How 3D scanning helped reveal the face of the 3500-year-old Griffin Warrior

Product: Artec Spider
Industry: Medical and Forensic

For thirty-five centuries his body rested in a tomb beneath an olive grove just a short walk from the Palace of Nestor in southern Greece. Surrounding him were more than 2,000 objects dating back to the Bronze Age, including gold cups, rings, and necklaces, hundreds of precious gems, an ornate sword, and the breathtaking, intricately carved Pylos Combat Agate.Griffin Warrior

A gold-hilted dagger that had originally been resting upon the chest of the Griffin Warrior. Image courtesy of the Palace of Nestor Excavations, Department of Classics, University of Cincinnati

Given the name “Griffin Warrior” after an ivory plaque bearing the engraving of a griffin was found with him, this ancient Mycenaean nobleman’s true identity is still a mystery.Griffin Warrior

Drs. Sharon Stocker during the excavation of the Griffin Warrior’s tomb. Image courtesy of the Palace of Nestor Excavations, Department of Classics, University of Cincinnati

But while University of Cincinnati archaeologists Jack Davis and Sharon Stocker excavated his tomb over the course of six months, as soon as they discovered the mostly intact skeleton of the Griffin Warrior, they turned to the science of forensic facial approximation to see what he had looked like in real life.Griffin Warrior

Griffin Warrior grave excavation plan. Image courtesy of the Palace of Nestor Excavations, Department of Classics, University of Cincinnati

Biological anthropologist Prof. Lynne Schepartz and facial anthropologist Dr. Tobias Houlton were brought in to assist with this complex, multi-stage process. Schepartz led the excavation of the skull fragments, and Houlton focused on the skull reconstruction and face prediction of the Griffin Warrior.

As course coordinator and lecturer for the MSc in Forensic Art and Facial Imaging program at the University of Dundee, Scotland, as well as a forensic artist and expert in his field, Houlton has worked with Interpol and numerous police agencies in the UK and South Africa on various cases requiring facial approximation for victim identification.

His work has been recognized by National Geographic Magazine, the Smithsonian Channel, BBC Radio 4, and elsewhere.

Taking the right 3D scanner for the task

When it was time to travel to Greece, to begin the excavation and reconstruction of the Griffin Warrior, Houlton brought an Artec Spider along with him.Griffin Warrior

Artec Spider scans of the Griffin Warrior’s skull in-situ. Image courtesy of Dr. Tobias Houlton

A first-choice 3D scanner among forensic specialists and researchers around the world, the Spider is recognized for its abilities to non-destructively capture objects of all shapes and complexities, with submillimeter degrees of accuracy, even those with otherwise-challenging features, such as cranial sutures, wafer-thin bone fragments, etc.

In Houlton’s words, “I knew that the Spider would fit in perfectly with my workflow. Instead of having to adjust everything to meet the needs of the technology, which is what happens with many solutions, Spider was right there with me at every step.”Griffin Warrior

The digitally reconstructed skull of the Griffin Warrior in Artec Studio software, image courtesy of Dr. Tobias Houlton

“Before I lifted a cranial fragment from the sediment, I would scan that layer, in order to preserve each fragment’s exact location and orientation within the sediment.”

He continued, “Then I would scan each piece again, right after excavating it, and would also temporarily glue together groups of fragments and scan these. That way, when it came time to digitally reconstruct the skull, the Spider scans provided precise digital twins of these skull fragments, not to mention the original in-situ scans, which from an archaeological point of view are indispensable.”

CT scanning through ancient soil

But before that could take place, the block of sediment containing the Griffin Warrior’s remains was extracted from the site and brought to the lab. There, a CT scanner was used, to try and distinguish any skeletal elements from the other objects around them.

Unfortunately, the CT wasn’t able to differentiate bone from the other objects in the sediment, yet at least it provided a map of object locations, which later proved useful while extracting the Griffin Warrior’s skeletal remains.

Houlton’s scans were done directly within Artec Studio software, with each scan taking around one minute or less for full capture of individual cranial fragments and sediment layers.

Following this, the scans were processed into 3D models, and what’s more, because Geomagic Freeform wasn’t accessible to Houlton at that moment, he fully reassembled the Griffin Warrior’s skull in Artec Studio.

According to Houlton, “Artec Studio’s alignment tools made it easy for me to select specific fragments, move them around, and align them properly in relation to all the other pieces. It didn’t take long for me to reassemble everything and finally obtain a digitally reconstructed version of the Griffin Warrior’s skull.”

When traditional casting is too risky, 3D “digital casting” is ready to help

Reflecting back on traditional casting methods for documenting skeletal remains, Houlton said, “In the case of the Griffin Warrior, many of the skull fragments were so fragile that there would have been no way for us to safely cast them.”

