From Inventions to 3D Printing with Innovate3D
The optimal end goal of innovation is to provide solutions that help society. What may begin as an isolated endeavor to create a new tool or device can ultimately result in a group of people reaping the benefits of such an invention. It can be said that an inventor’s inspiration culminates in a service to the community.
This concept of an inventor is embodied in Kenan Wollborg, whose precocious talent for inventing emerged at the tender age of 10 and who now adopts the title of Invention Engineer for his Michigan-based Innovate3D company. Wollborg is driven towards helping would-be inventors while also assisting industries with their 3D scanning, modeling and printing needs.
Kenan Wollborg, CEO of Innovate3D.
A Brief History of Innovate3D
Innovate3D was founded by engineering.com’s Roopinder Tara in 2009 with the aim of bringing inventors’ ideas to life. The company’s early operations were in Rwanda, the most densely populated country in Africa known for its horrific genocide which over a 4 month period in 1994 cost 800,000 lives. Rwanda’s economy is mostly agrarian. Being land-locked country and impoverished, Rwanda had trouble ordering replacement parts for farm equipment. The Rwandan government believed that if the people could be introduced to technology such as 3D modeling and 3D printing, they could make replacement parts locally. An introduction to such technologies could even be a catalyst for a tech-based economy. Innovate3D was brought in to help spread the technology and SOLIDWORKS provided the financial support.
While the Rwanda operation continued, Tara met Dave Darbyshire at SOLIDWORKS World, where they discussed the need for setting up an Innovate3D office in the U.S. to help ease unemployment in the Detroit area, leading to a small operation in Dearborn, Michigan. Wollborg was hired as its first invention engineer in 2010.
Innovate3D became involved in coordinating with an eclectic range of inventors who were missing the science and engineering background to bring their concepts to life. Few had the modeling tools or skills needed to evaluate the feasibility of their designs. Innovate3D’s team of experienced engineers would provide them the missing technical expertise for turning invention ideas into patent drawings, 3D computer models and physical prototypes. In cases where designs were found to be producible, Innovate3D would go on to assist in the 3D printing of inventions—thanks to the support of a consortium of 3D technology vendors, including SOLIDWORKS.
Innovate3D has expanded beyond invention service assistance and is now also leveraging its advanced engineering, prototyping and design tools to provide services to industries, such as 3D printing equipment parts for hospitals. When it comes to hospital parts, however, Innovate3D only designs and 3D prints them to ensure that their form and function is correct. For the mass production of units, the company’s CAD models are supplied to manufacturers with injection molding capabilities for FDA-approved materials.
Wollborg has progressed to become the CEO of Innovate3D, and presently runs his entire operation with eleven 3D printers spanning FDM, SLA, DLP and PolyJet technologies.
Kenan Wollborg with some of his 3D printers. (Image courtesy of Kenan Wollborg.)
“We assist companies that might have an engineering team but don’t have the capability to see something from concept to product level,” says Wollborg in an interview with engineering.com. “We come in and piggyback with those as an independent team member in order to help them advance an idea rapidly using our technology, equipment and skills.”
An Early Background in Applied Mechanics
Wollborg has been developing solid design expertise since his childhood, where he would visualize improvements and take on practical engineering challenges.
“My first invention was an energy storing wheel for my bicycle that advanced weight from the center hub to the outer hub going downhill, and it would convert the potential energy to kinetic energy going uphill,” reminisces Wollborg. “That invention was made from material I found lying around when I was very young. My headspace has always been that way.”
While Wollbord does not possess a formal engineering degree, he has achieved hands-on training in technology ranging from numerous certifications in manufacturing, welding, CAD/CAM and CNC.
“When I’ve had opportunities, I’ve taken courses at different colleges in order to build up a skillset,” says Wollborg. “For instance, when I had to do laminate calculations [for composite materials] I took math classes to learn the theory. I was running finite element analysis so I needed to understand the underlying mathematics. I’ve been able to blend classes and experience for a weird combination of skills.”
Before joining Innovate3D, Wollborg was employed at a small prosthetics company for 15 years where he bridged older inventions and assisted in the commercialization of different ideas. One of Wollborg’s noteworthy accomplishments at the company was a patented foot prosthesis that was eventually exhibited on the cover of Time magazine.
The Soleus prosthesis is designed for a smooth walking gait. (Image courtesy of Kenan Wollborg.)
Wollborg worked on the Soleus prosthesis from early concept to production, with a focus on design and manufacturability. He helped tune the dynamics for the Soleus’ unique spring assembly, ensuring that the springs would work together to provide a balanced and dynamic energy return—resulting in a dampening effect that would help the amputee avoid fatigue on their residual limb. Wollborg’s team went on to receive the Team Excellence Award for the innovation from the Medical Device and Manufacturing Association in 2010.
Wollborg’s well-rounded experience in creating prosthetic devices has helped him develop a mastery in composites—an area that is challenging for engineers with PhDs.
