002 – Running on 3D Printing Prosthetic Legs: How 3D Printing Changed Derby the Dog’sLife with Tara Anderson

Join me as I talk with Tara Anderson.  She works by day as the Director of Product Management at 3D Systems and foster mom for dogs with Peace to Paws by night.  Learn how she ties her two passions together by helping change special needs animal’s lives through 3D printing and biomedical engineering. **Scroll below to see Derby videos!**



  • How Tara entered the 3D printing industry.
  • The process in which Derby was evaluated for prosthetics.
  • The full story of Derby the Dog’s journey.
  • Why 3D printing may not be the best solution for all cases.
  • The future of 3D printing.

Links to Things Mentioned in This Episode:

3D Systems

Dr. Bliss for canine orthopedics

Animal Ortho Care

Peace and Paws


Tara Anderson works by day as the Director of Product Management at 3D Systems and foster mom for dogs by night with Peace to Paws by night.  Learn how she ties her 2 passions together by helping change  special needs animal’s lives through 3D printing and biomedical engineering.


3D Systems (@3dsystemscorp) provides the most advanced and comprehensive 3D digital design and fabrication solutions available today, including 3D printers, print materials and cloud-sourced custom parts.


“There’s no Mary Poppins in design, it’s never perfect” – Tara Anderson

“Working in Medical Devices is amazing because you get to really make a change in somebody’s life”

“The medical industry is the largest growing industry for 3D printing technologies”

“We’re just starting to see the power of 3D printing”

Social Connecting:

Guest: Tara Anderson


Company: 3D Systems


Host: Meghan Alonso


Company: Imua Services/Inspired by Imua


Podcast Transcription:

Announcer: Are you ready to master to waves of medical device product development? Well wax up your surf board because you are listening to Inspired by IMUA. Here is your medical device product development expert, that Hawaiian hearted hostess that will help you hang ten, Meghan Alonso


Meghan: E komo mai and aloha. Today’s guest is Tara Anderson whose helped an amazing little guy Derby, not only become an internet sensation with millions of YouTube views, but has also given him some new legs. Tara works at 3D systems where she’s director of product management and she puts her product knowledge, company resources, and passion into her quest to get Derby up and running……pretty much every day now he does that. So Tara welcome.


Tara: Hi thank you, thank you so much for having me.


Meghan: We’re so glad to have you. So, give us a little background. How did you end up working for 3D systems?


Tara: Well I got into 3D printing about ten years ago now. I was actually doing my masters in architecture and I had to … The school that I was at, the BAC, Boston Architectural College, and you had to find a job in some sort of design. In theory, the whole idea is that you build up your career while you’re finishing your masters. It works really well in theory. I’m not sure outside of that.


I was just looking for some sort of design oriented job somewhere and I ended up finding a job at a company called Objet. That’s where I first started. I was working more on the application side. I had worked in IT for years at that point and so I had a really good base knowledge of what is a good background I guess for 3D printing. Between understanding 3D geometry with the architecture and then working in IT. That’s how I first got into 3D printing. From Objet I went to a company called Zcorp and then Zcorp got bought out by 3D systems about 4 years ago now.


Meghan: Oh good. Well so you have a lot of experience in that area. The next story which everyone’s waiting for is how does that tie into Derby? How did you connect the two?


Tara: Yeah so this was one of these aha moments where I got this wonderful opportunity to blend my passion and my work all into one. It was a really awesome circumstance where I’ve always been around animals and helping them my whole life and trying to do everything I can on that side of things. The rescue Peace and Paws, I had offered to be their husky foster. I actually adopted a husky through them. Then this one day I just saw on Facebook this cute little adorable puppy on their feed that they were looking for a foster home for which was Derby. I couldn’t get him out of my head. I mean I literally did cry every time I saw him because he was just so … It was heartbreaking but he was just so cute and you could just tell his character popped of the page.


Meghan: He is so cute.


Tara: Oh my gosh… He is adorable … He is just as adorable in person, even more. He’s just such a ham. It took me probably, looking at it, 4 or 5 times then I finally just reached out to a wonderful woman named Melissa who runs Peace and Paws. I just said, “I’ll do it. I don’t know how I’m going to do it. I’ll foster him.” So that was sort of the first step was just me just wanting to foster him and help him that way. It took a few weeks to … It usually to organize the foster situation and one of these dogs were coming up from the south and I live in the north. So it was a few weeks before he was coming up.