He elaborated, “Yet Artec Spider ‘digitally cast’ each one in just seconds, and now we have protected 3D copies of them, without ever damaging or posing any danger to the original objects.”

Once back at the office, Houlton exported the digital twin of the Griffin Warrior’s skull from Artec Studio over to Geomagic Freeform, for the actual facial approximation.

Freeform: first choice for digital skull reconstruction and facial approximation

With the software’s ability to put the reconstructionist in direct kinesthetic contact with the 3D object via a haptic pen interface, Freeform is an ideal tool for anyone doing the work, from student to accomplished practitioner.Griffin Warrior

Geomagic Freeform screenshot showing the Griffin Warrior’s skull ready for facial approximation. Image courtesy of Dr. Tobias Houlton

Unlike traditional clay facial approximations, Freeform makes it possible to share the entire approximation with agencies or digital artists near and far, in seconds from the time of completion.

Even more consequential is the guarantee that with digital approximations, in contrast with clay, there’s no danger of the original ever being damaged or lost.

Expanding upon this, Houlton said, “Now, once we’re done with an approximation in Freeform, if the original skull is ever lost or destroyed, and if there’s ever any question about the accuracy of the predicted face, all it takes is referring back to the Spider scans of the skull.”Griffin Warrior

Geomagic Freeform screenshot showing the Griffin Warrior’s facial approximation underway. Image courtesy of Dr. Tobias Houlton

“Within seconds, you’ll be able to verify, without even a glimmer of doubt, the accuracy of the skull reconstruction. Because when you’re looking at the Spider scans, it’s as close to looking at the real skull as anything else,” he said.

Houlton shares with his students at University of Dundee his full spectrum of insider workflow tips and tricks with Freeform.

So, whether they’ll eventually find themselves working as facial approximation practitioners in cooperation with police or intelligence agencies, or as CGI specialists immersed in the world of film, TV, or video games, they’ll have all the foundation they need to transform Artec 3D scans into stunningly lifelike facial approximations.

Rebuilding the face of the Griffin Warrior in Freeform

Since several of the Griffin Warrior’s thinner facial bones were missing, specifically those around the nose, as they’d disintegrated over time due to the acidic soil conditions at the grave site, Houlton relied on his own approach to accurately fill in the gaps.

He created an average face template from the images of 50 faces of modern Greek men of similar age and build, and then brought them together in Abrosoft FantaMorph. Facial averages identify consistent trends in facial patterns, which supported Houlton with the remaining approximation where individual details cannot be ascertained.Griffin Warrior

In Geomagic Freeform – using the tissue depth markers to help build the Griffin Warrior’s face. Image courtesy of Dr. Tobias Houlton

During the approximation, Houlton first inserted the eyes, then all the tissue depth markers (up to 36), followed by the muscles and the skin layer. Freeform’s ability to let users organize and label all these features as independent objects and store them in their own folders is highly useful during facial approximation.

The Griffin Warrior’s face reborn: from digitally reconstructed skull to final facial approximation. Video courtesy of Dr. Tobias Houlton

As well, the software’s ability to “see through” the model and down below the skin, ensuring that soft and hard features relate to each other, saves the digital practitioner from what manual modelers must regularly endure: physically cutting into the clay/modeling wax to check with the underlying skull cast.

Why 2D photography should never be the first choice

When asked to compare working from 2D photographs versus 3D scans for facial approximation, Houlton commented, “2D photos should be a last resort. To give you an example why they’re not desirable, it’s very hard to gauge how deep the fossae are around the canine area, which in part indicates the form of the nasolabial folds.”

He continued, “In general, when it comes to accuracy and vivid realism, 3D scanning lets you achieve fantastic results compared to what you can do with 2D photos.”

In fact, the breadth of precise surface data provided by the Spider scans is more than sufficient for performing reconstructions directly from the scans, without having the original skull present as a reference model.Griffin Warrior

Dr. Tobias Houlton scanning a cranial fragment with Artec Space Spider at the University of Dundee. Image courtesy of Dr. Tobias Houlton

Houlton has done that very thing in multiple international projects over the years. “Having 3D scans of this degree of accuracy makes it possible to take on facial approximation work without ever having to leave our offices.”

Whenever the need arises for a physical model of an approximation, whether for investigative, legal, or other purposes, it’s a simple step to export the digital approximation for 3D printing.

In practice, this can mean finishing a facial approximation, sharing the 3D model with the client, who receives it seconds later, even on the other side of the world. Then they begin reviewing it on-screen while 3D printing a physical model, ready for use just hours later.

3D scanning & 3D printing in human anatomy education

At the University of Dundee’s Digital Making facility, with its collection of 28 various 3D scanners, Houlton and his students have been 3D printing their Spider scans, along with scans from Dundee’s other Artec scanners: Eva and Space Spider.

