Jose Palomino

3D Ingenuity

November 1, 2016


I recently came across an article about a college student who developed the ingenious idea to 3D print his own set of braces. Not only did it fix the smile he so hated, but he did it for under $60! For someone with one child who needed orthodontic work (and potentially a second), I know just how expensive braces can be. Which is a big reason (not the only one) that I love this story.

Amazing Resourcefulness

Though he didn’t have access to the money (or just didn’t want to spend it) that it would take to professionally improve his smile, he did have access to state-of-the-art 3D technology provided by his university. After doing thorough research in orthodontic procedure, he made casts of his teeth and used software to carefully replicate the progression toward his end goal. He then used special dental plastic (bought cheaply on eBay!) to mold onto the printed models.

This is by no means a small feat — but he still managed to do it at very low cost. He used what resources he had at his disposal to solve his problem in a cost-effective way. This is the exact type of thinking I try to employ for our business (and that I try to get our clients to employ, as well)!

If you can implement changes to a system that cut costs in an efficient and effective manner, do it! Money saved is money available for growth and other investments. But, it has to be effective. That is, saving money by limiting napkins, while ticking off your customers isn’t effective.

Look Before You Leap

There are always going to be new problems and issues to address, regardless of your industry or how big…or small, your company. Understanding how to go about addressing them is one of the things that can distinguish you from your competitors. This is where time and effort need to be placed into research and strategic development. You can’t run wildly towards a solution without first understanding the underlying issue in most — hopefully all — facets of the issue you’re trying to address. Otherwise, you will miss out on key information that could prevent further issues long-term — you might win the sprint, but you’re not ready for the marathon.

According to Eric Ries from Fast Company, “The real cause of the problem is often hidden behind more obvious symptoms.” Take your time researching. I’m not saying let it sit on the back burner for four months untouched — but don’t be afraid to take some extra time in looking things over. You want to be thorough with your analysis — understanding the root causes as much as possible — taking into consideration drawbacks and opportunities of each option to resolution.

Now, I know that time to market – speed, generally – is a hallmark of winning teams. The thought here, then, is that learning to do fast and sufficiently deep analysis is a core competency you should seek to develop.

Know the Dangers

While the idea to 3D print his own braces was incredibly innovative, and ultimately saved this student thousands of dollars — there was the risk that he would cause some damage through the process that would be irreversible. While this student researched a great deal, there were still drawbacks that he did not anticipate. Brent Larson, a practicing orthodontist stated that, “There are specific areas of tooth wear visible that indicate unbalanced function and possible nighttime grinding.” So while this may have been an inventive fix, it might not have been the best way to go about it.

Professionals that reviewed the results of his work likened the idea to remodeling a home — in the sense that you can’t call in professionals afterwards to fix the error.

So, the take-away isn’t “do-it-yourself” braces are good. Rather, it’s “research, analysis and creative problem solving” are great.

Bottom line:

Cutting costs through innovative processes can be incredibly rewarding, but before implementation be sure to think about the repercussions of those actions or you could be in for a rude awakening.

  • How often do you really consider every possible outcome of a decision?
  • Do you ever sacrifice a good, thorough job for a quick, cost effective approach?
  • Are you always sure to do research — and consult the professionals — before embarking on any major changes?

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