I was sitting at my desk one afternoon and it was literally just a light bulb moment. I was probably half asleep in the afternoon and we do have a medical division in our company and so an order had come through that was related to that and it just made me think about surely we should be able to do something to help Derby.


We had already been, me and the rescue had already been talking about getting him a wheelchair. We googled a little bit for, are there prosthetics for dogs? We were already having conversations about how we could help him. But in terms of tying it to my company and thinking maybe I could do it with them it was just literally an afternoon moment of oh, light bulb.


Meghan: Those afternoon sugar rushes are good for something, huh?


Tara: Yeah exactly. Most definitely. I either needed a coffee or I had just started drinking a coffee.


Meghan: Well so guys if you haven’t seen these videos of Derby yet, they’re going to be on the show notes page and have some Kleenex ready. But each one of them have a happy ending. So I bet it was hard to kind of navigate the way of animal prosthetics. How did you get in touch with the organization that helped out?


Tara: Yeah, so it was a long road. Suddenly, well you can either call me stubborn or tenacious. I was just….I was really determined to get through this. So it was sort of a long windy road. First was going to, the first thing because the easiest thing to do to get him a wheelchair made. So we went to went to a place called At Ease Wheels and had that done. They were able to shed some light on some of the different prosthetic specialists out there. There’s not that many when it comes to the animal realm.


Meghan: I bet.


Tara: I started going down that path and then it was … I called one of them. I think it was the one up in Nova Scotia. They were like, “Well before you even start down this path, you really need to get him evaluated by I,” It’s a long list of, it’s a long acronym. I don’t remember. You need to look up … They were super helpful. They were really sweet. They were like there’s some university, they gave me the website to go to and they were like they will list all of the vets in the US that have this ability to basically assess whether they’re even a candidate for prosthetics.


Meghan: Oh yeah. Just their bone structure and can they support it type thing.


Tara: Yeah and there’s so many factors that go into it just in terms of, you know, were they born like this? Was it an accident? With him, some of the concern with any animal that was born like this is that they don’t have the muscle memory about how to run. It’s sort of like you’re just … it’s a 50/50 chance at that point, you know. Maybe they’re going to pick it up, maybe not. He was showing … This is the type of thing that goes into the evaluation in terms of you’re watching what their movement is and their joint rotation. With him we wanted to do, he was pretty young, he was only ten months at the time. We wanted to see what the damage was.


If you look at him he has these little bent up elbows. We wanted to see if it was any remote possibility that those could be moved down or if they were sort of permanently in the cruxed position. So unfortunately we found out that they were just way too badly damaged and that there was nothing we could do to straighten that out. Because ideally for him, that would’ve been able to be straightened out then attached to it, right.


Meghan: Just kind of surgically altered?


Tara: Right. So that was part of that process, to evaluate that. The guy that we went to, I had just gone through a torn ACL surgery with my little girl, so I was like, “I have the perfect fit.”


Meghan: Oh with Mishka.


Tara: Yeah, with my little Mishka.


Meghan: Because Mishka is another husky that Tara owns.


Tara: Yes, sorry. Yes, my permanent foster failure is Mishka. I had just gone through that with her and so there happened to be one of these evaluators at the vet that she had gone to for her surgery. So I was like perfect because they were really awesome.


Meghan: Score


Tara: The guys name was Dr. Bliss and he was extremely blissful.


Meghan: All right.


Tara: Things just started connecting like that. We went to him. We had a cat scan of Derby done. Had a full evaluation. Got this sort of, well it’s a 50/50 chance to be quite honest. But there’s some good things in terms of his shoulder rotation was really good. We thought that his movement would mean that he could probably pick it up and based on just his personality, he was very open to pretty much everything. He’s just such a trooper.


Meghan: Awe.


Tara: From there it was actually him, it was Dr. Bliss. Because I told him, I was like, I’ve been reaching out to different prosthetic specialists but I haven’t been getting an overwhelming amount of response back. Especially when I was looking for somebody that was open, because all of the ones that were out there to this point, none of them were using 3D printing as a method to compliment design process.


