Escobar Technologies Aims to Reinvent Medical Simulation
Imagine a nurse learning to start an IV on a full-body training mannequin. The plastic model is equipped with not-entirely-realistic skin and veins, it can cost $100,000 . . . and it breaks down a third of the time. Worse, the only replacement parts come from the original manufacturer, and they cost a fortune.
That’s the frustrating reality that EMT and Healthcare Simulation training clinician David Escobar faced every day in his job. With no engineering background — but a passion for both healthcare and 3D printing — he founded Escobar Technologies to address that reality with a straightforward mantra:
“There’s got to be a simpler, better way to do things.”
From EMT to Manufacturing Entrepreneur
Escobar has spent almost a decade in healthcare, starting with six years as an EMT on ambulance duty and in emergency rooms. For the past four years, he has helped to train clinicians in a simulation theater set up to mimic a hospital. Working with the expensive mannequins in that setting helps nurses, doctors and technicians improve their teamwork and communication so they can decrease medical errors in real-world situations.
The training mannequins require constant maintenance—meaning you need a full-time specialist like Escobar to keep them running. “You would never buy a $100,000 car and be okay with it only starting 70% of the time,” Escobar says. “We’ve accepted that as a [medical] simulation community.”
A couple of years ago, Escobar’s employer asked him to do some 3D printing—an interest that he has written about extensively on his 3DAdvantage blog. As he searched online for the right tools, he started probing into the broader issues around training mannequins: Why do they break down so much? Why are online bulletin boards lit up with frustrated users? Why are there no third-party parts suppliers? “I started asking those tough questions about why we’re accepting this and why we’re not improving it,” he says.
Finally, conversations with mannequin manufacturers at an industry conference convinced him that the market was ripe for disruption. Starting his own company would give him a way to channel his passion for his work—passion that’s obvious in even a short conversation with him.
“I just think no one has stepped up to fill that void,” he says. “And that’s what we’re trying to accomplish.”
Building a Family Business in Medical Simulation
“We,” in this case, includes his brother Joseph, a longtime designer who trained at RISD. Joseph doesn’t come from a medical background, so he and David work closely together to translate human anatomical concepts and the specifics of clinical training environments into practical designs. That’s when Joseph’s expertise in molding and sculpting comes in.
As David puts it, his brother is “already thinking ten steps ahead” when they work on designs—beyond 3D printing for prototypes to the needs of design-for-manufacturing (DFM) to make their products at a larger scale.
Right now the brothers are focused on their design for a human arm, complete with simulated skin and blood vessels. More broadly, they want to use the newest technology to create simulation products that more realistically represent human anatomy while being easier to maintain and more affordable to purchase. They want to fill a niche in the marketplace by meeting the needs of both the clinicians being trained and the technicians who must keep the equipment in good repair.
Their collaboration takes place at long distance and odd hours of the day. David lives in the Los Angeles area, while Joseph lives in Brooklyn. Besides a busy day job, David also has a wife and three children, plus full-time coursework as he finishes his degree in entrepreneurship and management.
Software, including Fusion 360 and Google Hangouts, helps the brothers squeeze in their development work around the rest of their lives. They often talk multiple times per day, starting early in the morning and going deep into the evenings.
Using Fusion 360, From Sketches to Prototypes
Fusion 360 has played a major role in the Escobars’ design process. David met members of the Autodesk team at an industry event early in 2015, and quickly started using Fusion 360 heavily. Now the brothers regularly use Live View within Fusion 360 during their online design sessions.
They also use it throughout the design process, from making initial sketches, to creating joints, to animating models, to 3D printing parts for beta testing. David highlights its use for sculpting, which is particularly relevant when designing a product to mimic the human body. “A lot of human body features don’t conform to geometric shapes,” he says, but he’s able to match the contours of the body using Fusion 360’s sculpting capabilities.
He’s even able to design around off-the-shelf parts, such as nuts and bolts from a hardware store. Because he can determine the perfect fit for a bolt without designing it from scratch, he reduces both design time and cost.
All of this helps the brothers iterate designs more quickly and prototype products more efficiently. “I can produce and go to prototyping using much less money,” David says, which is especially important for a small startup like his that is cautious about spending investors’ money.
David has also been impressed by the constant engagement of the Autodesk team in terms of both rapid feedback and steady upgrades to the product. He explains that he has spent a lot of time in the Fusion 360 user community. In his early days of using the software, he would post a question or comment and get responses from the team within an hour, often with step-by-step videos. Along the way, he watched everything on the Fusion 360 YouTube channel. Combined with the low cost of the product, he says, that “unmatched level of support” has allowed someone like him without a traditional engineering background to become a power user.
“I never would have felt comfortable doing what we’re doing if I hadn’t got my hands on Fusion 360,” he says. “It just opened up so many doors.”
Bringing a New Medical Simulator to the Market, One Step at a Time
Right now the brothers are focused on beta testing their simulated arm with a small group of professionals from the industry. They want to make sure that their vein and artery designs really work the way they should, and that the entire product is truly simple to use.
The Escobars hope to debut the product in January 2017 at an industry conference, and David states plainly that “We hope to disrupt the market.” They have three more products in the works, too. Bringing them to market one by one will allow the brothers to transition from their other jobs to full-time startup work while it also helps clinicians. “In the end,” David says, “the clinicians are the ones that win” from increased competition in the marketplace.
In the bigger picture, the brothers also want to inspire other designers who have great ideas but haven’t yet taken advantage of the available opportunities. “There’s enough tools out there to enable everyone to be a maker, a creator,” David says, adding that “You don’t need a warehouse and a million dollars to do it.”
He finishes our interview with a simple coda that applies to any creator with a great idea: “You have something good? Take it out there.”