear 3D Printed Prototypes

Product: SLA Printing
Industry: Consumer Products and Retail

Anyone who has opened a box of crackers to find the contents reduced to broken bits and pieces knows firsthand the consequences of poor packaging. Carman’s, an Australian food company passionate about only using the best ingredients, is mindful of how it delivers its products to consumers to ensure a high quality experience before the first bite is ever taken. Therefore, when Carman’s launched its new Super Seed & Grain Crackers, the food company kept presentation and preservation top of mind, and enlisted Birdstone, an Australian packaging design agency, to design an engaging tray insert. Due to the various requirements they needed to balance, multiple prototypes were required to demonstrate the proposed designs both aesthetically and functionally.


Balancing client requirements in packaging design

The packaging considerations in play for Carman’s were multifaceted: it needed to be easy to open, functional as a serving vessel, and enable Carman’s customers to reclose the container for storage. For ease of access, it was determined that the crackers should be stacked in three columns with room to encase the top crackers without crushing them, but also be easy to fill to not disrupt the production line. Lastly, the packaging needed to meet the retailer requirement for vertical packaging to maximize differentiation on the shelves. There was also a question of on-shelf instability due to the light weight of the product and the properties of the tray material.

Birdstone knew that arriving at the correct design would require accurate prototypes, and therefore reached out to 3D Systems On Demand Manufacturing due to previous successful collaborations.

Collaborating to deliver functionality and build brand equity

Birdstone worked closely with Carman’s marketing and product development teams as well as its packaging supplier to review and narrow the packaging design concepts to two. From the outset, the top priority was to maintain supply chain efficiency throughout packaging manufacturing and product filling, followed closely by building brand equity into the tray with an effective and hassle-free customer experience. Relaying this information to 3D Systems On Demand Manufacturing, Birdstone and the 3D printing service bureau talked about the requirements for the prototypes.

Due to the complexity of the casing designs and unique functional requirements involved, 3D Systems’ On Demand Manufacturing experts helped Birdstone select the most suitable prototyping process, materials, and finishing process to meet its outlined requirements. Using Stereolithography (SLA) 3D printing on 3D Systems ProX® 800 machine, 3D Systems built both a one- and two-piece prototype in Accura® ClearVue™, a rigid and tough clear 3D plastic material offering the highest clarity and transparency on the market.

Prototyping functional and aesthetic packaging

In just four days, the SLA prototypes were printed and finished to meet Birdstone’s quality and realism requirements. 3D Systems’ On Demand Manufacturing experts followed the premium finishing protocol for Accura ClearVue to deliver water-clear prototypes through a process of wet and dry sanding followed by clear coating. These prototypes were then submitted for manufacturing tests and consumer research to validate and rate the success of each concept, and to assess the performance and limitations of each packaging option at all critical touch points.

At this stage, Birdstone ordered four copies of the leading packaging design from 3D Systems On Demand Manufacturing, which were created using 3D Systems’ cast urethane process. The preferred SLA prototype was used to make a mold which was then used to cast additional water-clear copies using polyurethane, a material very close to what would be used for the final product.

Arriving at the final design

Following full evaluation of the clear prototypes, the final design was officially selected: an attractive one-piece clamshell case, uniquely contoured to the shape of the stacked biscuits. According to Grant Davies, Director, Design & Strategy at Birdstone, “The final design plays to the strengths of the packaging material and provides a secure, re-useable home for the crackers throughout the supply chain and into the customers’ hands. It is functional enough to be filled, stylish enough to serve from, and securely re-closeable for on-the-go snacking.” Birdstone says that by adding another level of consumer engagement through functional and aesthetic packaging, Carman’s is able to offer a deeper brand experience beyond consumption.

Carman’s exciting range of crackers has forged a new place in the market for the company, and the tray has earned it many fans through the cleverness and convenience of its design. Birdstone says it is delighted to have contributed to a successful final product for its client, and to answer the unique challenges of the project within a tight deadline. “As usual,” says Davies, “3D Systems On Demand Manufacturing was a wonderful partner and worked with us to provide the most effective and appealing concept prototypes within the project budget.”

Birdstone’s packaging insert for Carman’s Super Seed & Grain Crackers was a 2018 finalist in the Packaging & Processing Innovation & Design Awards.

