How 3D printing streamlines your workflow


A lab technician tells how using the Stratasys Objet30 Dental Prime 3D printer has improved his efficiency.

Ashkan Afghan is the owner of Creative Image Dental Lab in Southern California. Creative Image is a small, family-owned dental lab specializing in all-ceramic crowns and implant cases. In addition to Ashkan, the lab employs three employees.

Ashkan is in charge of digital production, and recently made the decision to purchase a 3D printer to streamline his digital workflow and model production process. We recently spoke to him to find out how the 3D printer has changed his capabilities, how his dental clients have benefitted and how a printer fit into his existing digital workflow. 

Tell me a little bit about yourself and your lab.

Ashkan: We are a small, family-owned dental lab. I was a dental assistant for about 10 years, and then I switched to working for a large dental lab and then finally opened up my own dental lab in 2010-2011. I’ve been in this business since 1991.

What kind of digital set-up do you have at your lab? What components does it have?

Ashkan: I have the complete Sirona inLab system, which is made up of the inEos X5 scanner, and I have the inLab MC X5 milling, and then use the Stratasys Objet30 Dental Prime printer for 3D printing. A large portion of our intraoral scans come through Sirona Connect, and I’ve also been getting a lot of Carestream [files], but I can accept any STL files.

How did a 3D printer fit into your digital priorities?

Ashkan: Prior to purchasing the Dental Prime printer, we got the [CAD/CAM] system, and we were a traditional lab with in-house milling capabilities. For us to gain access to the Sirona Connect doctors, getting the files was not feasible for us because you have to send out the models to be printed, which can be expensive. Getting a 3D printer has not only opened us up to accepting more digital files, it has also replaced our model room, because I can scan the impression directly from the impression trays we get from the dentist, and we can work off the scan, and then we can print the model and mill the final restoration. While we scan it, it produces a file that we can print out. And it’s the complete cycle-from scans, to milling, to 3D printing. The printer also allows me to print out surgical guides from BlueSkyBio.

Related: 10 things you need to know about 3D printing

What do you primarily use the Objet30 Dental Prime 3D printer for in your lab?

Ashkan: As a model printer, mainly. We can get the models printed out overnight, so it’s not a labor intensive thing, and I can have 20-25 models ready to go the next day; that’s one of the advantages. It’s accurate, and it comes right off the digital scan. And there’s always a cost factor-those three things are the main things. For sure, it’s made our redo rate lower, everything fits better and is more accurate and has made my life easier as a lab technician.  

How have dentists and patients benefitted from the 3D printed models?

Ashkan: They mostly see the printed models and they understand they’re dealing with a higher echelon of lab, and then they already know that we use a full-scale digital production with digital model work. For them, it’s an interesting thing to see the technology being used. For the patient, they often get to keep the 3D printed model as a souvenir.

It’s definitely a value-add to our clients. Our number one reason for having this printer in house is to eliminate our model work, which saves time and money, and now we can accept digital and intraoral scans which before we couldn’t accept.

What are your future plans for your Objet30 Dental Prime 3D printer?

Ashkan: I am planning to tap into the orthodontics world and do orthodontic retainers. Also I’m planning to contact other business/manufacturers, that would benefit from using a 3D printer. It’s not just confined to dentistry. A lot of manufacturers would like to see parts or prototypes. This is a very accurate printer, and I’ve contacted other manufacturers to print out prototypes for them. And obviously they would be charged for the prototypes we print. They don’t know the dental field is using very accurate 3D printers.

Are you excited about more materials being available? What opportunities does that open to your lab?

Ashkan: So far the material I’m using is for the model and surgical guides. I know there is one that is a clear one, if you want to print out the clear one. I haven’t had a chance to use the other materials but I’m sure I will definitely order some in the future.

What was the learning curve for working with the printer? How did ETI Digital Technology help with that?

Ashkan: I think having a background in and comfort with using CAD software helped, and it gave me a feeling for how the 3D model would work. I use Dental Wings Model Builder to create the models, and then Stratasys software to nest the files.

It was pretty seamless to integrate with our workflow because it was the missing part of the technology. My whole lab was built on digital technology-the printer was the missing part of the puzzle, and so when it came in, it closed the loop.

ETI Digital Technology came to our lab for the installation and start-up training for the printer. They have a very knowledgeable technical support team, three of whom are Certified Stratasys Application Engineers. The installation and training of the printer went smoothly. ETI continues to to provide me with ongoing support and service. From a technical standpoint, they have been great. In addition to providing technical support, ETI provides back-up printing for their customers if a machine happens to go down. In fact, we now order all of our printing materials directly from ETI, as they keep an inventory of the build and support resins.

Watch: Going digital with a little help from ETI digital technology

What made you choose this printer?

Ashkan: The reason I chose Stratasys is that they are one of the leaders in additive manufacturing and have been for some time. The reason I went with the Objet30 Dental Prime is that, with anything digital, I like to get the newest and the best in the market and this is the newest right now. It would also do what we needed to do for speed and productivity, and it was right in our budget in terms of price. For our production volume and lab size, this was the one that I wanted. 

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