I was looking for somebody who would not only work with us but take on this idea of trying to work 3D printing into the workflow. We were more than happy … I was like I will teach you anything you want to know. I’ll do anything. I’m really determined to try to see if this can work. So it was Dr. Bliss who suggested this guy named Derek from Animal Ortho Care. I was like, “perfect.” He’s like, “I’ll contact him and get that connection.”


Derek was really responsive and enthusiastic about this idea of using 3D printing and be able to marry it with older model techniques and seeing how fast we could go forward. He was a great resource to have and that’s how we got in touch with Animal Ortho Care. The way it developed past that is that at the beginning we were going back and forth, back and forth. Me and one of the other, one of the software engineers went down to work with him so that we could just kind of get through it a lot faster verses doing it remotely. It was really them that came up with the cup design that would kind of shelter his elbow. Then from there he had what made the most amount of sense structurally for Derby in terms of extending where his leg would have normally gone, and used that to raise him up in height. But he did not like it.


Meghan: Okay. That’s what you mention kind of blew up the design.


Tara: Oh that came later actually. Originally I called it the peg leg design. So that didn’t really go over very well. It was just when I was down in Pennsylvania- … because at this point Derby had been adopted by the Portanova family, who wonderful wonderful people. I was down there watching this first iteration that we had put on him and just watching him try to walk around with them and it was really obvious that he was not having it. I was like, “all right.”


So I just sat there and did some sketching. My background is architecture, it’s what we do. We sketch. I just sketched an idea based on how I saw him trying to walk around on those. I just knew that I could go back to the office and get it designed and printed out, sort of the beauty of 3D printing, and send it down for him to try and it would take two days for this whole test. I was like worst case, it just doesn’t work. It was just one of those miracle moments where it actually worked. That’s sort of what created the, me just developing it going forward and not harassing Derek anymore with questions and designs. That’s how it all came together. Then from there it was just a process of trying to get things more comfortable for him and also try to raise him up in would be leveled off.


Meghan: So throughout the two videos, the first one shows one design, the second one shows an updated design. Is that, the process done? Or do you think you’ll go through more iterations?


Tara: Well, the videos are done. That’s for sure. I think my boss is like, “yeah no more, you’re good.”


Meghan: Really? It’s great press.


Tara: It is, it is, it is good press. It doesn’t relate to my actual job duties at all I think. So my boss is like, yeah you’ve done enough for marketing. You can work for me again.


I sort of have this belief, design is never finished. Design is, there’s no Mary Poppins in design. It’s never perfect. So there’s always room for improvement. Particularly with Derby I think there’s always going to be, and especially what I’m continuing to work on in my spare time if my boss is out there listening, is ways to try to improve the design to make it lighter, to fit more comfortably, and to basically give him as much shock absorption as possible to that end.


Meghan: Yeah


Tara: Those are sort of the things that I’m still working on on the side. That’s definitely not the final design. I’m really hoping that I can continue to get to a sweeter spot with that with him. In terms of anything further with videos or YouTube or anything, we’re pretty much done on that side.


Meghan: Maybe we can do a video together.


Tara: That would be great.


Meghan: Yeah.


Tara: I’m sort of hoping to experiment with materials a little bit more and do, still use 3D printing but probably more to create molds and then kind of go that route in stead of directly through 3D printing.


Meghan: Okay.


Tara: Definitely still experimenting with it. It’s one thing through this whole project that this has just been, it’s literally just been the most amazing thing to be able to work on because it sort of blends so many pieces of my background in terms of getting to help dogs. There’s a structural component. I’m definitely, in the architectural world there are usually those who are more form based and those who are more design based. I’m definitely more form based. I’m more based in, or rather function. The idea that I get to play around with the structural properties of this and even the material side of it. I get to totally geek out on the design side of this. It’s a fun project for me, I like like working on it on the weekends and stuff to sort of see what I can do to make it better for him.


Meghan: That’s why I like working in medical devices too because the … I have the clinical part of my brain, and yeah I get to geek out on it and just get excited about all of the clinical applications.


Tara: Yeah. Absolutely. To actually see an improvement in somebodiy’s life or in this case a dog’s life, it’s just, I have nothing to compare it to. Man I want to feel that every day. I want to be able to, you know, help in some way. I don’t know that I, if I have a future in prosthetic device design at all. But I would love that just because it is so satisfying and I think there is so much room for design improvement on that side. Whether you’re a dog or a human. You’re facing the same type of issues in terms of how does the device connect to skin and rubbing and all that kind of stuff.


