“The “wow” moment for me was when we did the first surgery with a Formlabs printed guide. I had flown down to see the process start-to-finish with a good friend, Dr. Daniel Whitley. The surgery itself was something I had at that point seen dozens of times online. But when the patient sat down in the chair, and Dr. Whitley put the guide in and was about to start drilling, it really hit home: these are people’s lives and health that are being impacted. It’s incredible not just to be working on something that seems like it has an impact, but also to see it first hand. I was also really happy that the surgery went smoothly!”
Gideon Balloch is the dental product lead at Formlabs, the pioneer and industry leader in professional desktop 3D printing. Balloch drives the company’s dental product development efforts, opening up use in hundreds of thousands of treatments, with over 1 million dental appliances produced on Formlabs printers to date. Previously, Balloch spearheaded the launch of Formlabs products in international markets including China and Japan. Balloch holds a degree in mechanical engineering from McGill University.
Mr. Gideon Balloch will be presenting at our upcoming 3DHEALS Boston event.
Jenny: What inspired you to start your work in medical 3D printing?
Gideon: As with so many developments, it was learning from our users that led us to the opportunity in medical and dental 3D printing. A handful of Form 1+ users were dental customers who were using crazy amounts of resin, and the more we dug into what they were doing with the printers, the more potential there seemed to be. When we launched the Form 2 we knew we finally had a printer that was ready for the dental market, and so we invested a lot of time and energy into dental materials, applications, and market development.
Fast forward three years and I think it’s fair to say that this has not just taken off for us, but also helped make dental 3D printing mainstream, industry-wide. It’s really humbling to know that our printers have been used to make over 1 million dental appliances, and be used in hundreds of thousands of treatments.
Jenny: Who inspired you the most along this journey in 3D printing (bio-printing/bio-fabrication)? This can be a mentor, a patient, a celebrity, anyone basically. You can name more than one as well.
Gideon: The “wow” moment for me was when we did the first surgery with a Formlabs printed guide. I had flown down to see the process start-to-finish with a good friend, Dr. Daniel Whitley. The surgery itself was something I had at that point seen dozens of times online. But when the patient sat down in the chair, and Dr. Whitley put the guide in and was about to start drilling, it really hit home: these are people’s lives and health that are being impacted. It’s incredible not just to be working on something that seems like it has an impact, but also to see it first hand. I was also really happy that the surgery went smoothly!
Jenny: What motivates you the most for your work?
Gideon: There are two important areas: (i) the right conditions, (ii) the right problem space. At Formlabs, the conditions are really remarkable – we’re constantly working to apply technology on tangible problems. The fact that it’s a hardware, software and materials product makes for a fantastic array of things to learn and do with a diverse, intelligent group of people. On top of that, to be working on opening up applications that are changing the way people practice medicine has been particular tangible and rewarding.
Jenny: What do you think is (are) the biggest challenge(s) in 3D Printing/bio-printing? What do you think the potential solution(s) is (are)?
Gideon: A major challenge for the industry is that users need end-to-end digital workflows, which require a broad set of currently disparate technologies that don’t necessarily connect well together. In general, the workflow is (a) scan, (b) design treatments and prosthetics in CAD software, (c) 3D print or CNC mill, (d) post-process.
As a 3D printer and materials company, we offer an important, but limited, part of that whole workflow. Scanning and software are major barriers to the adoption of our technology. To combat this, we’ve built close relationships with several dental-specific scanning and CAD manufacturers, as well as a distribution network that effectively delivers these end-to-end solutions to our customers. On top of this, we’re lucky that those dental CAD and scanning companies have been making deep investments in pushing the industry towards digital solutions for much longer than Formlabs has been involved. This has helped us drive mass adoption of dental 3D printing applications.
As we look to new applications, different types of users, and particularly the broader set of medical applications, this is definitely a continuing challenge. There is a lot of development that still needs to happen to get most of the medical workflows to the level of usability required to become the standard of care. 3D printing and material development are rapidly changing, and this will drive adoption, but I would say that currently, the scanning and CAD software challenges are probably paramount.
Jenny: If you are granted three wishes by a higher being, what would they be?
Gideon: The cultural representation of these types of grant-wishing beings, or genies, is comically variable. In many places, these are beings to fear, who grant wishes literally but by interpreting them in negative ways. I’d decline.
Jenny: What advice would you give to a smart driven college student in the “real world”? What bad advice you heard should they ignore?
Gideon: There are too many people peddling clichéd commentary that is often more self-assurance than it is outwardly useful advice. You’re better off thinking through your specific situation, motivations, and problems on a first principles basis.
If you must, find some people who seem like they are on paths that you could see yourself on, and don’t ask them for advice. Ask them about their perspective heading into various points in their lives, and how this differed from how things actually unfolded. And discount everything by what seems like post-hoc fallacy or survivorship bias.