VAULT Supercharges Pre-Production with 3D Systems’ SLA

Product: SLA Printing
Industry: Electronics y Semiconductors

VAULT is a leading manufacturer of enclosures for tablets, offering highly configurable and customizable solutions. With over twenty years of experience in the point-of-sale (POS) industry, VAULT combines its industry knowledge with an agile design-to-production workflow to answer the growing need for quality-made, uniquely branded POS stands and enclosures.

A key technology within VAULT’s process is 3D Systems’ stereolithography (SLA): specifically, the ProJet® 7000 HD 3D printer.  As project timelines at the company continue to shrink, the applications for this machine have expanded. VAULT is using its ProJet 7000 throughout pre-production for everything from proof of concept, to final concept, to mold and tooling set up, to packaging. One major reason for this is speed. “We absolutely love how fast it is,” says Quentin Forbes, VP Engineering at VAULT.

But speed isn’t the only thing. The transparency of Accura® ClearVue™ material improves communication, both between departments at VAULT, as well as with the end-customer. Additionally, the surface finish and accuracy of 3D Systems’ SLA prints enable them to inform tooling, increasing confidence in investment and accelerating timelines.

VAULT was given the opportunity to test its ProJet 7000 when approached by a multibillion-dollar customer with a big request and small timeline. With less than two months on the clock, VAULT needed to design, approve, mold, and produce a final, custom product. When sharing this recap out loud, Forbes said, “It doesn’t even sound possible.” And yet, VAULT delivered.

Nested SLA build at VAULT using Accura Xtreme

Fast and functional 3D prints accelerate customer buy-in

In mid-December, VAULT was charged with devising a fresh concept that needed to be finalized and delivered for a trade show in early February. The company got straight to work on design and 3D printed prototypes along the way. “The speed the ProJet 7000 allows us to work at is what made it possible to achieve what we did on this project,” says Forbes.

Right before the holiday break, VAULT’s team met with its customer with a fully functional 3D printed concept in hand. “They were blown away by the surface finish, the quality, and the overall level of work that we were able to show them based on a conversation we had had just 2 weeks earlier,” says Forbes. “And we didn’t do any post-op finishing on the prints either. They won over our client straight from the printer.”

Clear material facilitates design conversations

Another advantage of 3D Systems’ SLA is the available material selection. In particular, Forbes says VAULT has found AccuraClearVue, a clear resin, to be a major help in optimizing design. When customers want to add new features, VAULT will frequently print new components in clear, allowing everyone to have visibility into what is working and what is not. Prototypes in Accura ClearVue help deliver a full understanding of various mechanisms and space-claims to problem-solve for better outcomes.

“Customers don’t always understand how things will ultimately integrate and fit, so there’s a real utility and cool factor to being able to print in clear,” says Forbes. “When you can see through a part, there’s really no discussion, there’s just solutions and resolved questions.”

Clear 3D printed part helps customers see interferences faster to improve designs

SLA prototypes accelerate mold manufacturing and packaging

Following a successful client presentation, VAULT secured approval to move forward. The company was able to have molds cut in time, to which Forbes was quick to add: “Don’t ask me how!” However, he did say that having 3D printed prototypes available was highly valuable at this stage as well. For final production, VAULT relied on two-ton molds for plastic injection molding as well as aluminum die casting. The 3D printed prototypes were sent to the mold manufacturers to facilitate communication and ensure everyone was on the same page for the desired outcome.

The 3D printed prototypes provided the mold manufacturers with a reference that assisted them in creating the molds faster, as well as accelerating the post-operation set ups, including a foil stamp. Forbes explained that the extreme thinness of the foil stamp and the accuracy required to place it correctly usually forces this step to be delayed until a production part can be used to assist with placement. In this case, the high accuracy of the SLA prototype made it possible to prepare this step ahead of time and not lose momentum.

“The speed and resolution we can achieve with the ProJet 7000 made it possible to get customer approval quickly, start development quickly, and reduce mold manufacturing time,” says Forbes. “We were also able to use the prototype as the basis of all our packaging design, and when the production parts were ready, they fit perfectly.”

Quick and effective training

Looking back on VAULT’s first solo experience operating its ProJet 7000 HD, it didn’t take long for the company to get up and running. In fact, Forbes says VAULT went straight from training on sample prints to a big project without hesitation. “We went from 0 to 100 miles per hour with the ProJet right away,” says Forbes. “To me it’s a testament to how well 3D Systems does training, and how reliable your printers are in building. We came out of our training session and printer installation and didn’t lose any time getting into very large and long prints, without any issues.”

