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3D Systems Figure 4 for Dental Manufacturing [Image: 3D Systems]

3D Systems is increasingly leveraging its scalable Figure 4 technology for production-quality 3D printing, as 3DPrint.com has seen everywhere from IMTS to formnext to the lobby of 3DS’ own Colorado healthcare facility. With the late January acquisition of Vertex Global-Holding B.V., parent company of dental prosthetics manufacturer Vertex Dental and pioneering dental 3D printing materials developer NextDent, we saw the company look pointedly to expanding focus in the key healthcare vertical to include more toothsome applications, as NextDent had previously introduced biocompatible materials for the 3D printing of long-term dental solutions. While 3DS is not new to this area, with significant experience and leadership in the creation of aligners, today the company begins to make clear further steps on its path toward dental dominance as Figure 4 goes to the dentist (and, of course, beyond).

3D printing is nothing to look down in the mouth about, even with dentistry increasingly in the spotlight. There’s no denying the power of 3D printing in dentistry today as this industry is reaping the benefits of advances in hardware, software, and materials as dentists go digital thanks to 3D technologies — and for those with a fear of the dentist, this is only good news, as products are able to made better and faster. It’s part Six Million Dollar Man and part less-than-six-million-dollar smile, thanks to the savings in both cost and time possible as 3D printing comes to the dentist’s office. We’ve recently followed developments in dentistry as IDS — that’s the International Dental Show — kicks off in Germany with a spate of 3D printing-related announcements. New 3D printers from Structo with the DentaForm and EnvisionTEC with a new addition to its Vida 3D printer line, and new dental resins from Formlabs and EnvisionTEC, as well as partnerships from both EnvisionTEC and Formlabs with 3Shape, are already shaping up to make IDS 2017 an exciting time for digitization in dentistry, but hold on to your toothbrush, as another big announcement comes out today.

Based on Figure 4 technology and NextDent materials, 3DS has just unveiled a new platform said to deliver “better, faster and more predictable patient treatments with disruptive total cost of operations to revolutionize the multibillion-dollar dental industry.” Cutting by a factor of up to ten times costs in operations along with reduced material waste and production time, Figure 4 technology is turning to the creation of crowns, bridges, dentures, and surgical guides, as President and CEO Vyomesh Joshi (VJ) told me this morning.

“It starts with materials,” VJ explained as we talked, “when you think about the dental industry, scanners are already now implemented especially in dental labs; that digitization is the first step. Now we have a printer that has contributions in repeatability and materials. Without materials, you’re not going to create parts for use in the moth. NextDent has been delivering products for dental since 1939, think about that — it’s a company that’s already delivered for so many years products for dentistry they know what it needs for a material to be in the mouth.”

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NextDent Crown and Bridge Material [Image: 3D Systems]

NextDent materials already have regulatory approval in more than 70 countries, which is a “very important part” of the equation, and is the reason that acquisition is so important to 3DS’ portfolio, as VJ stressed. Taking the materials development to the 3D printing market allows for a move through which “dental labs can improve their productivity and their quality structure,” VJ said.

“What we are doing is creating this dental lab as an alternative to the milling options right now — 95% of options are milling — but a milling machine can only do a crown at a time, we can do 30 to 40 crowns [using Figure 4],” VJ told me of what can be produced in about a 15-minute time frame. “Suddenly now you have a productivity, a material that can really be applied to the dental industry, with multiple indications. The reason I really like this is it’s our first proof point of our architecture for our Figure 4 where we can apply not only to the industrial market but to the dental market; this is the first indication we can expand to different verticals.”

Systems for dental customers, including labs of various sizes, are expected to begin shipping this autumn. The scalability of the Figure 4 system will allow for their use both in smaller labs seeking cost-effective solutions for crowns and other dental product production in the range of thousands made per annum and in larger enterprises creating these products on the scale of millions. 3D Systems will be showcasing the system at IDS this week in Cologne in several locations, including the booths for 3D Systems, NextDent, and 3Shape.

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Figure 4 [Image: 3D Systems]

While the dental applications for Figure 4 seem news to smile about, this isn’t the only vertical putting the technology to use, as 3D Systems also announces today that the first Figure 4 system was recently shipped to a Fortune 50 industrial customer. The company notes that the latter half of this year will see a planned ramping up of customer-specific shipments.

“This is an important announcement not just for 3D Systems but for the industry: we are delivering now on what we are saying, to go after the production,” VJ told me today. “Especially in plastics, where most technologies are for prototyping, this is important. Companies have aspirations, and I really believe all the innovations in the industry will help the overall innovation and to get into production. We are the first company to actually deliver a technology to go into production.”

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Figure 4 module operating at 3D Systems’ Littleton, CO healthcare facility [Photo: Sarah Goehrke]

VJ noted that the first delivery has had a “very good” response so far as the system has been put into place. Figure 4 technology will see introductions in various verticals and various configurations over the next year to year and a half, he explained, regularly referencing the company’s key areas of focus in building up and commercializing Figure 4:

  • Repeatability
  • Durability
  • Quality of the part
  • Productivity
  • Total cost of operations

By leveraging configurable, scalable architecture, 3D Systems is seeking to address these major points through focus on Figure 4 technology and the materials used.

“The manufacturing manager of any enterprise won’t switch to a new technology unless it meets end user needs in repeatability and durability for end use,” he said.

Just as the Figure 4 setup can be configured for different amounts of dental product production, so too can it be scaled across other verticals. The company explains that its new platform “allows customers to tailor configurations and select materials to address specific applications.” The system can be set up with a single-print engine machine, as seen in Colorado, or as a fully automated high-volume production system integrating 16 or more print engines and featuring automated material delivery and integrated post-processing.

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VJ presenting 3D Systems’ vision at IMTS 2016 [Photo: Sarah Goehrke]

“Remember at IMTS I started laying out the vision, what we believe of the ecosystem I laid out, the hardware, the materials, the verticals,” VJ pointed out of the vision 3DS has had on the table openly since September. “It starts with the customer. For part quality, durability, repeatability, cost of operations, I mentioned you’ll have up to 10 times reduction in total cost of operations, that’s a big deal, a big improvement. Think about the core customer needs, repeatability, durability for dental industry, and that improvement — it’s very exciting.

I hope the industry takes that kind of approach so we can really drive adoption of this technology for production. The work the team has done, I really believe this is something we can not just talk about, but deliver, that’s a key aspect I think, there’s a lot of conversation about this and promise about additive manufacturing but I think this promise is only fulfilled once you deliver, and it’s your customers who are delighted. We are really delivering on the promise of production and the scalable will allow us to deliver on core customer needs.”

This focus on not just the company’s moves forward, but on what these advances mean for the industry at large, show a vision of overall innovation shaping up across the board. VJ’s enthusiasm for the technology shines through as he speaks about Figure 4, and it’s hard not to get caught up in that optimistic whirlwind. A company like 3D Systems, which had previously been known to over-extend on acquisitions, stands to benefit from strategic moves like the acquisition and direct implementation of NextDent’s advanced materials for the dental industry in a targeted move with a swift response and integration. With delivery and production-level results on the table, 3DS is showing a tangible step forward in realizing its strategies.

Additional verticals to be targeted include aerospace, automotive, and durable goods industries, to go along with healthcare/dental applications. To highlight the offerings of Figure 4 versus traditional SLA fabrication techniques, 3D Systems notes the following recorded stats on a 16-print engine Figure 4 system:

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We will be keeping a close eye on what 3D Systems has to offer as they continue to bring Figure 4 technology to market. Discuss in the Figure 4 forum at 3DPB.com.





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