AMS Spring 2023

AMS Speaker Spotlight: Biting the 3D Bullet for Dental 3D Printing

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Ankush Venkatesh, Glidewell Intrapraneur for Additive Manufacturing, will be participating in Additive Manufacturing Strategies 2022, Panel 3: Low cost mass customization in dentistry.

It is widely known that the dental industry was among the early adopters of additive manufacturing. Dental appliances remain to be among the most customized products we use on a daily basis, and the pioneering nature of the industry carries forward to this day. A new wave of innovation is being ushered in, thanks to a number of factors:

Ubiquity of printers

Lowered entry barriers in the hardware segments have resulted in a flooding of entrants who are now able to make machines that are technologically competitive, lower in price, and supported by adjacent applications. The adoption barrier for dental 3D-printing is the lowest it has ever been, and adoption rates are at their highest. This will continue to cascade throughout both, dental laboratories as well as dentists’ practices.

Formlabs’ dental 3D printing ecosystem. Image courtesy of Formlabs.

Advancements in materials

Investments and developments in materials for 3D-printing have been accelerating over the last few years. Large materials producers such as Henkel, Sandvik, BASF, and Arkema have deployed capital in specialized 3D-printing offerings. Meanwhile, printer makers such as Formlabs and Carbon, have continued their vertical integration with extended materials portfolios.

Due to the improved mechanical properties of these materials, there is a renewed push to achieve biocompatibility. The combination of increasingly open/compatible material-printer systems along with improving materials is pushing us further into end-part production. This is in contrast with earlier applications within the dental industry where 3D-printing was primarily used to print dental models which were in turn used to fabricate the final product.

Direct 3D-printed end-use products from Glidewell laboratories

Innovations in business models

With millions in venture capital being poured into dental startups, new methods of success are emerging. From direct-to-consumer (D2C) appliances, to smartphone-based smile evaluation, to tele dentistry, to dental insurance disruption, and even AI-driven disease identification, technology-driven approaches are adding significant value and disrupting traditional operating models.

From the consumer’s perspective, new ways of interacting with dental products and services have emerged. As the consumer becomes more steeped in the design & development of a product, the value of customization and personalization will be unlocked.

The flywheel of innovation in digital dentistry will continue to accelerate if bolstered by these key factors:

Regulatory awareness

Regulators continue to acknowledge the importance and utility of 3D-printing in the medical device industry. The fast pace at which technologies continue to improve must be matched by these agencies to ensure continued innovation. The past two years alone have seen the emergence of new certified materials, novel medical devices, and innovative ways of delivering these solutions; To that end, the FDA recently published a discussion paper seeking input on point-of-care (PoC) 3D-printing solutions.

Digitalization of the value-chain

Each step of the value-chain is becoming increasingly digitalized: intraoral scanners and micro CT scanners for patient teeth information, print command and control for manufacturing execution, automated post-processing for finishing, and process monitoring for quality control. The opportunity to use these data to improve processes and forecast trends has never been so accessible.

This also presents a key advantage from a workflow perspective; Digital workflows of this nature bridge the gap between the physical world and the digital world, and could eventually enable digital twins and distributed manufacturing.

The dental industry continues to push the boundaries of additive manufacturing and its use in mass production, with the promise of much more to come.

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