What was once a novel convenience for dentists and labs is now becoming commonplace as new additive manufacturing machines enter the market.
Leslie Langnau, Managing Editor
It’s possible that going to the dentist may become fun, thanks to 3D printing/additive manufacturing (3DP/AM) technology. At the very least, resolving a patient’s dental issues will be faster. Over the past several years, 3DP/AM technology has eliminated much of the wait for dental wax-ups, orthodontic patterns, crown and bridge molds and other dental needs. In fact, recently, a few manufacturers of dental 3DP/AM equipment claimed their machines can print a new tooth in less than seven minutes!
What started out as a quiet revolution in a medical sector has turned into one of the louder successes of 3DP/AM. So far this year, a number of 3DP/AM systems specifically for dental applications have been announced, with general medical applications following close behind.
A recent report from industry forecasters SmarTech Markets claims that shipments of 3D printers for the medical industry will reach 2,135 units in 2020 and grow to 3,055 units in 2024. While the number of units may seem small, the dollar value is not. Predictions claim that the dental sector will undergo a “mass uptake” within the next few years, growing an astonishing 515% to $868 million by 2025. Currently, this industry is valued at $141 million. According to technology research firm IDTechEx, printed jawbones as well as dental implants will grow more than 500% in the next 10 years.
Materials for the medical market will become the major revenue generating area of 3DP/AM. Revenues for this market were almost $50 million in 2014 and are expected to reach $345 million by 2020, said the forecasters.
About 60% of 3DP/AM machines sold in 2014 for medical used photopolymerization and material jetting techniques. These machines and materials fit the need for medical modeling and prototypes, as well as developing surgical guides and tools.
Additively made laser melted implants, abutments, crowns and bridges now routinely replace the hand-cast machined and refined dentures traditionally used.
The major players in this market include: 3D Systems, Arcam, Bespoke Innovations, EnvisionTEC, EOS, Innovation MediTech, Lima Corporate, LUXeXcel, Medical Modeling, Optomec, Organovo, Ossis, Oxford Performance Materials, Protos Eyewear, Rapid Shape, Renishaw, Stratasys, Visualization Sciences, Voxeljet and Within Technologies.
In this market, additive manufacturing has indeed become an accepted manufacturing method. Here’s a closer look at recent 3DP/AM introductions.
3D Systems offers what it refers to as an “all-in-one” medical 3D printer, the ProJet 3510 DPPro. This machine is part of the company’s MultiJet printer line. It can be used to print precise dental wax-ups; durable implant drill guides; temperature-resistant, thermo-formable orthodontic patterns; and crown and bridge molds, and it does so at “twice the throughput of today’s printers,” claims the company. Using a patient’s data, various custom medical tools and devices can be created in a few hours.
This ProJet printer is smaller than other medical AM printers. However, it provides round-the-clock printing with its large build volume, allowing lab managers to rethink maximum throughput and tighten production schedules. With the variety of specifically engineered materials, labs can print enhanced, highly accurate wax-ups for crowns, bridges and partial denture frameworks, in addition to working models for crown and bridge, orthodontic, partial dentures and medical models, such as jaw models in USP Class VI-capable VisiJet Stoneplast.
For custom implant drill guides, 3D Systems offers a durable biocompatible plastic material.
EnvisionTEC and 3Shape completed the integration of the EnvisionTEC 3Dent machine with 3Shape’s Dental System and CAMbridge for high-speed and high-precision production of dental models and dies.
An extensive validation process was performed by 3shape to confirm the accuracy and quality of the EnvisionTEC 3Dent models where sectioned models, un-sectioned models and dies were built on the 3Dent machines.
The models and dies were printed in E-Denstone material, then scanned using the 3Shape scanner before being validated by Convince quality control software.
The results exceeded the accuracy requirements of the dental market for models and dies as defined by 3Shape.
The 3Dent machine is an integral part of the dental model production processes of many dental labs all over the world. Don Albensi, COO of Albensi Laboratories in Pennsylvania, uses a 3Dent for model production and stresses that one of the most valued aspects of his EnvisionTEC printer is “the quality of the print, the accuracy of the material, and the ease of use.”
