Structo Automates Aligner Production with Two New mSLA Dental 3D Printers

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The hyper-competitive dental market is being catered to by increasingly productive and accessible 3D printing solutions—resulting in $3.1 billion in revenues in 2021, according to the Additive Manufacturing in Dentistry report from SmarTech Analysis. 3D printers are becoming more and more application-specific and higher quality at a much faster rate in the dental market faster than in other areas of additive. Singapore-based dental 3D printing company Structo is trying to remain on the leading edge with the release of two new masked stereolithography (mSLA) 3D printers, the ST-01 and ST-32.

The ST-32 has been developed with a high degree of autonomy specifically for making clear aligners. Meant for “lights out manufacturing,” it is a cell-based production unit. This includes a gantry that automates print removal, from an EZrelease sheet, designed for quick part release, before the gantry loads up a new sheet. The printer can swap 24 EZrelease sheets in of eight hours and store 32 sheets total. This allows prints to be prepared for staff through overnight job runs. One can see how eliminating the need for an operator to come in just to empty the printer and fire it up again could lead to a lot of gains as well.

 

The ST-01 is aimed at dental and orthodontic labs, with a build volume of 221 x 129 x 200 mm able to produce 36 clear aligners an hour. This more compact unit is made for those who want a high throughput printer with a smaller footprint. It doesn’t have the automation and lights out capabilities of its larger ST-32 sibling. However, it does have what the company describes as a “solventless post-processing workflow” that makes parts suited for thermoforming in “30 minutes.” That kind of quick turnaround will really make a difference for labs that want to make a large number of aligners before the UPS person comes.

“Macroeconomic challenges such as the global labour crunch, and supply chain uncertainties from the pandemic have led to increased day-to-day operational costs for our customers, hurting their bottom line. The team knew these were pressing issues that need to be addressed immediately, and we are happy to be announcing a new range of solutions targeted at solving these immediate challenges,” said Desmond Lim, Structo’s CEO.

Structo first came to the fore through the use of mSLA which is potentially much more productive than traditional DLP and SLA. The technology did have some productivity kinks to iron out though. The company has developed specific materials to speed up the process and post-processing. At the same time, they´ve uniquely spent a lot of time engineering automation solutions such as robotic arms and resin recovery systems.

At one point, it seemed that the really unique thing about the firm was that you could go to them for entire 3D printing aligner production line. Now, the company seems to be going further into developing integrated systems as well as automation solutions. It has a number of very notable clients, such as Zenyum and Glidewell. Everyone always knew that dental aligners were the biggest game in town, with perhaps 500,000 being produced each day. Structo went full on into aligners, though not seeming to bother much with the entire rest of the dental market. If you’re burning investor cash anyway, why not have a laser (or digital panel-like) focus on one limited customer group that represents the largest volume in the business?

By developing very specific solutions for a specific clientele, the company has won over some of these giant customers. Now, with fleet management software and more materials, Structo may shift focus to a broader client base.

As it stands the dental market will turn into a killing field. I really don’t see another space in additive that is as competitive and as well l-served by market entrants. In dental, the AM industry has several systems that work well in all different segments. Propositions are aligned with client expectations, needs and businesses as well. We see inexpensive systems and very sophisticated ones, each gaining in market share as the technology enters all the labs and individual offices.

We’re going to be seeing a multivariate competition in dental, with many different players in the value chain competing with each other at all levels. Whereas, I see entry-level Chinese systems capture the low-end and SprintRay and DWS take higher market segments in the office, the lab market is far from won. We’re seeing very inexpensive machines there now, as well as stalwarts such as EnvsionTEC (Desktop Metal) with its Perfactories. I really believe that Structo could parlay its lead in automation to lower part cost solutions that would see it become the de facto winner in the dental lab space for certain specific part families.

I’m enthusiastic about its ability to shift ancillary equipment into more profitable and competitive propositions for them, while selling core technology (the printers) to many customers small and large. Few core models that can be transformed into high- and medium-throughput solutions with automation add-ons for many different applications and customers are the way to go here. This is a more technologically and strategically sound approach than that taken by many competitors, who often completely redesign individual systems that share few parts for different form factors.

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