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Rapid Prototyping and Real-Life Replicator Machines

Posted By Joelle Everett, Thursday, August 18, 2011
Guest Author: Joelle Everett

In a complex and fast-changing world, complexity science suggests that small changes in initial conditions can lead to large changes in outcomes. This might be accomplished by producing a variety of prototypes to try out then assess, creating a rapid learning cycle. It may be desirable to have multiple designs available to serve specific local needs. Using conventional manufacturing methods, this can be a slow and expensive process. Today, however, prototypes can be produced by machines that work very much like the laser printer that may be sitting on your desk right now.

In an ordinary laser printer, the laser scans a document and creates a copy by fusing ink particles onto a sheet of paper. In 3-D printing, a three dimensional object can be scanned layer by layer, and a duplicate object is formed in a bed of composite powder by injecting color fluid and binder fluid in the scanned pattern.

A similar process, metal sintering, uses the heat of the laser to fuse metal particles, and the product is built up layer by layer from a 3D CAD model. No tooling is required, and a part can be produced in a few hours. Metal sintering is being used to build both prototypes and parts in a variety of industries, including aerospace, medical and dental.

There are many applications in healthcare. A Plexus Thursday Complexity Post on March 10, 2011, reported on the production of replacement organs by 3-D bioprinting. Researchers are developing personalized artificial hip joints formed with the ball already in the socket. In the future, there may be machines that could replicate an injured body part with cultured cells from the patient's body, using something similar to an ink-jet printer.

Rapid prototyping can also be used in social and behavioral innovation. In the Plexus Positive Deviance MRSA initiative, several hospitals used role play and improvisational theater to practice new approaches to challenging social situations: How do I tell the patient he has an antibiotic-resistant infection? How do I tell the doctor she needs to wash her hands? Physically playing out common situations helped hospitals develop new protocols for challenges such as safely transporting an infected patient.

In an innovative practice and research project for a large hospital, the Center for Medical Simulation created scenarios that allowed administrative and physician leadership teams to experience situations with patient safety risks, debrief their own responses, and create action steps for needed change.

These and other methods for rapid prototyping are bringing us closer to the day that it will be common to create products specifically for an individual user, and social innovations uniquely appropriate for their local situation. Today's real-life replicator machines are bringing us full circle to a new era of a craftsman using his artistry on behalf of his very special customer.

Joelle Everett is founding partner of Sound Resources, an international consulting firm based in SW Washington State. Her clients--organizations from business, public, nonprofit and healthcare sectors, and individuals--are often struggling to respond to changing circumstances, or hoping to create transformational change. She was a coach on the Plexus Positive Deviance MRSA initiative She helps clients build skill sets for communication, facilitation, collaborative problem solving, implementation and leadership. She especially enjoys engaging a whole organization in conversations to discover and create fresh responses to challenges and opportunities.

For many years she was a facilitator of Creative Problem Solving Institutes in Buffalo, NY, San Diego, CA and Vancouver, BC. She edits occasional newsletters for the Open Space Institute. In her community she taught illiterate adults to read, worked as program director for Harmony Hill Retreat Center, and is volunteering with Neighborhood Watch. Most fun project? A month in Siberia, teaching leadership skills to Siberian women leaders. Joelle is author of Strange and Wonderful Things, a book of original poems. She treasures opportunities to have fun with her nine grandchildren.

Joelle is also the host and facilitator of Plexus Institute's monthly Health Quality Learning Group calls. The calls take place the third Wednesday of the month at 10am eastern at 218-844-0840, 493732#. Join her September 21 for a discussion on Creating Healthcare Safety Leadership with guests Jeffrey B. Cooper and Jay W. Vogt. Audio of previous calls is available in the Health Quality Learning Group.

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