How to Choose a 3D Printer for Your Dental Practice or Lab
WHAT IS DENTAL 3D PRINTING?
Additive manufacturing is making digital dentistry a no-nonsense business choice, combining high quality and improved patient care with low unit costs and streamlined workflows.
Today, three 3D printing technologies are common in dental: stereolithography (SLA), digital light processing (DLP) and liquid crystal display-SLA (LCD-SLA）. Each technology can deliver the precision and accuracy needed for dental applications, but quality can vary among different machines and systems.
1. Stereolithography (SLA) – liquid resin is selectively exposed to a laser beam across the print area, solidifying resin in specific areas.
Stereolithography is highly accurate and has the best surface finish of the three technologies. SLA printers offer large build volumes and a wide range of materials for various applications. Switching materials is as easy as swapping the resin tank and cartridge. The combination of small footprint, simple workflow and low price make desktop SLA printers well-suited for both dental labs and practices.
2. Digital Light Processing (DLP) – Digital light processing operates with the same chemical process as SLA but uses a digital projector as a light source to solidify the resin, rather than a laser. DLP printers have a small footprint, simple workflow and wide range of material options, but at a substantially higher cost than desktop SLA printers. DLP parts also tend to show voxel lines—layers formed by small rectangular bricks due to digital screen—and have a generally lower quality surface finish.
3. Liquid Crystal Display-SLA (LCD-SLA) - LCD-SLA printers have all the merits of DLP printers while having similar costs to desktop SLA printers. Like DLP, LCD-SLA parts also tend to have voxel lines but due to the much higher resolution (4k LCD vs 1080p DLP), the layers are much less visible and are typically acceptable for dental uses.
DIGITAL DENTISTRY AND 3D PRINTING
Additive manufacturing has affected many industries, but few stand to benefit as much as the medical fields, including dentistry.
3D printing technologies thrive in an environment where our unique bodies require custom solutions. As a result, the dental industry is going through a rapid digital transformation with digital workflows bringing increased efficiency, consistently high quality, and lower costs to dental labs and practices.
HOW TO EVALUATE A 3D PRINTER?
Guaranteeing high-quality, accurate, final parts is the most important concern for any dental practice and lab. Unfortunately, not all 3D printers marketed for dentistry or orthodontics can deliver the quality, precision, and accuracy needed for orthodontic applications. Additionally, comparing different dental 3D printers goes beyond looking at technical spec sheets.
Fundamentally, accuracy and precision depend on many different factors: the quality of the 3D printer, the 3D printing technology, materials, software settings, post-processing, and how well-calibrated all of these systems are, so a 3D printer can only be judged on its final dental parts.
HOW TO CHOOSE A 3D PRINTER?
There is no doubt that 3D printing has made an impact on technology. Studies and applications in additive manufacturing demonstrate that 3D printing is making an impact in several industries including education, healthcare, architecture, consumer products, and more.
3D printing is a great resource for rapid prototyping, saves a lot of time in designing and manufacturing process. New parts, models, and products can be printed in a much quicker way rather than obtaining this item with conventional means. Additionally, with 3D printing, you can customize your creations and create custom-fitted objects for specific purposes. See here how 3D printing is used on different applications and industries.
Choosing a 3D printer gives provides many benefits to businesses. Additive manufacturing delivers high-quality models and solves many different challenges in areas such as industrial manufacturing. Businesses interested in these benefits must begin by purchasing a 3D printer. There are many important factors to consider when purchasing a 3D printer and it may feel overwhelming at the beginning. Learn how to choose the right 3D printer from the many options of 3D printers from different manufacturers. Learn about the different models of 3D printers as well as their capabilities and how they can support any project.
The price range of 3D printers varies, but one important price factor is the quality of the printing results. Choosing a 3D printer is not only related to the investment, but it is also the value and experience obtained from this technology and how this great resource can help to solve an issue. In fact, 3D printers are resolving several industries and manufacturing problems. Investing in a machine like this ensures the creation of perfect custom-made pieces that sometimes are difficult to get in the market, and represents less time or even an immediate need fulfilled. Then, working with different materials is fascinating, as you get to know diverse applications and take your ideas into real life.
EASY FOR USE
Different models of 3D printers are intended for different levels of production and the size of the manufacturer’s needs. A desktop 3D printer is meant for small-scale projects while a large-format 3D printer can perform well for industrial-scale projects. Regardless of the size of the project, a user-friendly 3D printer will allow any sized team and business to begin production right away.
An easy-to-use 3D printer makes manufacturing more efficient because the time invested in testing and producing models and customized items will be less than any other traditional manufacturing method. Look carefully for manufacturers that offer video-assisted capabilities, and great programs to support and guide the usage by making this a fast-learning training and production environment.
Lastly, depending on the design, some parts need to be cleared of support structures.
COST AND RETURN ON INVESTMENT
Low-Cost and high-levels of customization
While dentistry has always required high levels of customization, the industry has traditionally relied mostly on manual methods to create custom appliances. Today, digital workflows enable mass customization in a consistent, automated way, requiring less labor and incurring lower costs.
Everyone has a dentition—the pattern of development and arrangement of teeth—unique to them. Dental indications must, therefore, be made to match each individual patient’s anatomy. With traditional manual workflows, the quality of the finished products is highly dependent on the skills of a given technician. Achieving consistent and high-quality dental products with so many potential sources of error is incredibly difficult and expensive.
With digital workflows, each dental product is precisely detailed to the specifications dictated by the patient's anatomy. 3D printers are like Swiss-army knives—no other tool can produce such a wide variety of dental products with consistently high quality. Using dedicated materials, labs and practices can use 3D printers to produce orthodontic models, highly accurate crown and bridge models, surgical guides, castable or pressable restorations, aligners, retainers, long-term biocompatible dental products like splints or dentures and more.
Digital technologies simplify workflows, reduce the room for error and the amount of labor required, resulting in time and cost savings on both the lab's and practice's side.
Orthodontics With Clear Aligners
Orthodontics as a dental specialty has come a long way since traditional metal wired braces. While still necessary in some complex cases, removable clear aligners provide an appealing alternative today and have been used to treat millions of patients.
Clear aligners couldn't exist without digital technologies; their manufacturing process is a brilliant combination of multiple digital workflows. An orthodontist or dentist first captures an impression of a patient's dentition with a 3D intraoral scanner or takes a traditional impression for the lab to scan. The digital model provides a basis to plan the progressive stages between the current and desired teeth positions. Each stage is then 3D printed and the aligners are thermoformed over these 3D printed molds.
Traditionally, the 3D printers used in this process were large and complex to use and prohibitively expensive. Now, smaller format desktop 3D printers can create molds for thermoformed appliances, opening up the possibility for any lab or practice to produce aligners and retainers in-house and expand production without adding substantial overhead.
Better Patient Experience
These are just some examples of the wider scope of changes that digital dentistry and 3D printing processes are bringing to the dental industry.
Despite the narrative of “traditional vs. digital workflows” used frequently to promote the latter, contemporary dental workflows can combine the best of both. The support of digital workflows translates to a plethora of new possibilities for the industry and a raft of improvements for the customer.
MATERIALS AND APPLICATIONS
Professional 3D printers are some of the most versatile tools found today in dental and orthodontic practices and labs, and the key to their versatility is dedicated materials.
The material selection varies by printer model. Some basic 3D printers can only produce diagnostic models, while more advanced systems can manufacture highly accurate crown and bridge models, surgical guides, dental tray, and castable/pressable restorations.