The first time Kegan Schouwenburg, cofounder and chief executive officer of SOLS Systems, saw a 3-D printed product not only did she know 3-D printing would become the future of manufacturing, she also knew she wanted to be part of that movement.
At the time, Schouwenburg was a student in the industrial design department at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, N.Y. After graduating, Schouwenburg ran a factory for Shapeways, a company that makes 3-D printing affordable and accessible to everyone, where she was able to experiment with the technology.
“What I saw was this amazing technology that was incredibly resourceful, but I didn’t feel a lot of people were doing interesting things for it,” Schouwenburg said. “I started to look at what applications made sense and where this technology can have the impact to change things and to change markets in a really big way.”
Noticing how 3-D printing technology had taken hold in the medical industry with prosthetics, Schouwenburg began to think about the impact 3-D printing would have in orthotics, which she had been using her entire life.
“The more I learned about the orthotics market and the more doctors I spoke to, I saw an amazing opportunity to revolutionize a product with the technology,” Schouwenburg said.
The team at SOLS is focused on developing an app with the potential to revolutionize the orthotics landscape. Today, the software translates a few photos into a 3-D model of the foot, algorithmically extracts key dimensions and generates a corrective orthosis customized to the individual’s foot, weight and lifestyle. SOLS variable density footbeds use generative lattice structure to customize the rigidity of the material to the individual. SOLS can be as rigid or flexible as the practitioner desires.
“One of the things a designer struggles with is the incredibly high barrier to entering manufacturing. Between tooling costs and minimum runs, it is often impossible to get a product off the ground,” Schouwenburg told O&P Business News. “I saw — and still see — 3-D printing as the answer to that, and as I saw more and more of my friends and colleagues being crippled by the cost of manufacturing I knew I wanted to change it. That led me to joining Shapeways with a mission to democratize access to low-run production via 3-D printing, which in turn led to a deep desire to bring the technology to the larger consumer sector.”
Future of SOLS
Currently run by a team of 10, SOLS Systems has completed $1.75 million in venture funding. Schouwenburg credits a wide field of investors, as well as researchers, engineers and medical practitioners, for fueling the company’s progress.
“Right now we are at the beginning of this. We want to give medical professionals the tools they need to make accurate, decisive prescriptions where the fit is first time right,” Schouwenburg said.
Currently, with the help of CurveBeam, Schouwenburg and colleagues are conducting an institutional review board study to collect data to form the foundation of a parametric foot model. According to Schouwenburg, the goal is to visualize a rigged model of the foot in real time atop the SOL and actually show the provider how making changes to the device affects the biomechanical alignment of the foot.
In the future, the company hopes to expand their research to include predictive pressure analysis based on age and tissue deterioration and modeled gain analysis including risk of injury prediction. Real-time image reconstruction during scanning, SOLS for high heels and electronics integration are also on the research agenda.
“On the manufacturing side, I hope and believe that by creating [SOLS] we will bring awareness to 3-D printing as something that is beyond the obvious,” Schouwenburg said. “On the product side, how cool would it be if every pair of shoes just fit? It is 2014, we can do all these amazing things and yet I still buy shoes that are half a size too big. [I want SOLS to be a product that is] accessible. [I want to] reverse the stigma around orthotics and change them from something people feel like they have to wear or that are being pushed onto them to something that people are asking for and people want to wear.”
Recruitment at SOLS Systems
To help bring 3-D printing into the orthotics market, Schouwenburg and colleagues have recruited 30 physicians into their early adopters program.
“Whenever you disrupt an industry with a new technology, there is always a certain amount of resistance. Our early adopters are generally tech-savvy, forward-thinking risk takers who are excited about the potential for change,” Schouwenburg said. “We are excited to align with these types of providers because they are the ones who will help to convey and communicate the possibilities for SOLS in the industry.”
Along with the early adaptors program, Schouwenburg is also working on setting up an advisory board for the company.
“Advisory boards are common in VC [venture capital]-backed companies, particularly for ones focused on scientific or technical applications,” she said. “We want to be aligned with the best and brightest in the industry, and work together to help build the future of footcare.” — by Casey Tingle
Disclosure: Schouwenburg is cofounder and chief executive officer of SOLS Systems.