Jeff Sorenson is the President and Chief Executive Officer of TeraRecon. He is responsible for ensuring that TeraRecon remains an innovative company with excellent relationships with its customers, employees, shareholders and the medical imaging community. He has been instrumental in achieving growth, increased customer satisfaction and the commercialization of disruptive new technologies. Mr. Sorenson will be a speaker at the #3DHEALS2018 conference on April 20-21st, 2018.
Jenny: When was the first encounter you had with 3D printing? What was that experience like? What were you thinking at that moment?
Jeff: As CEO of an advanced visualization company, 3D printing was always a capability we supported, so it has been so long ago that it is difficult to remember. What was remarkable, was the first time I saw a print using a new direct 3D image to 3D print technology we were experimenting with – it is truly ‘what you see is what you get.’ A great multi-color glossy print of human anatomy that is life-like and life-size is truly stunning. We all know where our heart is, and about what size it is. But, when you put a lifelike 3D print in your hand it seems to erase what you thought and allow you to connect with the reality of that heart being a part of you. This is true to an even greater extent for patients, and it is so powerful. In the end, we introduced this new approach for generating these remarkable 3D prints, which debuted at RSNA16 and was shown at 3DHeals 2017.
Jenny: What inspired you to start your journey in 3D printing (bio-fabrication/bio-printing)?
Jeff: Honestly, it was not my vision that brought the company into 3D printing. It was Gael Kuhn, Director of Product Management at TeraRecon. He jokes that the toughest part of making our 3D Print Pack Portal was convincing me that we should do it. The market is quite small and uncertain, but we see unmatched levels of interest in 3D printing, second only to artificial intelligence for image processing.
Jenny: What motivates you the most for your work?
Jeff: I am passionate about building great people, and having fun. A hard-charging team that has permission to fail and knows that they will get credit for their successes is what creates a workday that is more like a playday. Patient care sometimes seems broken from a business perspective, and yet miraculous from humankind perspective. We must find technology solutions to most of these problems. Healthcare providers are technology companies now. They both manufacture and consumer technology, just as they do with 3D models. I am seeing a very synergistic tie between the image processing intelligence of AI and the need for more automated or even fully automated 3D segmentation tools. The same technology allows realistic, anatomic models to be viewed in an augmented reality headset instead of needing to be printed at all. The lines are blurring when it comes to imaging workflows that are viewed in the screen, or hover in the air out of the screen, and of course can then be 3D printed and placed in your hand. When models are digital, you can do more with them, like ‘walk’ into them. When they are printed, they last forever and provide a tactile experience. There has never been a more exciting time to be involved in the translation of source medical images into works of information and art.
Jenny: What is/are the biggest obstacle(s) in your line of work? If you have conquered them, what were your solutions?
Jeff: 3D printing was too cumbersome for many years. Using industrial types of segmentation software produced models that were sometimes imagined and then sculpted in the processing tools. They were far too time-consuming to produce, and not very realistic. In addition, the price of a printer could not be justified by the actual workload. To solve these problems, we created a way that our iNtuition medical grade segmentation tools could be applied to quickly create an output file that carried with it all the beauty, color and realism of the image in the iNtuition workstation. In addition, we created a portal that can print these files using a cloud printing service that dramatically reduces the fully-burdened per-piece cost.
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)?
Jeff: The price per cubic centimeter for a model is dropping rapidly. The technology is becoming more and more accessible. But, still, models are in the range of $50 to $500 when an entire imaging interpretation has reimbursement on the low end of this range. When it is too expensive to print the models, then don’t. There is a strong argument for holographic or even simple interactive pictures with 3D renderings appearing as they do in a video game, or as we do in advanced visualization today. It is the convergence of all of these technologies and their appropriate use that will unlock the potential of all of the technologies. They are all better together.
Jenny: What advice would you give to a smart driven college student in the “real world”? What bad advice you heard should they ignore?
Jeff: The idea that cool companies are breezy and fun, people wear trendy beards and just hire smarter people is really a damaging false expectation. Things that are hard, are hard for everyone. The young trendy people are actually at least mid-thirties, and in larger companies, the people standing behind them are older than that. What is cool, is innovation, hard work, flexibility and team trust. From these things come to all other things. Finally, don’t chase money because it just comes automatically to those that are high value. Becoming high value is what you should chase. Pursue knowledge with an insatiable curiosity. Interestingly enough, this is how we ended up in the 3D printing space. We were curious as to why we could not get our beautiful iNtuition 3D renderings into the printer. It required some research and a technology solution, which was a converter that takes our DICOM saved states made by radiologic technologists and converts them into the full volume, high-quality printable PC files. No STL files, whatsoever. That’s cool!
Jenny: If you could have a giant billboard to promote a message to millions and even billions of people in our community (i.e. healthcare 3D printing and bio-fabrication), what message would that be?
Jeff: It’s easy! 3D printing does not have to be hard. We should not need 3D printing programs in technical colleges. There are already medical image segmentation and rendering tools available that far surpass what is being used. Radiologic technologists are trained in anatomy and the use of these tools. We seem to be stuck in a rut where industrial segmentation software tool uses STL files, loose clarity and resolution, are hard to use, are time intensive, and are not being rapidly adopted. People are too expensive to have them spending hours and hours per print. Isn’t it interesting that we talk a lot about the fixed cost of printing, but keep propagating an impractical workflow? Using real medical-grade advance visualization tools and being willing to stay in the digital world when it makes sense, and to print in the material world when it makes sense, makes it all simpler, better and more affordable.
Jenny: What was/is the biggest risk you took in your career?
Jeff: I began my career at Philips Medical Systems as a field service engineer. It grew over time into a leadership development program and eventually a paid MBA. Everything was lining up to have a very long and prosperous career at Philips. Through a set of strange circumstances, I ran into my predecessor who used to hold my job. I met him only out of curiosity. But, with him was another person whom I had heard of before at Philips and who was now working at the same company, Imatron. They successfully recruited me to this little super-fast CT scanner company that had a product that could image the heart when no other CT scanner could. I left the security behind, with my wife pregnant with our first child, and took a big risk that being a big part of a small company would allow me to learn faster than being a small part of a big company. While we had our challenges and it was not easy, the company was turned around and sold to another big company, GE Medical Systems. It was because of this risk that I took that I learned marketing, sales, product management, advanced image processing techniques, and began working with companies like my current employer, TeraRecon. The broader knowledge and cross-functional experience that I gained has defined my career, prepared me for my current role, and directed my career toward 3D image processing, including the 3D printing solutions that have brought me to become a part of 3DHeals.
Jenny: What is your favorite quote? Why?
Jeff: “None of us is as smart as all of us”
― Kenneth H. Blanchard
People engage when they are heard and disengage when they are ignored. Solving big problems requires people and passion. Human beings want to contribute and add value. We take pride in our work and are honored when our work is recognized. The best way to ignite team collaboration and spawn new ideas is to make sure voices are heard and influences come from both inside and outside of the organization.
Jenny: What does the word “3DHEALS” mean to you? =)
Jeff: I think it means that 3D printing can help heal patients and that it belongs in the realm of primary diagnosis and treatment regimens. Because “printing” is not in the name, I also take it to mean that 3D “heals” this way, inclusive of holography, advanced visualization, AI image processing and any other forms of innovation.