Meghan: Yeah.


Tara: If nothing else I’m totally geeked out by it and love to learn and I definitely want to talk to others just because I would love to be able to help more if I can.


Meghan: Do you-


Tara: Sorry go ahead.


Meghan: Do you know if Derek has, if anybody else has reached out to him since this and talked about 3D printing with other pets?


Tara: Yeah. He’s crazy busy, I mean he’s even got … If you go down to his office I think he’s created a prosthetic for a llama.


Meghan: Oh wow.


Tara: Yeah.


Meghan: Literally huge.


Tara: Yeah literally huge. It’s in its own room in the back because he didn’t know where to put it its so big. Yeah, I mean, he definitely uses now through this process 3D printing as a way to sort of help with the design process. There’s some things that just make more sense to still to do by hand and by injection mold just based on what the case is and where somebodies price point is. I mean some things are more expensive one way verses the other.


In Derby’s case where it was a really unique case where there’s, I would say, a lot of amputations that happen with animals or dogs at least more specifically tend to be kind of like a clean cut. Whether it’s because some sort of disease happened and they need to do an amputation or they got into a car accident and there’s an amputation and it’s usually more of a clean break verses with Derby’s case where there is this deformed sort of leg that we had to do something really organic in shape to be able to support him.


3D printing for his particular case was really helpful and useful. But a lot of other cases it’s a lot more economical to go with old school techniques. He does both. He uses it to supplement, I guess, his design and process going forward. He’s done all sorts of interviews and all sorts of stuff since that project. I’m really happy that that created some awareness for him especially because there’s so many cases where braces could really help in a lot of cases with dogs. It really improves a dogs or cat or whatever animals ability to heal from whatever injury with his guidance and type of devices that he’s able to design for anybody.


Meghan: That’s great. I’m glad that he’s getting some more exposure to 3D printing and it’s really helping out. Where do you see the future of 3D printing going and tell me more about what’s going on at 3D systems with that.


Tara: Oh wow. It’s exciting. I’d say that the medical industry is the largest growing industry that we have at the moment. We just opened this massively huge facility down in Colorado and it’s our healthcare division. We’re focusing on … I mentioned earlier in terms of that we have this healthcare division that we’ve grown significantly since the year and a half ago or whatever when I was first talking about this Derby project.


But at the time, it would have been a few weeks before that, I had a doctor who had called me who had been unable to do a hip surgery on somebody who had gotten like, his hip had basically been destroyed and mangled in a car accident. He hadn’t been able to walk ever sense and this was just like ten, fourteen years before that. Because the surgery was going to be so complicated, they weren’t able to do it. They didn’t feel comfortable doing it.


But being able to scan the entire bone, bring the diacom data into our software, be able to see it, print out a model, be able to do mock surgery on it, they finally got to a point where they could do surgery on him. They got the surgery done, going through rehab, able to walk again. That sort of tangible process where it helps someone life dramatically, I mean that … There’s no words for that.


We’re just starting to see that industry and what all the capabilities are just start to blossom. The customization aspect is massive. It’s huge in terms of somebody getting a knee replacement surgery and being able to do the exact geometry of a mating plate or something like that. I mean that’s unbelievable and there’s nothing else out there that can do it so as we learn more and more about the material properties we really need to be able to meet certain standardization within the medical community. The possibilities are just endless. It just means improvement for people on a medical side. It’s impossible not to be excited about that side of things. I can send you a link to a video we just did, in terms of opening that facility.


Meghan: Oh great! I can include it.


Tara: It’s awesome. It’s hard to watch, you’ll need that other box of Kleenex you mentioned earlier.


Meghan: Okay.


Tara: It’s just, it’s unbelievable. It’s really heartwarming to see, you know, the end result of how this technology in this industry can help people going forward. So really really excited about the medical applications that this technology can do.


Meghan: Yeah. I just hope that the FDA catches up and gets on board soon.


Tara: Yeah that’s certainly … I mean sort of the other side of what’s going on in 3D printing. It’s really I’d say the most part is more about material development. We also have, I think we’ve had it announced for a while, something called ChefJet where we’re printing sugar. You can print a cake.


