Interview with Erik Boelen: Quality Management for PoC 3D Printing

After his masters in biomedical engineering and his Ph.D. in biomaterials, Erik Boelen started his career in medical 3D printing as Product Specialist for Mimics (medical image processing software) at Materialise in 2007. In 2010 he spent one year in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia for Materialise to build the sales and support team for APAC. Back in Materialise Headquarters in Belgium, he assumed the role of Marketing Manager for the Mimics Innovation Suite. In 2012, Erik joined the startup Xilloc as its Chief Operations Officer. Xilloc designs and manufactures custom-made medical devices and was a pioneer in using 3D printing for implants (we made the world’s first completely 3D-printed titanium mandible). In his role as COO, Erik was mainly responsible for sales, marketing, and quality management and he built a QMS for ISO 13485 from scratch and got it certified. After nearly a decade, in 2021 he decided to take the plunge and start his own company QasE3D (pronounced as Case-three-dee) as a consultant for Quality Management and 3D printing. He currently helps medical device companies and PoC facilities to implement a digital QMS for ISO 13485 and acts as an agent for several companies with innovative 3D technology to help surgeons. Erik will be speaking at the upcoming Point of Care Additive Manufacturing event. He also authored an Expert Corner blog recently focusing on quality management of hospital-based 3D printing.

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

Erik: While I was doing my Ph.D. (in biomaterials), I did not know yet what I wanted to do after. On a city trip with my girlfriend to Ghent, Belgium, someone was handing out job magazines. Normally I would refuse, but this time something inside me told me to accept the magazine and I browsed through it. In it, I saw an ad from this Belgian company called Materialise that was doing 3D printing. It instantly drew me and I made a mental note to contact them after finishing my PhD. When I was near the end of my Ph.D. I looked at the job offers on their website and saw a vacancy for a biomedical application engineer. I applied and got the job. This started my career (in 3D printing).

What inspired you to start your journey?

Erik: From that first encounter in the magazine, it captured my imagination. Seeing the lasers in the big SLA machines is just mesmerizing as well as pulling a 3D printed part bit by bit out of the resin. It’s magical! Combined with my interest in the medical field; 3D printing can really make porous parts, mimicking anatomy. Also, lattices have this mesmerizing effect on me.

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

Erik: Making a difference in the life of a patient is a very powerful inspiration and motivation.

What motivates you the most for your work? 

Erik: I truly believe that every patient deserves a patient-specific implant, tuned to his/her anatomy. 3D printing can enable us to make these perfect, unique implants, provided we do it right. There still is a lot of work in safeguarding the quality of 3D-printed implants.

What is the biggest obstacle in your line of work? If you have conquered them, what were your solutions? 

Erik: As a quality consultant it is hard to explain to engineers that Quality Management is about so much more than merely the manufacturing process… ????

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

Erik: From my perspective, getting high quality, safe, and effective 3D printed medical devices. We can achieve this by sharing knowledge about which designs work and which do not. And properly validate the whole 3D printing process (which is more challenging than milling for example).

I see a lot of people proudly posting designs of (porous) patient-specific implants on LinkedIn, inspiring others to do similar things. However, people never share negative results, but it would be very good to know for all future patients when a certain type of implant doesn’t work. In that sense, because all designs are unique, people design what they think/expect will work, but the design is never validated. Compare that to the lengthy process of bringing a standard medical device to market…

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

Erik: In all honesty, the first wish would be a sum of money for my family large enough to not have to worry about money anymore… The second wish would be for mankind to understand the (laws of) the universe, so we would for example be able to travel in no time to remote planets and encounter other lifeforms and we could make clean, (infinite) energy and defy the law of gravity; a bit like the things in Star Wars!). Lastly, maybe the ability to look into the future to see the impact of a decision I want to make.

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

Erik: If you design and produce a 3D-printed medical device, would you use it for your wife or your child? If you can’t immediately answer with a big YES, your device is not yet ready!

Related Links:

Four U.S. Dental Schools At The Frontier of 3D Printing Education

3D Printing in Hospitals (On Demand, 2021)

Point of Care 3D Printing (On Demand, 2022)

Segmentation: The Real Struggles Behind Converting DICOM to Patient-specific 3D Printable Models

Interview with Shannon Walters, Stanford 3D Lab