Said Chris Bolsom, CAD/CAM technician at Albensi Laboratories, “It was very easy to use the 3Shape Model Design software. It’s broken down step by step. All we have to do is nest the file. It’s a nice clean model, the file geometry is correct, and the software does a nice job of closing holes and hollowing. Once you get the model to Cambridge, it’s basically plug and play. You load the software, load the job and press start on the 3Dent.”
The fully integrated dental offerings from EOS allow the manufacture of reproducible, high-quality dental end products at an attractive unit cost. For example, the material EOS CobaltChrome SP2, used to manufacture dental crowns and bridges, is classified as a Class IIa medical material for dental applications (Directive 93/42/EEC). The company also offers a heat-resistant, sterilizable, biocompatible polymer PA2105.
The additive manufacture of dental crowns and bridges based on Direct Metal Laser Sintering (DMLS) is a certified and registered manufacturing process. EOS said it has nearly 100 installed systems and more than 5 million dental and medical products manufactured worldwide each year. The basic system EOSINT M 270 Dental allows the productive manufacture of up to 450 units a day. Apart from classic fitting models, AM also offers solutions for the field of orthodontics and implantology.
The smaller EOS M 100 system is a starting point for metal printing in the dental field. With its smaller building volume and a circular, 100-mm diameter building platform, dental laboratories can economically manufacture crowns and bridges from CobaltChrome SP2. The system is equipped with a 200-W fiber laser and guarantees high power stability as well as optimum and constant processing conditions. The smaller laser spot ensures excellent detail resolution and permits the production of even the finest of dental structures.
Renishaw offers the AM250 metal 3D printing machine for the production of dental parts. The company will also supply cobalt chrome powder for the manufacture of dental frameworks.
The AM250 is a high volume machine suitable for 3D printing a large variety of metal dental devices. It helps reduce the costs associated with milling operations. It can also replace traditional wax casting techniques by building dental frameworks from STL data as part of a digital workflow.
The Renishaw Dental Studio (RDS) CAD package combines the speed and flexibility of the company’s DS30 blue light scanners with the accuracy of the Renishaw DS10 contact scanner. Using Exocad, RDS allows a range of dental devices to be designed. The ability to add to the software’s capability through additional modules makes the package flexible and scalable for the expanding dental laboratory.
Stratasys offers several 3D printers for dental applications, including the Objet260 Dental Selection 3D Printer. Leveraging triple-jetting technology, this machine delivers high, 3D-printed dental model realism to improve the accuracy and efficacy of digital dentistry.
This 3D printer is designed to help mid- to large-sized dental and orthodontic labs grow their business by producing realistic models with true-to-life look and feel as part of their end-to-end digital dentistry workflow, including intra-oral scanners. It can build diverse models with multiple materials on one tray, in one print job.
“We use the Objet260 printer to produce realistic 3D printed gingiva masks and models we couldn’t do before,” said Stefan Remplbauer, general manager of Austria-based 3DMedicalPrint. “We have not had 3D printed dental models that so closely resemble the actual teeth and gums. The initial reactions from our customers, which include dental technicians, dentists and surgeons, have been extremely positive.”
Pivotal to the capabilities of this 3D printer is the ability to enable dental and orthodontic labs to develop highly realistic stone models. This capability permits the production of life-like gum textures for precise functional testing, as well as a range of shades for custom, color matching.
The 3D Printer is compatible with all PolyJet dental materials, plus an array of dental-specific material palettes to produce life-like colors and textures for teeth and gums. This allows users to serve a broader range of dental applications with one system, reducing equipment costs. These usages span implant testing with stone models that mimic the look and feel of real gingiva for accurate functional evaluation, as well as models with rigid features that require gum-like materials. Labs can print surgical guides directly from CBCT scan data, with high-definition tooth, root and nerve-canal anatomy rendered in contrasting materials to help prevent dental nerve injury.
The Objet260 Dental Selection can take the color digital file from an intra-oral scanner and transform it into a color, multi-texture dental model.