Setting up a part for printing in 3D Sprint software

Success that earns new business

At the end of VAULT’s two-month project window, the customer was able to launch its product as intended. “They are 110% behind this thing,” says Forbes. “It’s a great success story.” In fact, the project ran so successfully, VAULT is gearing up to do it again.

After witnessing the impact of high-quality SLA prints in sales meetings, VAULT’s business development manager Andrew Cagle says 3D Systems’ technology helps the company win new clients. According to Cagle, the work they do with the ProJet 7000 demonstrates that: “We’re industry experts, we’re leaders in this, and the technology we use is cutting edge.”

Glass Bottle Redesigned with Confidence Using Clear SLA 3D Printing

Product: SLA Printing
Industry: Consumer products and retail

Packaging redesigns are a serious undertaking. On the marketing side, changes are visual and emotional; on the manufacturing side, changes cost money. Before making the investment to overhaul its glass bottle tooling systems, the maker of Australia’s James Boag’s Premium Lager needed to know an update to its bottle would not be change for change’s sake. It needed to be sure the new bottle would look good and be well received by customers. Ideally, this confidence would come before spending major time and capital on the project.

As the supplier of Boag’s bottles, Orora had skin in the game to validate the design quickly and accurately. Orora’s Innovation & Design team put wheels into motion by contacting 3D Systems On Demand Manufacturing, a long-time partner, to develop a state-of-the-art 3D printed prototype. Keeping Boag’s existing supply chain processes top of mind, a new-look bottle was designed to comply with the manufacturing infrastructure already in place to help avoid expensive and time-consuming changes.

3D printing a lookalike for glass

To get Boag’s buy-in on the new design, a credible appearance model was needed for evaluation. To be convincing, the 3D printed models needed to have the same clarity and hue as glass as well as the same in-hand heft. 3D Systems’ On Demand Manufacturing experts accounted for weight disparities by adjusting the interior wall thickness of the design file based on the density of the selected stereolithography (SLA) resin, and then got to work on color-matching to achieve the iconic green of the classic Boag bottle.

Using 3D Systems’ leading SLA 3D printing technology and VisiJet® SL Clear resin, 3D Systems’ On Demand Manufacturing experts printed four SLA prototypes. “Successful lab testing of 3D Systems’ clear materials verify they are the best solution for transparent 3D prints,” said Dr. Don Titterington, Vice President of Materials R&D, 3D Systems. “Used in a variety of demanding applications, clear materials deliver high-performing, cost-effective choices for functional, transparent prototypes.”

Once printed, the bottles were put through an in-house finishing protocol to bring them to final product quality. This included wet and dry sanding, applying a surface tint, and a final clear coat to deliver a glass-like sheen. With just a few simple steps, clear SLA prints can be transformed with incredible results. According to 3D Systems’ Tracy Beard, general manager for On Demand Manufacturing’s facility in Lawrenceburg, TN, thousands of clear parts are produced each week in the Lawrenceburg facility alone. “The materials are versatile enough to be quickly finished and tinted for perfect prototypes,” Beard says.

Fast feedback for fast progress

The appearance models were ready within a week, allowing Orora and Boag to quickly transition the new design to customer trials and gauge the public’s reaction. They filled the 3D printed bottles with liquid, outfitted them with a label and cap, and put them in a shop for monitoring. Feedback from these in-store trials indicated that the new design was a hit, clearing the new design for production.


“The new James Boag’s Lager bottle has set a standard within Orora for the way packaging design and 3D prototyping can come together seamlessly with short notice,” said Orora’s Innovation & Design team. “It’s the sort of technology innovation that’s giving us a critical edge when it comes to developing best-practice bottling design and manufacturing solutions for our customers.”

Delivering a New Life to Hernandez-Torres Conjoined Twins with 3D-Printed Anatomic Models

Product: SLA
Industry: Medical

There’s a 50 million to one chance that triplets will include conjoined twins. On top of that, there’s a six percent chance that twins of any kind will be joined near the hips.

Despite the odds, that was the situation facing the surgical team at Driscoll Children’s Hospital in Corpus Christi, Texas. Fortunately, the team was able to tap into the expertise of 3D Systems Healthcare, which has created 3D visualizations and 3D printed surgical models for more than 30 operations involving conjoined twins.

