Interview with Adam Steege: Metal 3D Print Small Things

Adam Steege

After completing undergraduate work in Math, Physics, and Mechanical Engineering, Adam Steege started his first company, Agile EndoSurgery. Agile developed novel articulated laparoscopic surgical devices, using a wide variety of fabrication techniques. Through this development process, as well as through his consulting work that resulted in the development of 3 other commercialized medical devices, Adam learned the potential and the shortcomings of 3d printing in Medtech. With over 80 pending and issued patents, and 10 years of medical device development in addition to automation, robotics, and manufacturing expertise, Adam founded Trio Labs to solve the problems of precision and scalability in metal additive manufacturing. Adam will be sharing his experiences at our virtual event Metal 3D Printing

Jenny: When was the first encounter you had with 3D printing?

Adam: The first time I saw a 3d printer was when I was in college, they had a Stratasys system in the machine shop with a dual extruder head that printed on a foam base, so after each print you’d have to pick off bits of Styrofoam and support material to clean up the print. It was equally intriguing and frustrating because the ability to print from CAD was an incredibly profound thing, but there was still a lot of manual work required, and the parts were nowhere near machined parts in terms of strength and functionality. I was really excited about the technology but knew it still had a ways to go.

Jenny: What inspired you to start your journey in 3D printing?

Adam: I started my first company after finishing college. My senior project as a mechanical engineering major was to develop an articulated laparoscopic surgical instrument that had the dexterity of a robotic system, but at a much lower price point. I spent 5 years developing the tech further and spend hundreds of hours in the machine shop cutting small metal parts for prototypes. I occasionally tried using printed metal parts in prototypes, but the surface finish was bad enough that the parts weren’t usable. I wanted to solve this problem and give designers a better way to make new devices. As Trio has progressed, we’ve seen that the opportunity extends into volume production, which makes the impact on the whole development cycle even more profound. 

Jenny: Who inspired you the most along this journey in 3D printing?

Adam: My dad has always been someone I’ve looked up to throughout my entrepreneurial journey. He spent his career as a pioneer in minimally invasive surgery and gave me the idea that sparked my first venture. The impact he had on thousands of patients’ lives is something I aspire to. The impact has always been the biggest motivating force for me, and being able to provide a platform for the development of previously impossible medical devices is an incredible opportunity to redefine the state of the art in patient care.

Jenny: What motivates you the most for your work? 

Adam: Impact. We’re engaging with companies developing the next generation of microsurgery instruments, as well as drug delivery and diagnostic devices, and the impact of these developments will be incredibly far-reaching and meaningful for so many patients. This is what gets me excited and keeps me moving.

Jenny: What is/are the biggest obstacle(s) in your line of work? If you have conquered them, what were your solutions? 

Adam: Where do I begin? Developing physical technology in a startup is extremely difficult to work, there’s never a shortage of obstacles to deal with. That’s also what keeps it engaging and exciting! I’ve been incredibly fortunate to work with a brilliant and dedicated team that has made Trio’s growth possible, and everyone on the team has been instrumental in overcoming challenges we’ve encountered along the way. Probably the most fundamental challenge any startup faces is bandwidth; you need to build customer relationships, advance the technology, raise the next round, expand the team, and do a hundred other tasks, all with only 24 hours in the day and limited resources. The best answer I’ve come up with for this is to hire people that know more than you do about the job you’re hiring them for. Always try to hire to make yourself the dumbest person in the room.

Jenny: What do you think is (are) the biggest challenge(s) in 3D Printing? What do you think the potential solution(s) is (are)?

Adam: I think 3D printing has had a lot of new technologies developed, some incremental and some more revolutionary, but there hasn’t always been an appropriate focus on applications. If you approach people and say, “Hey, look at this amazing technology I’ve developed!” and the response is “Why?” then you’d better have a very good answer. More companies are focusing on specific applications these days, and are really digging into the value provided to the end-user, and that is a trend in the right direction, but it’s taken a long time to get the industry aimed in this direction. I think in an effort to develop new technology, it’s very important to be self-critical. You should always ask yourself why this tech actually matters, and be honest with yourself when answering that question.  

Jenny: If you are granted three wishes by a higher being, what would they be?


  1. End the pandemic
  2. Universal childcare
  3. Universal healthcare

Jenny: What advice would you give to a smart driven college student in the “real world”? What bad advice you heard should they ignore? 

Adam: Don’t get overcommitted to something just because it seems like the normative path to take. One of the greatest skills you can develop is being comfortable with being uncomfortable; it will broaden the set of experiences that you are exposed to and make life a lot more fun and exciting. When I was debating whether to start my first company, I remember someone asking me whether I’d regret trying and failing more than I’d regret not trying at all, and that sealed the deal for me. Throwing yourself into an unfamiliar situation is the best way to learn and grow; I’d highly recommend it.

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