The successor to Spider, Space Spider features all the power of its predecessor, in addition to powerful temperature stabilization and high-grade electronics.Griffin Warrior

The Artec Space Spider

Dundee’s MSc Forensic Art and Facial Imaging program adopted Artec scanners as part of their curriculum years ago, after being introduced to them by Artec 3D Gold Partner Patrick Thorn.

A highly experienced specialist in 3D scanning for education, cultural heritage, forensics, healthcare, and beyond, Thorn endeavors to understand the needs of his clients, to help them integrate the very best solutions possible. He also conducts workshops for his clients in numerous locations across the U.K., from the tip of Cornwall up to northern Scotland.

Lifelike 3D-printed bone and skull models in the classroom

Houlton commented on how essential 3D printing has been for teaching human anatomy at Dundee, saying, “We regularly work with 3D prints of skulls and other bones, since physically handling these models is immensely conducive to the learning process. And this is another area where our Artec scanners have proven useful.”

He continued, “For example, if you take some 3D-printed cranial anatomy made from Spider scans and set it side-by-side with a 3D print of the same piece of skull, yet made using scans from other 3D scanners we’ve tried, you can see a massive difference in terms of detail, accuracy, and realism.”

As explained in a previous case study, the University of Dundee continues to expand its work with 3D scanning and printing with each passing semester.

For the medical and forensic art students there, by the time they graduate, they will be fully capable of picking up an Artec 3D scanner, capturing any of the human body’s 206 bones in minutes, then transforming those scans into lifelike 3D models ready for AR, VR, 3D printing, or facial approximation in Freeform.

Facial decomposition, documenting mass graves, and beyond

Houlton’s latest project will take him to South Africa with the University of Witwatersrand. There he’ll be working with a PhD student and academic team on a project dedicated to researching the effects of decomposition on human faces, identifying the degree of changes taking place post-mortem, to understand what this means for facial recognition.

Following this, Houlton is hoping to embark upon an archaeology-based project with the Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology, working locally as well as throughout various countries/regions of Africa, engaging with documentation of mass grave sites.

Creating a one-of-a-kind prosthesis with Artec Eva and Geomagic Freeform

Product: Artec Eva
Industry: Medical and Forensic

The patient with his new and old Sanitätshaus Klinz prostheses

One brisk morning in central Germany, Wolfgang K. climbed up into his delivery truck and set off on a new route, one that would prove to be the last of his career. His first stop was a hardware store, where he unloaded his shipment and waited for a forklift to carry the boxes away. Then tragedy struck.

Wolfgang was looking the other way when the forklift crashed into him, shattering his foot and knocking him to the ground. All he remembers from that moment is what felt like a slap on the back; then he blacked out. Sometime later, he awoke in unbearable pain, with paramedics around him, and was told about the massive damage to his foot and ankle.

The hospital treated and stabilized the immediate injury, but in the weeks and months ahead, the inflammation grew worse. Wolfgang begged his doctors to amputate his foot, but they weren’t giving up so easily. They did everything in their power to save it, for three years, until the inflammation had spread up his leg, triggering extensive tissue necrosis.

Wolfgang’s doctors were finally forced to amputate his leg below the knee. In the weeks following, after the swelling in the remainder of his leg (his residual limb) went down, Wolfgang was fitted with a transitional prosthesis. Around that time, he saw an advertisement for the Sanitätshaus Klinz orthopedics clinic of Bernburg, Germany, and soon after, he became their patient.

The staggering worldwide demand for prosthetics

With more than 185,000 lower limb amputations every year in the US alone, and over 1 million carried out worldwide, prosthetics specialists have struggled to keep up with the rising demand for their services.

The traditional method of creating prosthetic sockets, the part of the device that interfaces with the patient’s residual limb, involves plaster casting, hours of work, along with ample finesse and experience.

Although the specialists at Sanitätshaus Klinz still employ plaster casting and other analog methods in their work, for the most challenging of projects, especially those impossible to accomplish via traditional tools, they frequently turn to their 3D scanner Artec Eva.

A professional handheld 3D scanner that’s been a leading favorite among healthcare practitioners and thousands of others around the globe, the Artec Eva quickly delivers color 3D scans with a level of accuracy down below a millimeter, making it ideal for capturing the organic surface measurements of patients’ residual limbs and other body parts.

3D scanning the patient’s residual limb with Artec Eva and Artec Studio software

They also make use of the Artec Space Spider, for projects with intricate details that demand the utmost in precision. Originally developed for use on the International Space Station, the Space Spider is a popular choice among designers, engineers, and researchers in many diverse fields.

