Interview: Mr. Leslie Oliver Karpas

Leslie Oliver Karpas Interview Series
Leslie Oliver Karpas has combined elements of architecture, robotics, machine vision, holography, and industrial design; leveraging 10 years of experience with 3D printers, manufacturing engineering, and the use of smart geometry for the creation of complex one-off structures built with mechanized fabrication equipment. His work includes UX design at zSpace, designing theaters for Cirque Du Sole, and sculpture engineering for winning artists Anish Kapoor and Jeff Koons. He has also heavily influenced by the medical legacies of his late father and grandfather, the President of the American Diabetes Association and inventor of the sequential birth control pill respectively. This has culminated in the creation of the medical device startup Metamason, where he leverages this experience with 3D technologies to create uniquely customized, user-oriented products via their ‘Scan Fit Print’ platform. The flagship product of which is the world’s first truly personalized respiratory mask for the treatment of sleep apnea. An on-demand, patient specific CPAP mask via 3D scanning & printing which are perfectly ergonomic, functional, and beautiful. Also noteworthy, Les is a perennial speaker at conferences in the 3D space, evangelizing his design philosophy: Metamoderism, a design philosophy for the 4th industrial revolution which ties together 3D scanning, printing, and smart geometry through the lens of modernist pedagogy, thus informing how to leverage 3D technology to capture emerging market opportunities. Mr. Karpas will be a speaker at 3DHEALS2017.

Q: What is your vision on the intersection of 3D Printing and healthcare?

A: 3D Printing intersects healthcare at the crossroads of Personalized Medicine, where individually patient-matched products are increasingly outperforming their mass-produced counterparts with far higher quality patient outcomes. This crossroads has the potential to catalyze a dramatic shift, not just in the healthcare industry, but in the way we think about design as a whole — calling for a new philosophy for scan-to-fit industrial design inspired by innovation in medicine; moving from a past where we focused on products that were the least bad for the most people, to a future where we are truly focused on what is best for each individual.

Metamason Customizable CPAP Masks

Q: What do you specialize in? What is your passion?

A: I’m passionate about using 3D technology to redefine the relationship between products and consumers. Prior to founding Metamason, my career has combined elements of architecture, robotics, machine vision, holography, and industrial design; my portfolio is a strange and wonderful hodgepodge of everything from UX to sculpture engineering for Anish Kapoor and Jeff Koons.

Discovering the crucial need for technological innovation in the healthcare sector was a major catalytic force for founding Metamason. Today, I’m synthesizing my experience with machine vision, 3D printers, manufacturing engineering, and the use of smart geometry — we’ve built a virtual Scan·Fit·Printplatform for creating individually personalized products with automated fabrication equipment for the medical devices industry. Based on 3D scans of the user’s face and 3D-printed in biocompatible silicone, our devices are uniquely patient-matched and user-oriented. I believe strongly that 3D integration and automation like ours will revolutionize the world of design, for personalized medicine and beyond.

Q: What inspired you to do what you do?

A: I was heavily influenced by the seminal careers of my late father, who was the President of the American Diabetes Association, and my grandfather, the inventor of the sequential birth control pill and the fertility drug Clomid. Their inspiring medical legacy left me with some big shoes to fill.

I’ve also been captivated by 3D printing since I was a kid (I started modeling at age 12 in 1993, and printing interning for architecture firms in 1999). The more I experimented, the more I believed that the possibilities for this technology were truly limitless; and the more I learned about the current manufacturing industry, the more I realized that the conventional systems for designing and mass-producing products weren’t going to assimilate the emerging trend in 3D technology very effectively, or engage its true capacity. Our tools and process have evolved from a world focused on mass-production, and are fundamentally misaligned with the needs of mass-customization. The way we think about design and manufacturing needs a philosophical overhaul in order to leverage these technologies to their full potential.

This realization has inspired me to explore what that design philosophy might look like for mass-customization, and ultimately to define and describe it as Metamodernism. Metamodernism is a scan-to-fit design philosophy for the fourth industrial revolution which unites 3D technology with Modernist pedagogy to enable mass-customization. From the moment I began framing discussions of design process this way with my peers and colleagues, something clicked, and the idea began to gain traction, to the point that I’m now frequently asked to talk about Metamodernism in speaking engagements and panel discussions.

Through teaching Metamodernism, my hope is to enable businesses and entrepreneurs to better leverage 3D technology to capture emerging market opportunities and reimagine product design. To raise demand for 3D technology and those of us who are expert practitioners by packaging and branding our new way of doing things. Essentially creating the new ‘innovation’, ‘disruption’ or ‘design thinking’, such that the c-level executives of the future can say ‘I think we should take a Metamodernist approach to this market’.

