In the rapidly growing clear aligner market, Madrid-based SecretAligner has differentiated itself as a leading high-quality producer. Since Dr. Pablo Kehyaian founded the company in 2019, it has experienced immense growth, which also required the team to scale up manufacturing capacity.
During SecretAligner’s journey from a single in-office printer to an 85-person company printing 2,000 models per day, Formlabs printers provided agile and reliable production.
“My company is built around Formlabs printers,” said Dr. Kehyaian. “I wanted to have something that allowed me to grow. If the business starts, you want to escalate fast.”
Today, SecretAligner uses the Formlabs Automation Ecosystem in its digital workflow to save time and money by increasing efficiency, enabling further scalability, and ensuring quality.
Scaling up as business grows
The idea for SecretAligner came to Dr. Kehyaian because, as a practicing orthodontist, he saw a market need. But it was difficult to find a manufacturer with dependable quality and turnaround time. If he wanted to make adjustments to improve patient outcomes, his choices were limited.
“With my patients, I was using clear aligners a lot, and I was trying to find them more options,” he said. “I wanted to control my own treatments, I wanted to try different things, I wanted to reach the limits.”
In 2017, Dr. Kehyaian began using the entire scan-design-print workflow to create his own aligners. He started with just one printer, a Form 2. As he became familiar with the workflow, he conducted independent research with patients and evaluated the clinical effectiveness before turning full-scale business. As the demand increased, he purchased a second printer, and then many more — the low up-front cost allowed him to be agile and scale his investment as his revenue increased.
“I started making my own aligners at my house and in my office. I started growing, making treatments for my colleagues and friends. And then I started the company in 2019,” he said. “Now we have around 30 printers working in our print farm. It’s awesome that you can escalate your business with less risk than bigger machines.”
Like many aligner makers, SecretAligner has built printer fleets to meet production demand. As SecretAligner grew from two printers to five, ten, and all the way to the 30 printers they use today, products such as the Form Wash L and Form Cure L to automate post-processing, and Dashboard to manage printers and materials online, helped them to capitalize on the efficiencies of scale. This kept space requirements low and reduced the cost per part.
Recently, SecretAligner began using the Formlabs Automation Ecosystem, which consists of three parts:
- Form Auto, a hardware extension for the Form 3/B/+ printers that automatically removes finished parts from Build Platform 2 and starts the next print without the need for operator interaction.
- Fleet Control, a suite of newly available, advanced features in PreForm and Dashboard that facilitate easier management of multiple 3D printers with centralized queue management and automatic printer assignment.
- High Volume Resin System, a 5L Resin Bag and Resin Pump that expands the standard resin capacity of a Formlabs SLA printer, reduces waste, and minimizes cartridge handling tasks.
“The great thing about the Formlabs Automation Ecosystem is that you can grow your production without changing all the system and all the workload. You can use the same machine as you are using alone to grow your business with a low investment,” said Dr. Kehyaian.
Recent Formlabs innovations, such as the Build Platform 2, come standard in the Formlabs Automation Ecosystem. Dr. Kehyaian considers the Build Platform 2 essential.
“All the printers have the Build Platform 2. Because you just take it out, click, and all the parts go down really fast,” he said. “Sometimes when you’re doing it manually, you have to make it really hard. The part breaks sometimes.”
As an example of how these new tools help a wide variety of users, Dr. Kehyaian points to the Form Auto. “If you are not printing a lot, it will make your life better. And if you are printing a lot, you will save a lot of money.”
Decreasing cost per part with 24/7 production
Cost per part, the definitive measure of efficiency when it comes to producing aligners, includes raw materials, equipment, and software expenses, as well as the cost of renting or owning space. But the biggest expense is typically labor. That’s why improving workflow efficiency in printer management and post-processing makes such a difference to aligner manufacturers’ financial success.
At first, this posed a challenge to SecretAligner’s ability to scale. “We needed a lot of people to manage the printers,” said Dr. Kehyaian.
Despite automated washing and curing, SecretAligner employees spent a lot of time on tasks such as preparing and queuing print jobs, removing prints from the build platform, and changing resin cartridges. As his customer base grew, Dr. Kehyaian looked for ways to reduce manual effort in the aligner production process.
He found his answer in the Formlabs Automation Ecosystem. Features like the Build Platform 2, which comes standard with the Form Auto, and Fleet Control’s queue optimization allowed SecretAligner to increase production while reducing cost.
“We started with Fleet Control, and it changed our way of work completely,” said Dr. Kehyaian. “We went from three prints per day per machine to four prints per day per machine.”
In addition to increasing capacity, Fleet Control supports a data-driven approach to production management by enabling a greater understanding of operations. “It gives you statistics and you can see how much resin you have used,” Dr. Kehyaian said. “So it’s not only the queue, it’s also that you’ll manage your printers better. You can compare one printer with another one to see if they’re having the same production.”
Now the SecretAligner team is using Form Auto. Dr. Kehyaian has noticed a similar productivity boost. By combining it with Fleet Control and the High Volume Resin System, SecretAligner has enabled around-the-clock production.
“It will allow everyone to print 24/7, really. Our operators, when we come in in the morning, if the printers have been working all night, they will be faced with one or two prints more,” Dr. Kehyaian explained. “So the parts per machine will increase.”
The High Volume Resin System is critical for continuous production. “You need it if you’re using it like us, continuously 24/7,” Dr. Kehyaian said. “Because, for example, on a weekend you will run out of resin for sure. 1L is not enough for two days of printing.”
Altogether, Dr. Kehyaian and his team have built a Formlabs-powered aligner production workflow that keeps costs down and productivity up. To illustrate, Dr. Kehyaian described a scenario where his team put five jobs in the queue for one printer. There was an issue with the first job, and the printer stopped. “We had to relaunch all the jobs to another printer. So it was really tough,” he described. “With Fleet Control, you just click, drop, and set the priority you want. And when you go home at night, the printers will continue.”
Learn more about the Formlabs Automation Ecosystem: https://dental.formlabs.com/products/automation/