Dreaming up an entirely new prosthesis design

After having several prostheses since becoming a patient at Sanitätshaus Klinz, it came time for Wolfgang to get a new bath prosthesis, one that could be used in the shower or while swimming.

It would need to be both waterproof and corrosion-resistant, even in salt water environments. When Sanitätshaus Klinz’s biomedical engineer Lisa Pabst saw his request, she decided to offer him something even better.

From their discussion together, Pabst understood that Wolfgang’s great passion was diving. So, she, along with Wolfgang and her colleague master orthopedic technician Carsten Suhle, came up with the idea to create a unique bath prosthesis with a maritime design that wouldn’t merely be cosmetic, but rather to have the prosthesis itself be a one-of-a-kind, maritime-themed design object.

Even after losing his leg, Wolfgang had never abandoned his love for diving and the water. Once he heard Pabst’s idea, he enthusiastically gave her the green light.

Pabst spoke about the challenge of the project: “We wanted to pursue a different approach, to see whether it would be possible for us to integrate a prosthesis into our new design rather than adapting the design to an existing prosthesis.”

The new design, showing its ability to angle the prosthetic foot, for attaching a swimming flipper

Their goal was to combine all the water-resistant durability of a bath prosthesis with the esthetics of a cosmetic prosthesis, so when it’s being worn under long pants, no one can tell that there’s a prosthetic limb underneath. All the cosmetic elements of the prosthesis would need to cover and protect the mechanical components of the device.

Regarding the inspiration for the design, Pabst said, “We came up with the idea of using an octopus. The body of the octopus covers the upper part of the prosthesis, while the tentacles mimic the shape of the lower leg. A nostalgic diving helmet, entwined in tentacles, was added at the ankle. The ankle joint can be operated via the side openings of the helmet.”

The new bath prosthesis in use by the patient

At the same time, Pabst and her team understand that the most vital part of any new prosthesis is the shape and fit of its socket, with a design that’s unique to each individual patient, where even a mildly incorrect fit can often result in patient discomfort and biomechanical dysfunction leading to future injury.

At worst, an ill-fitting socket can cause a patient to suffer skin ulcers, impaired balance, falls, chronic musculoskeletal overuse injuries, osteoarthritis, and more.

To help achieve a seamless fit for the new socket, they turned to their Artec Eva, which Pabst used to scan all of the surface geometry of Wolfgang’s residual limb in less than a minute. Pabst also scanned his other leg, in order to use its precise volumetric and surface measurements for creating the shape and dimensions of the new bath prosthesis.

Artec Studio screenshot: an Eva scan of the patient’s residual limb

Right after the scanning session, prior to exporting the 3D meshes to Geomagic Freeform, the scans were processed in Artec Studio software. Using the intuitive tools within the software, Pabst deleted any unwanted data, including the floor and other objects around.

Artec Studio screenshot: an Eva scan of the patient’s contralateral leg

The scans were aligned and registered, then merged together into one object. Finally, the texture was brought in and applied to the mesh. In Freeform, Pabst designed the prosthetic socket and sculpted the cosmetic elements of the design to life.

Pabst commented on how instrumental their Eva has been, in synergy with Freeform: “When I import an Eva scan into Freeform, I’m starting off with a dependable foundation for my prosthetic design work. It takes only seconds for Eva to capture the exact measurements of a patient’s body, and in Freeform, I build my new designs based on these same dimensions.”

Geomagic Freeform screenshot: an Eva scan of the patient’s contralateral leg & an Eva-scan-based model of his residual leg

Pabst continued, “Particularly when creating a new prosthetic socket, which must perfectly embrace and support the unique shape of a patient’s residual limb, every millimeter of surface should be digitally captured and brought into the design. Fortunately, the Eva does this quickly and easily.”

Her workflow included the following steps: after importing and arranging the meshes in Freeform, she modeled Wolfgang’s residual limb. Then, before moving on to the subsequent steps, she mirrored his contralateral leg in Freeform. From there, she built up the prosthetic shaft, shaping it to the adapter and preparing the design for the functional elements.

Geomagic Freeform screenshot: Shaping the shaft to the adapter, and adapting the design to the prosthesis’ functional elements

Pabst then shaped the outer dimensions of the tentacles in accordance with the exact measurements of Wolfgang’s other leg, to achieve the same overall circumference of the lower leg.

Geomagic Freeform screenshot: Shaping the dimensions of the tentacles using the Eva scan measurements of the contralateral leg

At this point, Pabst created the tentacles’ suction cups, then connected the shaft, octopus, tentacles, and diving helmet. After several other steps, she embossed the design with the Klinz logo and the patient’s name.

After 3D printing the exterior components of the new prosthesis, they were merged with the mechanical elements of the device and locked into place. That’s when Wolfgang was invited to the clinic for his fitting.

