Interview with Jacob Santovsky: GoEngineer and LN4 Hand Project

My name is Jacob Santovsky and I am a Senior Elite Applications Engineer here at GoEngineer. At one point I had 80 certifications in SOLIDWORKS software including the Expert and Elite awards and have always been interested in designing and how wonderful SOLIDWORKS is at making ideas come to life. I graduated with BSME from Temple University in Philadelphia in 2014 and have worked with 3d printers since college. I worked in several industries before getting hired at GoEngineer to help with SOLIDWORKS and 3D Printing. In 2019 I was asked to join a competition to design a new, purely mechanical prosthetic hand with a team of folks around the country and we won! So we have been refining and developing the new hand for the last few years. Jacob will join an expert panel in our event 3D Printing for Prosthetics and Orthotics.

When was the first encounter you had with 3D printing? What was that experience like? What were you thinking at that moment?

Jacob: I first used a 3D Printer in College to make my senior design to generate electricity from a car
moving over a speedbump.  I didn’t know much about it in college. I didn’t even know quite how
it works.  Most of our prints were hobby-level printers and the prints tended to come out all
stringy and they may not have been the best quality. But, I really got my hands on robust
commercial 3D printers working for GoEngineer at their Santa Ana, California office. I used to
help run the 3D Print Bureau. I would help do benchmarks and run 3D prints. We had a Connex3
PolyJet and an F370 FDM Stratasys 3D printers in the office way back. That’s where I learned about
how the whole build chamber needs to be enclosed and heated (to prevent that stringy material)
and all that fun stuff such as the best orientation for certain geometries. I also learned Insight
and GrabCAD print, all software to help print with our higher-end printer. I even helped get
TerraCycle boxes in the office to recycle the 3D print waste. It’s such a cool experience to take
something from your brain and be able to physically hold it hours later.

What inspired you to start your journey?

Jacob: Being surrounded by printers at work along with my drive to learn new things inspired me to
jump into 3D printing. We had 3D Printers in the Santa Ana office at GoEngineer and I just said,
“Hey, I want to learn that”. And, so when I got the chance to do it I did. We have this fun box of
tools at GoEngineer and I like to learn as many of them as I can. “Bio-printing” didn’t become
prevalent to me until I was picked to be a part of a competition to redesign an older prosthetic
hand for a SOLIDWORKS competition. I helped our team win the “Hackathon” with a winning
prosthetic hand design and have been volunteering to aid the development ever since with my
background in mechanical design and 3D printing.

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

Jacob: Michael Mendoza, the founder of the LN4 prosthetic hand foundation and GoEngineer having my
back has inspired me the most along this journey to keep volunteering. My Zayda was my
mentor growing up and inspired me to help people and keep designing.

What motivates you the most for your work?

Jacob: I do this all as a volunteer and I’m just motivated to be able to help people with my specific
skill set. Literally giving someone a new hand would be a gift to myself as well and it feels good to
be able to help others. That’s my inspiration. Plus, it’s fun. I like the challenge of having a new
problem to solve. With the current hand design, it’s always 2 steps forward, then 1 step back
with a new challenge to solve.

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

Jacob: There are so many obstacles. It’s an obstacle course. Just recently one of our biggest obstacles
for the LN-4 Hand Project is this internal spring that must be able to be pushed with X amount of
force (less than 45N) and have a certain diameter and pitch. We were looking to get some made or
see what we could find off the shelf first. I was cutting some down and trying to spin them to get
the right size. Finally, we found some that could fit, but were too strong and others that were
perfect for force but didn’t fit in the old housing for it. It was too small by 2 millimeters, so the
button return wouldn’t push by itself. There are all kinds of challenging questions such as, “Is this
part manufacturable when we switch out of 3DPrinting?” “Is this tolerance too tight or can we
loosen?” “How durable is this under fatigue load?”. On the printer side, we need a printer that
can print finer resolutions so components like the snap-fit pins can be isotropic to be strong
enough to bend and return as well as hold the components together. There are just too many
things to list here. We use 3D-printed prototypes to verify that the components are going to
fit and work before purchasing an expensive mold. It’s a must. We plan on testing these 3D
prints in the field with actual amputees before going to mass production once we fix the rest of
the current issues.

