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    What the future holds for 3D Printing

    Predicting what’s to come for this game-changing dental technology.

    Fortunetellers have any number of schemes to predict the future. They might use tasseography (reading tea leaves); ceromancy (interpreting patterns in wax drippings); or even alectromancy (watching a rooster peck at grains).

    But foretelling the future of 3D printing isn’t contingent on fringe chicanery. All it takes is the input of industry leaders—leaders who have seen where 3D printing has been; know where it is going; and—in some cases—are helping guide it.

    The current state of 3D printing

    Currently, 3D printers are added to a lab’s (or a doctor’s) CAD/CAM solution. That is, items that are normally sent to a mill or model room are sent to the 3D printer for model production or other production.

    Related: 5 workflows revolutionized by 3D printing

    Where milling is a subtractive process (a block of material is sculpted), 3D printing is an additive process, meaning the 3D printer creates a product, layer by layer.

    Currently, labs are limited in what 3D printers can produce.

    “Everything is still model-based,” Jeff Youngerman, CDT, Western Account Manager for Stratasys, says. “Although there are many applications that go along with it, the 3D printer itself is going to print out a model. The only appliances that it can currently print out, at least in our world, is the surgical guide application. We can also do castable patterns.”

    Bob Cohen, CDT, President of Custom Automated Prosthetics (CAP), observes that there are other devices that labs routinely fabricate.

    “I don’t believe there is any one big indication that is pushing printing,” Cohen says. “However, the combination of all the following makes print technology viable for many labs:

    •  Crown and bridge models
    •  Ortho models
    •  Implant analog models
    •  Castable patterns
    •  Pressable patterns
    •  Surgical guides for implant placement
    •  Provisional restorations
    •  Bite appliances
    •  Ortho appliances
    •  Full dentures
    •  Custom trays
    •  Try-in bridges”

    Some of these products, he notes, are specific to individual printers.

    BEGO, which now has a desktop resin printer called the VARSEO, is also involved with metal 3D “printing” called selective laser melting (SLM). In this process, a laser is guided by the CAD model and layers of metal are added to the fabrication.

    Nick Azzara, Chief Sales and Marketing Officer of BEGO USA, says, “We are really excited about resin printing.  It offers great options to many solutions inconvenient to mill. We expect dramatic advancements continuing with resin printing in the very near future.  As for SLM technology, while final restorations are not yet made, SLM can be used to produce select components (including copings for single units and frameworks for bridges), ready for porcelain application.

    Must read: 10 things you need to know about 3D printing

    “Crowns and bridges have been the mainstay of SLM, and it’s been a productive technology,” he adds. “SLM gives labs the opportunity to work directly from an STL file to metal without investing, casting and some of the challenges that go with the lost-wax technique.”

    In a clinical setting, some doctors include 3D printing as part of their armamentarium.

    “We use two EnvisionTEC Vida printers for study models, implant surgical guides and the models for the guides,” implant dentist Dr. Justin Moody, DDS says. Dr. Moody is a client of EnvisionTEC.

    Whether or not a 3D printer is physically in use at a clinic, more and more doctors are finding themselves as part of the 3D printing workflow, based on what technology they have chosen to invest in.

    “That is being driven by intraoral scanners,” Chris Frye, Digital Technology Solutions Sales Manager and Dental Channel Sales Manager at Whip Mix, says. “The doctors are buying the digital scanners and they’re sending the digital files to the lab. So when you’ve got a digital impression, you don’t pour-up a model from a traditional impression. You’re printing the model from the digital impression that you’re getting from the doctors.”

    Next page: What's coming? ...

    Robert Elsenpeter
    Robert Elsenpeter is a freelance writer and frequent contributor to Dental Products Report and Digital Esthetics. He is also the author ...

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