Standing proudly: the new bath prosthesis in place and ready for use

From the moment he caught sight of his new leg, he’s been very happy with it, while the fit is as comfortable as he has come to expect from using his other Klinz prosthetic devices. His wife and daughters are delighted with it as well. On a recent vacation to the Baltic Sea, children wandered over to get a closer look and admire his amazing leg.

The power and potential of 3D scanning in O&P

Pabst commented on the pivotal role that 3D scanning has gained in modern orthotics and prosthetics design, “Whenever you need to create an orthosis, or an upper- or lower-body prosthesis, with high-tech or low-tech materials, first you absolutely must have accurate measurements of the patient’s body where the new device will connect.”

Using a haptic device with Geomagic Freeform to put the finishing touches on the new bath prosthesis

She explained further, “Without this foundation to build on, eventually serious problems will arise, from the fit of the device, to the patient’s physical responses to it, etc. By starting off with Artec scans, every device we produce looks exactly like the other side and a natural extension of their own body. The difference this has made in our work is truly significant.”

Miele: A better way to make medical instruments come clean

Product: Simcenter
Industry: Medical and Forensic

A world leader in premium domestic products

Founded in 1899, Miele is a world leader in premium domestic products such as cooking, baking and steam-cooking appliances, refrigeration products, coffee makers, dishwashers, laundry and floor care products. Miele also produces specialized dishwashers, washer-extractors and tumble dryers for commercial use as well as washer-disinfectors and sterilizers used in medical and laboratory settings.

In its efforts to continuously improve its product lines, the company was particularly interested in improving the development of its washer-disinfector machines. “The major development challenge with washer-disinfector machines is the variety of items that need to be cleaned,” says Tobias Malec, development engineer at Miele. “Each piece of every medical instrument has different cleaning requirements. Some things only need cleaning on the surface. Other items, such as hollow instruments, need to be cleaned both inside and out. Different water pressures are needed in each case.”

Working with special racks

Due to these requirements, a special rack is tailored to every item that needs cleaning to enable the best possible handling and hydraulic performance. Each rack secures the items being cleaned, and includes the hydraulic connections between the circulating pump and the nozzles through which water sprays. The variety of racks makes it difficult to harmonize the entire production system.

It is essential to adapt the frequently changing hydraulic conditions of the rack, and to understand the cleaning pressure required during the operating state inside each rack. The cleaning pressure results from the intersection point of the hydraulic resistance curve of the rack and the characteristic of the circulating pump.

For this engineering challenge, Miele uses Simcenter Amesim™ software, a mechatronic system simulation solution part of the Simcenter portfolio from Siemens Digital Industries Software. This solution helps Miele engineers simulate the operational characteristics of new products early in the design stage, revealing ways to improve functionality while reducing the need for physical prototypes. “Using Simcenter Amesim enables us to model the racks as super components, with the circulating pump operating as a characteristic and the washing machine itself as a system boundary,” says Malec. “Thanks to the system simulation, we can evaluate future operating points by changing the geometries of the cleaning nozzle or the water lines.”

He notes, “Using this software, we are now much more effective in the predevelopment phase. Before, without the support of Simcenter Amesim, we had to build a real prototype of the washing machine and perform multiple pressure measurements. Afterwards, based on the pressure results, we needed several redesign loops in the prototype phase to reach the required specifications. This was very time-consuming and costly.”

A typical model prepared using Simcenter Amesim includes hydraulic and hydraulic-resistance components. The machine is modeled, including its water lines and the circulating pump. The water lines include back-pressure valves and a coupling with the rack models. Some nonstandard valves have been customized and are represented by generic elements, such as orifices or T-junctions, which are validated by internal measurements.

A cleaning rack consists of a network of jets and pipelines connected with two coupling points of the machine. To ensure that compatibility and clarity are quickly achieved, the rack is integrated into the model as a supercomponent and is represented with an icon.

Mechatronic system simulation is the key

The various pumping rotation speeds are then tested virtually. This allows Miele to investigate the pressure evolution on pre-defined sensor positions to validate the simulation model. The machine operating state is quasi-static, so dynamic examinations are negligible for those types of investigations. The simulated pressure values provide the basis to make adjustments in rack design.

“System simulation enables us to easily study the impact and interactions of crosssection changes,” says Malec. “Changeovers can be optimized or nozzle parameters varied to achieve a more constant pressure distribution. Constant pressure distribution enables good cleaning capacity in all parts of the machine.”

The design exploration capability also helps establish consistency for the spray arms. By setting targeted boundary conditions and defining degrees of freedom (DOF), the optimal nozzle configuration can be found quickly using Simcenter Amesim. “System simulation is an extension of the common 3D computational fluid dynamics (CFD) simulation on a subsystem level,” says Malec. “Correlations become clear very rapidly. Without system simulation, these correlations can only be realized using measurements on expensive prototypes.”

