The state of 3D printing
Where 3D printing is now and where it will be in the future
As the printer companies continue to improve, we will see layer thickness get smaller and smaller, and thus higher and higher resolution prints. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the cost of the machines is going to increase. There are several new companies in the 3D printing space. This includes companies that didn’t exist in dental previously and who are now making big names for themselves. They offer high quality printers for under $5,000. These companies were offering high-end consumer printers, thought to be expensive by the hobbyist, that through testing were found to be up to the quality standards we expect in dental at a fraction of the cost we currently expect. Looking at cost, where we once thought of these machines being in $100,000-150,000 range, we now have a price range of $5,000-150,000.
Of course, as we would expect, the more expensive machines offer significant advantages over the less expensive ones. One of these are the ability to print in different materials. This could be an added color selection, or hardness/elasticity variability. While this has limitations, we can see how our 3D printers will morph into uses similar to what has happened with our home 2D printers. We now rarely print anything outside the home, where once photo huts littered every parking lot around us.
This same thing will happen with 3D printing. In our lifetime, we could see an end of toy stores. Instead, we will purchase files off the internet to customize with colors and print at home. The advancement in machines and materials running parallel could enable this sooner than we think. The higher end of industries leads this development, because they are willing to spend the most money. F1 racing has been using 3D printing for a couple years. Boeing has more than 20,000 non-metallic additive manufactured parts on airplanes they delivered to customers.
Dental doesn’t have the capital of these other industries, and also has the hurdle of government regulations. But once the materials we would like to use, or ones that haven’t been released yet, have registered with the proper government agencies around the world, the doors will open even wider with options for these machines. For some it may mean the printing of custom temporaries, dentures, bite splints or surgical guides. For others, maybe printing porcelain will become the norm. Regardless of how we use the technology, the advantages of additive manufacturing will continue to be exploited for the benefit of our patients.