“Working at the prosthetics company provided me with a great foundation in design and manufacturing applied to advanced composites—all the way from designing and machining our molds on CNC machines to putting them into process and developing the charges that are needed for high-displacement, high-energy-storing springs,” asserts Wollborg.
Wollborg also attributes his collaborative invention development abilities to his time at the prosthetics company.
An In-Depth Look at Innovate3D’s Processes
Wollborg is often confronted with scenarios where he has to re-design parts for medical equipment after being presented with broken pieces.
“There are occasions where a product is out-of-service and the mechanical design is still good—the core equipment works,” describes Wollborg. “I worked for a company that at times needed to replace a shroud, housing or any number of different things. I would procure either a field component or an image that I would work from. Each time it’s a little different, but the objective is to be able to maintain the appearance and improve or match the function. A lot of times we observe how it was broken and we’re able to design a solution that leverages different manufacturing techniques in order to reduce tooling costs while improving the end part. It’s usually low-volume production, because it’s a unique challenge to produce many different parts but maintain a high level of quality.”
While Innovate3D doesn’t own a metal 3D printer, the company has a membership to a shop with plenty of resources, including CNC equipment.
“At times, if it’s a machine component, we’ll make it out of an alloy,” explains Wollborg. “I’ve got an old Bridgeport that I’ll use for doing simple parts. I have access to a CNC shop, so all metals are used. Normally if I’m building the machine in order to facilitate a repair or rework a metal, composite or silicone urethane part, consideration of the selection processes is very important because it forces us into all manufacturing methods that we’re going to use. We work with a lot of advanced materials.”
When it comes to the 3D scanning of challenging surfaces with blends and transitions, Wollborg uses a blue light scanner from 3D Systems due to its high resolution and speed. A set of point cloud data is created within Geomagic, where Wollborg aligns multiple scans to get an accurate CAD representation of the broken part.
The 3D scanner is mounted on a tripod, which incorporates a 360-degree rotational mechanical platform. (Image courtesy of Kenan Wollborg.)
Wollborg proceeds to drop the skeleton model into SOLIDWORKS after using a file format. In SOLIDWORKS, he continues finessing with regards to global alignment, using height gauges and other measuring tools to calibrate the physical part in order to ensure that the scan is correct. Wollborg then takes the model back to Geomagic to further refine it and generate reference data such as series of 3D datum curves. Once he has the reference planes inside of Geomagic, he returns the model to SOLIDWORKS, where he pulls together the exterior surfaces and readies the parametric model for a 3D print.
“I’ll do some comparisons between the original object and the new one,” conveys Wollborg. “Once I have it the way I like it, I’ll core it and add all the features on the inside to really make it assemble. Some of these parts may be submerged, so I may have to create different shutoffs and walls to ensure that fluids don’t go in and breach. Parts that I really enjoy creating the most are those where I have to come up with a way to create double or triple walls to prevent a future failure.”
Wollborg goes into detail about the technology behind white light scanning.
“There’s a projector that puts a known shape with black and white lines across the object,” shares Wollborg. “Then there are two cameras observing how that light reflects off of the objects, triangulating those two images into accurate data. Original systems would use a laser, which might take as many as 10 to 15 minutes to capture a part. I can do that 10-minute scan in about 15 to 20 seconds now, because the projector is so much faster than the laser. White light has been able to expedite things because it uses a projector to broadcast an image onto the items that I want to scan, and that image can be processed in seconds. Resolution has further been increased by going from white light to blue light in order to have a more defined image.”
Wollborg believes that the operation of 3D scanning technology requires years of knowledge and experience, despite being marketed as easy-to-use.
“It’s sold as a turnkey solution,” says Wollborg. “The reality is, with 20+ years of experience, I’ll use that tool in a different way on each different project. Normally, it requires design knowledge and engineering to ensure that what I’m designing has the ability to be fabricated while being strong enough. There’s a lot more than just the shape. The capture with the 3D scanner is just a start.”
A Passion to Help Inventors Thrive
Wollborg stresses that using SOLIDWORKS to conduct a feasibility study of invention designs is essential for determining if an idea or concept is going to work—and can save an inventor tens of thousands of dollars in builds.
“It also affords that inventor a higher chance of getting a patent,” says Wollborg. “Because in going through that exercise, a lot of times we have ‘aha’ moments where it works—but maybe it doesn’t do it as well, or it works and we see an opportunity to make it better. Without the diligence of actually having built it, there may be functional things that are missing.”
Wollborg typically begins the design process on paper in order to quickly evaluate the complete set of moving parts. He proceeds to cut out all the components to get them to an assembly level and uses SOLIDWORKS for clearance studies. In the end, he arranges for the 3D printing of the physical prototype. Due to his extensive contributions towards every invention, Wollborg is credited in patents as a main inventor or co-inventor. He currently has about two dozen patents in the process of being published.
“The best part of the job is that it’s different each day,” Wollborg says. “I love that we still do work with inventors. It can be difficult at times, but it’s a great challenge to see a new idea and help people get to where they’re going.”
Learn more about SOLIDWORKS with the whitepaper Simulating for Better Health.