Malec concludes, “The longevity and high quality of our products address the sustainability issue. Our customers don’t have to buy a new machine every few years, but can rely on our consistent quality. That doesn’t just save money, it is also good for the environment. We are also reducing our consumption of resources and using ecologically sound materials for production.”

Designing a Custom Boot for an Injured Penguin

Product: MJP Print
Industry: Medical and Forensic

Despite their tuxedoed appearance, penguins aren’t always well mannered. In the aftermath of one particular penguin scuffle among endangered African Penguins at Mystic Aquarium, Yellow/Purple (AKA “Purps”) was found to have a nonfunctional flexor tendon in her ankle. Much like an injury to a person’s Achilles heel, damage to a penguin’s flexor tendon leads to pain and difficulty in motion.


Once Purps’ injury was identified, the veterinary staff at Mystic Aquarium took action with a handmade boot to immobilize, protect and support the damaged foot. Yet the animal care team knew more modern solutions were available that would not only be more durable and less cumbersome for the small bird, but also require less time than handcrafting the boot. Mystic Aquarium’s Chief Clinical Veterinarian, Dr. Jen Flower, proposed 3D printing.

The aquarium took this idea to Mystic Middle School, which had recently acquired a 3D printer through ACT Group, a local 3D Systems partner, and the rest is history. Working as a team, Mystic Aquarium, ACT Group and the middle school students came together to design and 3D print a new boot for Purps. With anatomical guidance from Mystic Aquarium’s veterinary staff and technical training from the professionals at ACT Group, the students led the design and manufacturing process using 3D Systems’ end-to-end solutions.

In a workshop facilitated by ACT Group, the students started with 3D Systems’ Geomagic Capture® 3D Scanner to scan an existing cast of Purps’ foot and then imported the data into Geomagic® Sculpt™ software where they customized the file with details like treads, hinges and closures.


“The students amazed us in how quickly they picked up the software,” said Nick Gondek, Director of Additive Manufacturing and Applications Engineer, ACT Group. “It was rewarding to provide them with a technology that could keep up with their ingenuity, and to watch their creative thinking, imagination and intuitiveness lead this process.”

Once satisfied with the design, it was 3D printed on 3D Systems’ multi-material ProJet MJP 5600 3D printer. This printer enables both flexible and rigid materials to be printed and blended simultaneously at the voxel level for custom strength and elasticity. The resulting boot achieved the intended effect in durability, weight and fit, enabling Purps to walk and swim like the rest of her peers.

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.

ZetrOZ Reduces Product Time-To-Market With MJP Multi-Material 3D Printing

Product: MJP Print
Industria: Medical and Forensic

Not long ago one of the realities of the medical device industry was that a company had to have a large footprint to reach the market with an innovative product.

But an emerging generation of small companies is using a laser-focus on their product niche and new technologies such as 3D printing to break through the barriers of the past.

ZetrOZ is a prime example. The company, privately funded with about 20 employees, late last year introduced sam®, the world’s smallest ultrasound therapy system that provides an alternative to pharmaceutical-based pain treatments. 

sam stands for Sustained Acoustic Medicine, a suitable name for a device delivering long-duration, continuous ultrasound therapy that’s completely drug-free and cleared by the FDA. According to ZetrOZ, the deep-penetrating ultrasonic therapy—available only before in large, expensive machines located in the offices of healthcare providers—reduces inflammatory pain, relieves muscle spasms, improves joint and muscle flexibility, and increases local circulation.

Detailed medical device prototyped using Multi jet 3D printing technology

3D prototypes like the real thing

After nearly a year on the market, ZetrOZ needed to design a new version of sam, with the emphasis on making the casing for the device more aesthetically pleasing, both to the eye and the touch. ZetrOZ also wanted to ensure that sam can withstand the rigors of everyday use in a home environment, which could include everything that typically happens to a cell phone: people sitting on it and dropping it, cats playing with it, dirt, dust, humidity, moisture—you name it.

The updated design work was done with help from the Connecticut Center for Advanced Technology Inc. (CCAT) and a funding grant through Connecticut’s Manufacturing Technical Assistance Program, a state-legislature supported program.

CCAT uses the ProJet® 5500X (now sold as the ProJet 5600) printer to quickly produce multi-material prototypes that are not just approximations of actual products, but that look and feel exactly like injection-molded parts.

“The ProJet 5600 is a unique 3D printer,” says Eric Wold, CCAT machining applications specialist. “It has the ability to blend materials within a single part build. It is especially good for parts with over-molded features, such as a rubber grip on the outside of a handle or case.”

