Align Appoints New Head of Direct Aligner 3D Printing

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Clear aligner pioneer Align Technology, Inc. (Nasdaq: ALGN) has announced that it has appointed Emory Wright to the role of executive vice president for direct fabrication manufacturing platform. Wright will move from his current position overseeing global operations, including treatment planning, and instead dedicate himself to scaling Align’s direct fabrication manufacturing platform. The news could have a substantial impact on the dental 3D printing market, as Align is one of the largest customers for 3D Systems (NYSE: DDD), using its stereolithography machines for producing indirect molds for producing clear aligners.

When Align acquired 3D printing startup Cubicure, it was apparent that the clear aligner giant was changing its manufacturing operations. In the long term, rather than rely on 3D printed molds of patients’ teeth to thermoform its devices, the company will develop technology for 3D printing them directly using Cubicure’s materials. The move was so significant that 3D Systems published a statement reassuring investors that it had not lost one of its largest customers.

This recent news further demonstrates Align’s strategy of moving toward direct manufacturing of aligners. Wright will be working with Srini Kaza, who was promoted to executive vice president of research and development. Joe Hogan, Align Technology President and CEO, specifically cited Cubicure as the acquisition driving the development of direct production of aligners:

“Emory has had an enormous impact on Align and the orthodontic industry as a whole and I am thrilled he will continue to provide his extensive knowledge and experience to help us accelerate our plans and further extend our leadership in 3D printing. Until his retirement in 2026, Emory will take on a new role and in addition to helping with the transition of his existing duties, he will lead the development of our direct 3D printing capabilities and focus on building a world-class direct fabrication operation that can scale to support the global demand for our next generation products and services —including the Invisalign Palatal Expander and future orthodontic and dental appliances.

“Srini just crossed his 25th anniversary with Align and he is one of the most revered innovators of clear aligner therapy in the world —and his contributions to the most advanced clear aligner system in the world, the Invisalign system, are unprecedented. With our recent acquisition of Cubicure, Srini and his team are now pioneering the next generation of 3D printing technologies that will radically change clear aligner therapy in the future.”

Directly 3D Printed Clear Aligners (Image Courtesy: LuxCreo)

According to the “3D Printing in Dentistry 2023: Market Study & Forecast” report from Additive Manufacturing Research, revenue for dental 3D printing grew to $4 billion in 2022, representing an impressive one-third of the entire AM market. It hasn’t been made clear that 3D Systems wouldn’t also be involved in the development of the direct fabrication technology. Additionally, as has been discussed, a transition to direct production will take some time and Align will have to continue to rely on its current SLA production lines in the near term.

However, it is a sign that the tides are turning for the dental 3D printing industry. LuxCreo has obtained FDA clearance for its directly produced aligners, while Graphy, from Korea, has been making them since 2021. The message is clear that 3D Systems and others in the vat photopolymerization space will want to pursue this technology in order to maintain or gain market share in AM’s most mature business segment.

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