How a maternity leave break inspired a pivot to 3D printing

21 Oct 2020

James Wall and Jacqui O'Connor. Image: 3D Technology

Jacqui O’Connor discusses why she chose to enter the field of 3D printing and how the medtech scene in the west of Ireland is thriving.

Jacqui O’Connor is the founder and technical director of MedScan3D, a subsidiary of Galway-based 3D Technology.

She studied chemistry and biomedical engineering, before going on to work as a research assistant at NUI Galway, as a technical manager at a nutraceutical start-up, and as a technical sales representative at an orthopaedic implant company.

“My experience and academic background have given me a broad range of experiences that I’ve brought with me in my current venture as an entrepreneur,” she told

O’Connor started her businesses while she was on maternity leave for the second time within two years. She had spent five years working with an orthopaedic implant business, gaining an insight into the healthcare system. Meanwhile, her husband James was running a 3D printing company, 3D Technology, providing 3D printers, maintenance, consumables and support to medium and large-scale companies.

“While on leave, I decided that I no longer wanted to return to my sales role due to the unpredictable nature of the work. I wanted a better work-life balance,” O’Connor explained.

“So I began brainstorming, many times with James, and with my medical sector background and his 3D printing knowledge we saw a gap in the market and MedScan3D was born. I began by dipping my toe in and quickly realised the idea had massive potential. There was obvious demand, especially in the medical device sector.”

A year later, and MedScan3D now is now up and running with many blue-chip customers. The business specialises in printing highly accurate, patient-specific 3D anatomical models from CT, MRI and CBCT scans.

What does MedScan3D do?

The start-up targets healthcare professionals such as cardiologists, oncologists and surgeons. O’Connor said that developing 3D models based on patient data can reduce patient risk, increase the likelihood of successful outcomes and result in fewer unexpected issues arising in a theatre setting.

“These models can also be used for educational purposes, for the team and for the patient in question,” she added. “Our models are not just for surgical planning – they are also used by research engineers to provide test models for their medical devices.”

With 3D printing, MedScan3D aims to streamline what is normally a complicated process to provide customisable models and meet the demands of fast-paced R&D teams.

‘We count ourselves very lucky to be based in Galway – a city which continuously reveals incredible research and medical advancements’

But like most businesses around Ireland, MedScan3D faced its share of challenges at the beginning of the pandemic, with O’Connor describing March as “a very gloomy month”.

“Normal business was down over 70pc, so we had to think quickly and adapt to the situation. We joined different engineering groups to offer our services and we reached out to national hospitals. We were able to reverse-engineer ventilator parts that were low in stock and 3D-print them for various hospitals in need.”

The start-up also began 3D-printing face shields for nursing homes around Ireland when personal protective equipment was in short supply. “We set up a GoFundMe page which allowed the public to donate to fund the materials for the face shields,” O’Connor said. “We donated to over 100 nursing homes during this time.”

Careers in 3D printing

While O’Connor may be relatively new to the 3D printing sector, she said there’s a wide range of career options available for people interested this industry, which brings together specialties in hardware, software and materials knowledge.

In general, you may need a degree in the likes of mechanical engineering, software development, materials science, or experience as a technician or service engineer. For mechanical engineers, the career path options include 3D printer technology and delivering end-use additive applications.

“Software developers can work on 3D printer software development, hardware and software integration, systems automation and computational design, which may require a degree of knowledge in machine code or computer aided design (CAD) software,” O’Connor explained.

“Materials scientists may work on research and development of next-generation 3D printing materials, or improvement of existing 3D printing processes and material performance by providing quantitative and qualitative scientific insight.”

She added that 3D design engineers are also responsible for creating digital 3D models and can find work in many companies using additive manufacturing. Design engineers may work as traditional 3D designers, creating computer models using 3D CAD software such as Solidworks or Fusion 360.

The medtech scene in Galway

When asked what she likes about doing business in the west of Ireland, O’Connor noted that Ireland – and Galway in particular – is renowned its medtech hubs.

“In Galway, where our main office is based, there are several large medical device companies such as Boston Scientific, Medtronic and Merit Medical,” she said.

“We are very privileged to be closely involved with some of their research teams. Along with medtech companies, there is the well-renowned NUI Galway, the Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology and four large hospitals in the city.”

O’Connor’s start-up has links with the Health Innovation Hub Ireland and EIT Health, and before the pandemic brought an end to public gatherings, there were large medical conferences held in Galway such as the Medtech West Summit and Medical Technology Ireland. The company has also received support from its Local Enterprise Office (LEO).

“The LEO in Galway also offered mentoring at the beginning of the pandemic to assist with business planning,” O’Connor said. “We count ourselves very lucky to be based in Galway – a city which continuously reveals incredible research and medical advancements.”

Kelly Earley was a journalist with Silicon Republic