For ZetrOZ, the over-molding capability is critical for creating a rigid case that provides a comfortable, tactile feel.

“Working with CCAT and its 3D Systems’ printer gives us access to a wide range of printed materials,” says ZetrOZ’s Eric Kolb. “We can experiment with different material properties for strength, flexibility, surface finish, comfort and resolution.”

CCAT has developed sam prototypes using three different materials from 3D Systems: VisiJet CR-WT, a white, ABS-like material; VisiJet CR-CL, which is clear and has the translucence and strength of a polycarbonate; and VisiJet CF-BK for the over-molded areas that require a rubber-soft gripping surface.

Iterations in half the time

Over the past several months working on the new version of sam, the two Erics have leveraged 3D printing technology to forge an easy-going, clearly defined relationship.

“Basically I send a SOLIDWORKS CAD file to Eric and he does the rest,” says Kolb.

Wold converts the CAD file into STL format and loads it into 3D Systems’ 3D Sprint software to lay out the parts on the ProJet 5600 build plate. When the parts come out of the printer they are placed in an oven to remove wax used during the build process, cleaned with mineral oil in an ultrasonic machine, and gently washed with hot water and a mild soap.

ZetrOZ is refining a favored design and materials after about six vastly different design concepts were considered. It takes about a week, including shipping, for CCAT to return a 3D-printed prototype for each iteration, according to Kolb.

“If we were using a traditional injection-molding process, each prototype could take eight to 12 weeks to build and we’d probably only have time and money for one design iteration,” says Kolb. “Some new molding processes can reduce that time to a couple of weeks, but that’s still twice the time it takes us working with CCAT and its 3D Systems equipment, software and materials.”

“The quality and the detail of the 3D printer are amazing,” says Wold. “We have had people visit our facility who have been 3D printing for years and they cannot believe the fine details the printer is capable of. Parts that come out of the printer look like finished production parts, not 3D-printed prototypes.”

Skin in the game

The new, improved version of sam is not just a professional concern for ZetrOZ’s Kolb. As a runner and triathlete who has suffered from chronic injuries, Kolb is using sam to get back in shape for future competition. He’s benefiting from the controlled-release, long-duration treatment provided by sam, using the device up to four hours a day, five days a week.

“In the past I’ve never been able to use products I’ve worked on because they were for surgical procedures,” says Kolb. “It’s nice to be designing something I can touch and operate as an end user.”

Kolb expects that the more rugged and cosmetically pleasing sam will be released in the first part of 2016, providing another example of how, with the help of 3D printing, big ideas from small companies can come to market faster and less expensively than ever before.

NuVasive Taps AM Ecosystem to Optimize Spine Implant Technology

Product: DMP Print
Industry: Medical

NuVasive saw an opportunity with additive manufacturing (AM) back in 2015. The orthopedic device company recognized that the unique capability of AM to produce complex and optimized shapes could open new avenues in its design and manufacturing of minimally invasive, procedurally integrated spine solutions. The only snag was that no one at the company possessed AM experience.

NuVasive knew that it needed to partner with a service and manufacturing provider for the AM process. The result of that ultimate collaboration was that NuVasive quickly capitalized on the advantages of AM, going from design to market in just over one year with the 2017 launch of Modulus®—now a full implant line.

Picking a partner to grow expertise

Optimized spinal implant by NuVasive produced using 3D printing

Even accounting for the talent and expertise housed within the NuVasive team, hard work combined with strategic innovation allowed the company to successfully design, qualify and bring to market an optimized family of AM implants in 14 months. If this were a subtractively manufactured product, this would be no surprise: NuVasive has a 180,000 square-foot manufacturing facility in West Carrollton, Ohio, where it performs traditional manufacturing day-in and day-out. AM is another story, and the novelty of the approach to the company and its workforce presented unique challenges.

Realizing that they needed outside counsel, NuVasive first identified several topline criteria for selecting its AM expert. The quality and reliability of the available 3D printing technology were both non-negotiable. The company needed software application support to effectively manufacture a novel device. Lastly, it sought a partner that had credibility within the AM industry and could grow alongside NuVasive.

“We were not willing to take any risks in this regard,” said Jeremy Malik, Director of Product Development at NuVasive.

After conducting thorough research, NuVasive chose 3D Systems, with its Direct Metal Printing (DMP) technology and team of application engineers and AM experts, to commercialize Modulus.

Proceeding from concept to commercialization

The design philosophy behind the Modulus line was to utilize new technology in a meaningful way to deliver a final product that is innovative, as opposed to new. According to NuVasive, the company’s goal was to provide the optimal spinal implant without making significant tradeoffs in the process.

