Interview with Smart Labs, a breakthrough MedTech company

Interview with Mr Paweł Skadłubowicz, co-owner of Customy Vision, part of Smart Labs company
3D Application used:
Fusion 360, Customy Vision
Equipment used: SpaceMouse Enterprise Kit
Sector: MedTech

1. Can you introduce yourself, your role in the company and tell us something about what the company does?

PS: My name is Paweł Skadłubowicz and I am the majority shareholder and Research and Development Manager in Smart Labs Sp. z o.o., which owns the Customy brand. Our company is involved in the creation of personalized solutions for cranio-maxillofacial, orthopaedic and reconstructive surgery. The solutions that we create are made for individual patients, and can be implants and surgical guides, or single-use tools for precise guidance of surgical instruments such as saws or drills during surgery on the patient. Our surgical guides allow a virtual surgery plan prepared together with the doctor to be transferred to the operating theatre. Implants and guides are used to restore the patient’s full functionality after cancer or extensive injuries, for example from road accidents. In the case of cancer, a patient could have a bone fragment missing, causing not only problems in their daily functioning, but also problems of aesthetic nature. At the moment there is no standard solution on the market which would allow the reconstruction of bone in cases like this. That’s where we come in.

We start by planning the resection of the part of the bone affected by the tumour and then we discuss with the doctor how to reconstruct it with the help of an implant or autograft. If it is an implant, the doctor informs us how it should fit into the patient’s bone. Each implant is designed taking into account the patient’s individual anatomy so that not just lost functionality is restored, but patients regain their previous appearance. An autograft is made from a bone from the same patient, usually a fragment of fibula. While it is impossible to function without a jaw bone, you can function with a bit of fibula missing. We provide doctors with the tools (surgical guides, that they use to cut the bone properly. Thanks to individual surgical templates (guides) which are custom-made for specific patients, the doctor knows exactly how to cut the bone and how the reconstruction will look.

In addition, we also create reconstructive implants for after road accidents, and hip implants. Implants are often the only hope for patients that they will function normally.

The whole process of working with the doctor to create an implant or guide is done remotely. The doctor provides a CAT scan of the patient through a remote platform. We process it on the same platform and also plan the operation there.

2. Who founded the company and how long has it been active on the market?

PS: I founded the company with a partner in 2016. Initially we provided design and 3D printing services. This was because the formal route to providing services in the medical sector was very long. We introduced our first implant in 2017. In the first year of the company’s existence we also worked for the IT sector, which helped diversify the company’s business. Currently, in addition to our main work in the medical sector, we also create and develop software which we use for our own needs, as well as for the market in general. This software converts CT scans into 3D anatomical models of patients. These models can be printed on a 3D printer and are used in planning operations. We are currently developing this software for use with a 3D mouse in 3D space. In addition, we also provide design services in the field of designing electronic systems, creating software and building hardware.

3. Who are your customers?

PS: Our customers are mostly in the medical sector – health centres and individual doctors. On top of that, we work with scientific institutions and universities.

4. What kind of competition do you have?

PS: I can tell you that we have virtually none in Poland. There are only two companies that deal with implants, and none of them develops tools for virtual surgical planning. In the software sector there are only a few players globally and they are companies from Western Europe. Germany, France, Italy and Belgium.

5. What inspires you and what do you aspire to in your field?

PS: I like to get satisfaction from what I do. Restoring a patient’s full functioning gives me that. Before this I worked for 10 years at a university but I couldn’t see any opportunity to implement the solutions I invented. Now I am often involved in operations as a medical advisor, for example. It’s a nice feeling, it gives me great satisfaction. It’s good to do something important.

6. What are your greatest achievements? What was your biggest project and what projects are you working on at the moment?

PS: My greatest achievement is helping a patient who had half her face attacked by a tumour. A radical resection was needed and extensive bone reconstruction, which needed six fragments of fibula. To date, no one in Poland has done such extensive reconstruction.