Wide-ranging team of specialists

Ximena and Scarlett Hernandez-Torres were born fused from the navel downward with separate lower limbs. The other triplet, Catalina, had a normal birth. The twins shared a colon and half of their uterus on each side. The babies’ kidneys went to the opposite baby’s bladder, so surgeons would have to reroute them to go to the correct organ.

Pediatric surgeon Dr. Haroon Patel headed up a team of medical specialists in pediatric surgery, urology, plastic surgery and orthopedics that would take on the case of the Hernandez-Torres twins.

Dr. Kevin Hopkins, working with his partner, Dr. Vanessa Dimas, was responsible for the extensive plastic surgery required before and after the twins’ surgery. Hopkins also took an expanded role in the case based on his working knowledge of what 3D Systems could offer. Since 2000, Dr. Hopkins had worked with the 3D Systems healthcare team on more than 70 cases, most involving maxillofacial surgery, but several with conjoined twins as well.

Meeting special challenges

Planning for the surgery took place over several months, as doctors had to study the shared anatomy to understand how to best separate the infants and then reorient vital organs, skin, bones, muscle and tissue to ensure each girl’s survival following the operation. 

Once the surgeons had a plan, they passed along CT scan data and information to the 3D Systems healthcare team. 3D Systems took the CT scans of the twins and set about translating them into a 3D digital environment, enhancing the relevant parts of the anatomy, simulating the surgical procedures, and translating the digital models into the physical world in the form of 3D printed anatomical models. The entire 3D Systems work took two to three weeks.

In the case of the Hernandez-Torres twins, there were some special challenges.

“Every case of conjoined twins is unique and there is always significantly abnormal anatomy in these cases,” says Joe Fullerton, Team Lead for Medical Imaging and Modeling at 3D Systems. “In this case, some of the organs were difficult to identify because they were in unexpected locations or shared between the twins.”

The ‘wow’ moment and beyond

Once the 3D models and surgical simulation were prepared, a web meeting was scheduled with all the surgeons involved in the planning and operation. It was revelatory, according to Dr. Hopkins.

“There was a ‘wow’ moment when 3D Systems showed the cuts, separated the shared pelvis, and brought the individual pelvises back together,” he says. “The reaction was ‘holy cow, we can do this’! We also saw that Scarlett had one of her kidneys displaced much lower in her pelvis than originally thought,  which only became readily apparent when we saw the 3D model.” 

Shortly after the web meeting, the surgeons received the 3D printed physical models from 3D Systems, which enabled a greater level of planning and practice.

“The physical models were fantastic,” says Dr. Hopkins. “Unlike a two-dimensional x-ray or 3D visualization, you could hold these models in your hands. They were a great way to show team members exactly where the organs were located, where the cuts would be, and how to position the patient.”

The two physical models were produced using a 3D Systems ProX® 800 stereolithography (SLA) printer. The ProX 800 is known for printing parts that match or exceed the accuracy and resolution of injection-molded parts. The ProX 800 delivers speeds up to four times faster than competitive systems and is able to accommodate a wide range of printing materials.

Translucent plastic material was used in one of the anatomical models to accurately depict the skeleton with major vasculature and organs involved in the separation procedures highlighted in color.

The other model was printed in a white plastic material to depict the surface of the skin.

“We chose that particular material because it is opaque, which is beneficial for incision planning because it clearly shows the contours of the skin,” says Fullerton.

Both models could be cleaned, sterilized and taken into the operating room for live reference during the surgery.

Saving several hours of critical time

The 3D visualization and physical models saved a great amount of time, according to Dr. Hopkins.

“We had allotted 20 hours for the operation and the entire procedure lasted around 12 hours,” he says. “I have no doubt that the visualization and models saved us at least several hours of critical operating time.”

The operation was deemed a success, with the advance planning cited as a major factor.

“If I had to use a cliché, it was like an orchestra,” said Dr. Patel in a statement following the surgery. “Everything just came together seamlessly.”

Changing the odds

Following the operation, the twins spent a couple of weeks in intensive care, where they had a relatively routine recovery. They were released in May 2016, around their first birthday. Dr. Patel and Dr. Hopkins continue to check on their progress as they undergo physical therapy.

“They are improving all the time,” says Dr. Hopkins. “We expect that both of them will be able to walk and lead a normal life.”

Ximena and Scarlett might have come into the world facing incredible odds, but thanks to the work of extraordinary surgeons, medical specialists, hospital staff and 3D technologies, the odds have made a near-miraculous turn in their favor.