Q: What is the biggest potential impact you see 3D printing having on the healthcare industry?

A: 3D customization has the capacity to generate a vast array of truly useful personalized healthcare products that solve real-world problems effectively, efficiently and creatively. Patient-matched products and therapies can be tailored according to unique factors such as the patient’s genomics, body shape and other biodata. Products can be tailored for their patient in new ways, including cloud based mechanical simulation to optimize devices specifically for the individual user; such that the performance and efficiency of medical devices is on part with what we currently expect from high end sporting equipment.

The success of patient-matched products like Invisalign braces and 3D-printed hearing aids is already being demonstrated, both in terms of popularity and improved efficacy. Designers like Scott Summit of BespokeInnovations and Eythor Bender of Uniq, make customized prosthetics and orthopedics; have clinically proven the psychological effect of when the patient’s actual body and personal style are represented through the device, better outcomes result. By giving the patient agency in the design and creation of a personalized product, the product becomes an extension of the patient’s identity; and patient activation through product personalization consistently improves outcomes through increased compliance.

Patient-matched products are also good for business. They allow durable medical equipment providers to develop a boutique option for patients who are unsatisfied with standard treatment solutions that is genuinely more likely to meet the patient’s needs. Additionally, we see a future where without the threat of unsold inventory that mass-production precipitates, payer-provider networks are empowered to create their own branded devices, which may even be specially designed for specific demographic targets; reinforcing the quality of care they provide.

Q: What are biggest challenges do you see arising in implementing 3D printing in healthcare sector in the next 5 years?

A: To catalyze growth of additive manufacturing in healthcare, we need more than innovation — we need a complete design philosophy overhaul.

3D customization is taking hold across industries, especially in medicine. But transitioning to a new design methodology which leverages the advantages of AM’s complexity and variability has not been easy, particularly for producers of mainstream consumer products. As mass production is increasingly superseded by mass customization, there is a mounting need for a radicalized way of thinking about design. Getting away from tools like Solidworks, moving toward dynamic design solutions via scripting languages like grasshopper, javascript, and dynamo.

Traditionally, analysts, designers and engineers have operated in sequential silos; one of the biggest challenges over the next few years will be integrating data-gathering, design and fabrication into one simultaneous experience, so that unique data sets and consumer preferences can directly inform the the shape of each product and customization can happen in real time. Smart geometry enabling the data from wearables monitoring the outcomes of a given treatment/product, can be dynamically linked to that product’s design, such that it evolves on its own as a result of real world use.

Another serious challenge facing 3D manufacturing relates to differences in margins — mass production is cheap. It’s also wasteful and has significant disadvantages, including the carrying cost of inventory and long lead times in a fast-paced world; but as an industry we have not yet begun to conceive of these downsides as avoidable.

The cost of patient-matched, 3D-manufactured products will certainly continue to drop as the manufacturing systems evolve, but they will probably always be more expensive than mass-produced products because they are better products. To some extent, a fundamental change in consumer psychology about product value is required to dramatically increase demand. We have been trained to accept products as typically low-quality and disposable; we have to bring back quality and value to the central idea of products worth buying.

Q: What is the best business lesson you have learned?

A: You can never undervalue the impact of showing something that works versus just describing it. Even when you have a great idea, asking people to believe in a conceptual product enough to to invest in it is an uphill climb. As soon as we had a semi-functional demonstration of the scan-fit-print software (prototyped in grasshopper) and an example of our Investment Molding process for 3D printing silicone, something people could hold in their hand; we started winning competitions and getting funding.

Q: What is the biggest business risk you have taken?

A: As long as you have a good product that is addressing an existing demand, there’s a pretty clear path to funding. The biggest risk I took was insisting that Metamason be a platform company and not just a CPAP company despite constant protests from angel investors looking for a quick flip. I wanted to build something more robust than a single vertical — but there were certainly moments when the alternative was tempting.

Q: What are the biggest challenges you had to overcome with Metamason?

A: We literally had to invent the process of 3D-printing silicone, we tried a countless number of methods searching for one with the desired product finish. Our CPAP products have to be soft, durable and non-toxic; we tested every possible printable elastomer and couldn’t find one that was both soft enough and biocompatible. Ultimately, we partnered with 3D Systems to invent the Investment Molding® process for printing silicone, which proved to be a far more difficult challenge than we had initially anticipated! We are incredibly grateful for 3D Systems’ collaboration in that endeavor — their support was essential to our success.