Meghan: Wow!


Tara: Yeah. That’s just fun.


Meghan: Can I-


Tara: You can eat it yeah. It’s actually really good. We even had, with all of the changes that have happened with the company I don’t even know where this product stands anymore. But we had it announced at one point. It’s called CocoJet and you could literally 3D print chocolate and it was good. And I’m as picky as they come with food and it was delicious. So those are the fun parts of it. Obviously our metal printing, that is probably the most enticing side of 3D printing because it’s no longer just prototyping. That’s end use stuff.


Meghan: Yeah that is manufacturing.


Tara: Exactly yeah. So that’s a really exciting part of the industry and we just came out with a new metal printer recently called the 320 and it’s revolutionizing the metal printing side of things. There’s some really exciting things that are happening in the industry right now for 3D printing that are not quite as consumer based. I think we’re finally starting to step away from that because I just don’t think that people were ready to be putting a 3D printer in everybody’s home.


Meghan: Some day.


Tara: Some day, yeah.


Meghan: Especially if it’s chocolate.


Tara: Exactly. If they can get that cake business going, absolutely because I’m a terrible baker. I’m a good cook, just a terrible baker.


Meghan: You gave us a lot of good stuff today and I’m really excited that you’re still working on the design and even more excited to, seriously to come out and do a video. I have lots of family that lives in the Boston area so we’ll figure out a way to make this happen.


Tara: Oh that would be awesome. Yeah I’m actually just starting to try and find time. After that whole project happened there was so many people that wrote in asking for help and I’m definitely more inclined in terms of the ones that were in rescue and are being fostered. Those ones, I have a special place for.


Meghan: Yeah.


Tara: I’m just trying to find time now to try and see what cases I can help and I’m trying to see if I can take on one a month basically to be able to donate my time to do the designs at least.


Yeah. Should be some interesting stuff going forward hopefully. Hopefully my other design ideas work.


Meghan: Yeah that’s amazing and kudos to you for doing that.


Tara: Awe thanks, well it’s … Everybody tries to do their part I guess and that’s my little niche. It’s fostering and prosthetic design for volunteer basis I guess.


Meghan: Yeah. Well yeah I really look forward to the next update. So thanks for being on the show tonight.


Tara: Thank you so much. I really appreciate it. It’s great talk-


Meghan: Your welcome. Yes. Very happy to have you.


Meghan: Hey guys, those waves of medical product development can be pretty rough at times. You need a family to back you up. Good thing we have one. Check out our Facebook group at Inspired by Imua. Just type that in the search bar and we can all be in this together. So until the next episode, IMUA!


Announcer: Mahalo for joining us. If you’re new to riding the waves of medical device product development or if you’ve been in development for a while already, Inspired By IMUA is here to surf with you. Want to be a master of the waves? Text Hang Ten, that’s H-A-N-G-T-E-N to 44222. We’ll send you the most common wipe outs companies make in product development so you can avoid them and reach master wave status. Again that’s Hang Ten to 44222. We publish a new episode every Tuesday so catch us at Inspiredbyimua.com. IMUA!



About the Author

Meghan M. Alonso
Meghan M. Alonso, referred to by Shark Tank’s Kevin Harrington as a medical device development expert, is known for equipping medtech & IVD companies with the knowledge, resources, and connections they need to bring innovative products to market. She’s the IVD Product Marketing Manager for NAMSA and founder of Imua Services. She’s a contributing author for best selling book “Put a Shark in Your Tank” with Shark Tank’s Kevin Harrington, and the prestigious “Molecular Profiling – Methods and Protocols”(a must read in molecular diagnostics). Her podcast, MedTech Inspired, in which she interviews the hottest startups, experts, and investors, won iTunes “New and Noteworthy”. According to the Huffington Post, she helps clients navigate the complicated process of bringing their ideas to the marketplace. She’s a patriotic military wife, pet parent, founder and co-founder of 4 successful companies who thrives on guiding medical device and IVD companies through development and manufacturing. When she isn’t helping others, Meghan is hard at work on her MBA she is pursuing from Auburn University, staying active with her adorable husky Abby, crossfitting, enjoying great restaurants and fine wine with her husband, soaking up the sun the nearest beach, and promoting the adoption of shelter dogs.

Comments are closed.