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

Jacob: The biggest challenge in 3D Printing is tolerance and holding tolerances, especially on thin-walled
parts it’s hard. I think a lot of the machines that are powder-based are going to do a better job of
holding tolerances, but it also depends on what you’re trying to do.
One of the solutions is to make sure that the tolerances on your design can match the printer
tolerances and the tolerance of commercial injection mold. For example, I’ve printed on some
materials and the same exact snap fin doesn’t exist versus in another material process it fits
perfectly, like a glove, exactly how I designed it in SOLIDWORKS. Also sandpaper after you’ve
printed helps to massage it and see if maybe the orientation of the print needs to be changed
or where the tolerances might need to be larger in CAD to match the real tolerances in the areas
that need sandpaper. If I have a critical hole and I don’t orient to the bottom it may become
slightly oblong and mess up that tolerance.

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

Jacob: I would wish for the next version of the LN-4 Foundation hand to be fully successful. I’m sure
everyone would want a couple of million bucks. I’d get to spend more time with my newly born
daughter. And, I would wish for 3 more wishes, I think anyone would exploit that loophole.

Photo Credit: GoEngineer

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

There is always a different way to solve problems if you really want to do it. If you are really driven to do it, find another way to solve the problem because there is another solution, and it might not be the first thing you thought of. It’s your future, and your career for life potentially, don’t let others tell you what you can and can’t do with it.

Jacob: I always wanted to be a Mechanical Engineer. I always was obsessed with designing and building
anything I could. I even built a small airplane at age 15 with a fully functioning rudder and
ailerons controlled with a broomstick and string and airfoil from bent floor tiles. But when I got
to college they told me my math scores were too low, and I should do English instead, since my
scores were pretty high for English. I was actually told this by multiple guidance counselors in
high school and when I got to college. In fact, in high school, they told me not to take Calculus
because they wanted my grades to be decent enough to get into college in the first place. They
were like, listen you’re not going to make it as an engineer so you should consider something
else like English. I knew always wanted to design things. I tried other things to be sure, such as
vocational school doing substandard housing and learning to be a carpenter. I learned there that
I didn’t want to be building something that someone else designed, I wanted to design my own
stuff and build it.

My advice is, if there is something in your career you really want to do, and folks are telling you
“no,” and it seems impossible, remember, there are other ways to solve the problem to get you there.
In college, I was placed into Elementary Algebra, studied harder, and used my only retest and get
into College Algebra. Then I worked through summer school 1 with pre-calculus and summer
school 2 with Calculus 1. I used Calculus for Dummies as my supplementary textbook and I found
that Algebra was harder and my Calculus grades were better than my algebra grades. I was able
to catch up in math with the rest of my colleagues by Sophomore year and my grades kept
getting better in math (except for Calculus 3, which was harder).

Turns out the numbers on the page in Algebra were moving around in my head in a dyslexic
manner. I ended up figuring out in physics if I could just turn the numbers into letters, I could
solve the letters so much easier. It was so much easier to visually see that math that I ended up
getting one of the highest grades in the highest math, Linear Algebra. My buddies and I even
flunked a few kids. Higher math just started to make sense and then I had to slow down when it
broke down into Algebra.

There is always a different way to solve problems if you really want to do it. If you are really
driven to do it, find another way to solve the problem because there is another solution, and it
might not be the first thing you thought of. It’s your future, and your career for life potentially,
don’t let others tell you what you can and can’t do with it.

My Zayda went to the same college as me after WW2 and they told him that “Jews probably won’t
get hired to be Engineers,” so he became a Pharmacist. He always told me he wished he could be
an Engineer and I got to live that dream for both of us, despite the obstacles.

Related Links:

3D Printed Orthotics and Prosthetics (On-Demand, 2023)

3D Printing for O&P, Assistive Devices (On-Demand)

3D Printed Orthotics and Prosthetics (On-Demand)

How AI and 3D Printing Enhance Crafting Custom Orthotics and Prosthetics

3D Scanning for Prostheses

3D Printing and Neurology Help Prosthesis Acceptance in Children with Upper-limb Reduction Deficiency

Antimicrobial Materials for 3D Printing Medical Devices