We are currently working on a hip bone implant, which can then be developed as a further module. The problem we face is how to get the biomechanical properties right, as the implant needs to be both stable and to have points where the doctor can re-attach muscle and tendons to give the patient full movement.

7. How would you define success?

PS: Success is achieving what you set out to achieve. For us, they are milestones that we have set ourselves and have achieved.

8. Do you sometimes feel discouraged or fear for the company’s future? What is your unique method for staying in control in such situations?

PS: The medical sector is a very difficult industry in Poland. This is due to the problem of funding. Doctors are open to cooperation, but have trouble finding the funds.

When we face difficulties, we do not recite motivational slogans. We usually give ourselves a few days to think it over and then we make plans and take new decisions that will diversify our business.

That’s also how we decided to change our name to one that’s more user-friendly for potential foreign customers. We have already started working with a centre in Switzerland and we will try to attract an investor who will help us expand on foreign markets.

9. Do you have your own way of finding the motivation and optimism in yourself when you’re going through a difficult phase in the business? (reading books, family, art, a hobby, music, etc.)

PS: Our satisfaction is driven by what we do, as well as by achieving goals and by the positive reaction to the quality of our work and the satisfaction of patients.

10. How do you motivate your workers/partners?

PS: We motivate our workers with the interesting nature of our projects, and of course financially. There are not many research and development companies working on such ambitious projects which require such unique knowledge.. In addition, it is very difficult to find workers on the market with the exceptional skills that we need. Most of this unique knowledge is acquired here with us.

11. How do you invest in your company’s future, in order to remain competitive?

PS: I look for new solutions. Eighteen months ago we created a hybrid implant, which no one has ever done before in Poland. This implant is made up of two rigid external parts and an internal part containing bone scaffolding. This implant integrates better with the bone, fits better and weighs less, which means benefits for the patient.

In addition we are constantly investing in new products, such as software, and we conduct R&D work to diversify our range of activities.

12. Are the SpaceMouse and CadMouse products a part of those investments? How long ago did you switch to 3Dconnexion products?

PS: Yes, the 3Dconnexion products are a part of that investment. I first came across them a few year ago at university, where I had the chance to use them. These tools definitely make work easier, I can save 10-15% of my time, as they make it quicker to move in three-dimensional space. That’s why I decided to implement them to support the 3D environment.

13. What words come to mind when you think of these products?

PS: Quality and precision. The equipment is solidly built and allows precision work.

14. What was the decisive factor that made you decide to invest in 3Dconnexion products?

PS: I decided to invest in 3Dconnexion products because of their ease of use and the time they saved. Working in a 3D environment without a 3D manipulator is difficult. Marking and manipulating a scene using a mouse is too time-consuming. A 3D manipulator cuts the working time. Also, its use doesn’t cause the frustration of an aching hand, which you get after a few hours working with just a computer mouse.

15. Being an entrepreneur is not an easy art, especially in the face of risk and the changing economic situation. What do you regard as good and tested solutions in running a company, and what do regard as a fundamental error?

PS: When we set up the company we often heard the golden rule, which is to focus on one thing. But in practice, I think it’s always important to have a plan B, as the coronavirus pandemic showed, when all reconstructive surgery practically came to a standstill. What saved us was our activity in the IT sector and electronic controllers – it’s a small branch of our business, but it helped us to survive in difficult circumstances. And one more thing – it is often said that a company’s most important resource is people. That is no cliché.

16. How do you see the future of your sector? What trends in CAD (Computer-Aided Design) do you think will last?

PS: The med-tech sector is very dynamic. We can see this both in ourselves and in our competition. According to analysts, growth in the coming years will be 20-25%. Of course every growth forecast comes with the risk of increased competition. Despite that, we foresee steady growth in our sector over the next five years.

As far as design is concerned, it will go in the direction of making allowance for spatial structures. At one time, solid cast implants were produced. Now we use 3D printing methods. The key is optimization. An implant should be as light as possible and have great integration, in our case with the patient’s bone structure. I think that the same trends will affect industry, the space or automotive sectors.