3D Systems' metal additive manufacturing machines at the Customer Innovation Center in Denver, CO

The Modulus line balances porosity with load sharing, and each independent SKU is optimized for improved radiolucency. This was achieved through topological optimization, an algorithm-based design strategy that removes excess material that serves no structural or functional purpose. A component that has been topologically optimized is lighter-weight with no adverse impact on strength. In the case of the Modulus line, topological optimization also facilitates better imaging characteristics across all shapes and sizes of implants, giving surgeons a better view into bone fusion during follow-up. In addition, the optimized lattice structure provides a fully porous architecture that creates an environment conducive for bone in-growth.

“We wanted to do things we couldn’t do before,” Malik said. “There is more to this device than simply utilizing a new technology to bring it to market; we used new technology to help drive improved clinical outcomes for patients.” 

Together, the two companies generated a number of file iterations for different ways that the desired devices could be printed, and 3D Systems provided critical industry expertise on print strategies, metallurgy and residual powder removal, among other unfamiliar but impactful AM aspects.

“We didn’t know what we didn’t know,” Malik said. “3D Systems helped educate us on the additive process and worked with us to iron out our process beyond just the printing. We had a lot of open dialogue, and that communication was key to our success.”

Through the process, NuVasive leveraged 3D Systems’ Customer Innovation Centers (CICs). These facilities, and access to the expertise housed within them, provide an ecosystem of AM solutions that include design and manufacturing capabilities, along with premium hardware, software and materials. Covering everything from application development and frontend engineering, to equipment validation, process validation, part qualification and production, 3D Systems’ CICs help companies with various experience levels accelerate innovation through additive technology.

From design to production, NuVasive was able to capitalize on what the technology had to offer in terms of improved functionality without making large initial investments.

The two companies also collaborated beyond design optimization to achieve a qualified AM production workflow. Notwithstanding NuVasive’s track record in earning FDA clearance on products made with traditional manufacturing, using a new process introduced unique regulatory challenges.

According to Malik, NuVasive addressed those issues by leveraging 3D Systems’ data on manufacturing reproducibility in order to bolster its justifications in its FDA submission.

“3D Systems had customers who cleared devices through FDA in the past, so we knew we partnered with someone who had in-house expertise to help us navigate these requirements,” he said. “That was a nice safety net.”

Integrating additive into the portfolio

Fast forward to today, NuVasive is a spine leader in AM with a fully 3D-printed family of FDA-cleared spine implants on the market. The Modulus line is the result of thoughtful design, and balances the benefits of porosity and performance requirements of interbody fusion devices.

In the end, it took NuVasive roughly 14 months to go from concept to commercialization with its Modulus product line. Although this is a fairly standard timeline for traditional manufacturing processes, the company was excited that it was able to maintain the same pacing in its first application of AM.

“It is a significant undertaking to build your production process in addition to designing and building your product,” Malik said. “We were proud we had the ability to develop both, and relied on 3D Systems to help build out our datasets and justifications in order to get us to market.”

As to product manufacturing and deployment, 3D Systems provides supply chain flexibility and fulfills volume production orders internally or through certified partners, as well as helps customers transition to additive production at their own facilities through knowledge and technology transfer.

NuVasive is beginning to do its own titanium 3D printing in-house, and is using DMP technology for R&D prototyping, as well as to better understand how the machines work to continue refining its production process.

“It’s been a huge improvement for us to have that capability on site,” Malik said. “Now we have a legitimate, scalable manufacturing process and the ability for continuous improvement in the future.”

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.

HC Bio-S Quickly design high-quality layouts and templates with Siemens PLM

Product: CAM Pro
Industry: Medical Devices and Pharmaceutical

Using Solid Edge CAM Pro, medical specialist reduces time to process single  customized bone plate from six hours to two | Siemens Digital Industries  Software

Specializing in R&D and production of implantable medical devices, HC Bio-S is the first company with the ability to develop, design and manufacture dental implants in Taiwan, and has obtained GMP certification, US FDA certification and European CE certification. Since 2013, the company’s focus includes the development of artificial orthopedic implants.

Currently, about half of the company’s products are manufactured directly on turn and mill machines programmed with CAM Express. The other half requires tools in the form of accessories, templates and stamping dies, which are also manufactured with CAM Express. Frank Lin explains: “Running a test in the shortest time possible has always been what we expect from CAM Express. Thanks to the extensive technical experience of Siemens PLM Software and CADEX consultants, we have been able to accomplish our mission in less time. “


  • Reduce processing time by one third and significantly improve productivity
  • Keys to Success CAM Express to improve customizability
  • Strong support from Siemens
  • Easy to use software interface


  • Time required to process a custom bone plate reduced from six hours to two hours
  • Simulation avoided potential collisions
  • Substantially improved customization with the ability to quickly and skillfully adjust template and parameter settings