Interview with Matthew Shomper: Designing for Metal 3D Printing

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Matthew Shomper is an innovative engineering leader with noted expertise in the computational design of biologically advantageous medical implants. His articles have been published in Orthopedic Design and Technology, BoneZone, and he is a regularly-referenced expert in topics related to next-gen modeling and additive development. Matthew leads the charge on the adoption of advanced modeling programs that augment traditional approaches to medical device design and is on the forefront of additive and materials advancement in his field. As Director of Engineering at Tangible Solutions, Matthew strives to connect with customers and understand their requirements – helping them to drive towards product launch in the shortest possible timeframe. He has driven the design and development of numerous medical devices from concept development to market launch, and thus understands customers’ pain points, timelines, and budget constraints. With the dual knowledge of both manufacturing and design and development, he is able to swiftly direct projects through V&V activities and FDA approvals by applying a rigorous understanding of device requirements. Matt will be speaking at the upcoming webinar focusing on Design for 3D Printed Medical Devices.

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

Matthew: I encountered 3D printing for the first time in my second full-time position. I had already spent a couple of years at a medical device company and was frustrated at prototype lead times and costs. Typically trying to get one-off components rarely was fruitful and was rife with issues. When SLA became more mainstream I remember ordering some test pieces for some instrumentation that required tighter tolerances, and was amazed that the interfaces worked as I had designed them.

Jenny: What inspired you to start your journey?

Matthew: I was at a spine device OEM and had developed several projects that had launched, and we engaged with a company that offered additive solutions. I was blown away by the studies they had done that showed the viability of the technology to truly improve the bio integration of these devices. Since then I have strived to execute projects and create designs that are differentiated and will change the way people look at medical device additive manufacturing.

Jenny: Who inspired you the most along this journey?

Matthew: My biggest inspiration has been the awesome Chris Collins, founder of Tangible Solutions. I’ve shaped a lot of my problem-solving methodologies after what he has taught me. He worked for many years to build Tangible from the ground up – without any recognition or accolades – into a household name for orthopedic OEMs to use for additively manufactured implants. He taught me the value of leading a team through example and hard work.

Jenny: What motivates you the most for your work? 

Matthew: Being part of the creation of designs that actually make a difference, instead of what everyone else is doing. Being able to trailblaze and have others be inspired by the work that I’m doing. I love posting something that causes people to think and engage in a discussion, good or bad!

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

Matthew: We have created a very intentional metal additive process that is both precise and economical. Because we built this from the ground up, there are no resources to draw from to troubleshoot. You can’t just Google the problem and get 10 answers! All solutions need to be researched, experimented on, and selected very carefully and with a lot of thought.

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

Matthew: One of the biggest challenges is making sure we keep the proper endpoints in mind. 3D printing is another tool in the toolbox for creative solutions to our world’s problems. But it shouldn’t be a technology seeking a problem to solve – there are plenty out there already! I think 3D printing will just be a flash in the pan for some industries unless those in it can show differentiated solutions that cannot be achieved any other way.

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

Matthew:

  • 72 hours in each day so I could spend more time on my dual loves (work and family)! And – along with it – only having to sleep a few hours to support all this work, haha!
  • Resources to be able to create a unique metal additive “lab” for creating unique bio-inspired structures, researching their structural and biological properties, and working with orthopedic companies to deploy them into usable technology
  • And (selfishly), the guarantee that I can work on what I love and not have to worry about making a living from it. Supporting my family is #1, but not many people get to truly make the choice to do what they absolutely love and make what they want to. For now, I’m in that rare place!

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

Matthew:

  • Being self-taught is far too valuable of a skill to be ignored. Don’t worry about too many certifications to “prove” to someone that you’ve learned it. Show them by producing the work into something tangible that can be viewed or handled. It’s hard to argue with a direct result of someone’s hard effort, even if there’s not a piece of paper or degree behind it.
  • On the flip side, try to tune out others when they say you won’t use what you learn in college. If you’re truly pushing the limits I promise you will use all that math, science and physics from back in college. I can’t count the number of times I’ve had to remember something from heat transfer, fluid dynamics, or differential equations!

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