Additive Manufacturing, Evolution of Progress
Daniel Alter, MSc, MDT, CDT
There is no question that 3-dimensional additive manufacturing is taking the dental profession by storm. Many experts feel that it will be the prevailing method of fabricating dental prosthetics and appliances in the very near future. Hardware, software, and materials have still some ways to go to make those predictions a common reality. Nonetheless, tremendous thought, energy, and resources are being put forth in both industry and academia to advance the field of additive manufacturing in dentistry and dental technology.
3D printing began with the build-plate method, adding simple deposits layer-by-layer (SLA). Building in small, light-cured increments was relatively time consuming and resulted in prints with a lined, or "stepped," texture. With the newer DLP additive method and its various proprietary versions, the object is cured in a vat of resin and "grows" incrementally. This method offers significantly faster output with a smooth outer texture, and as a result it has opened the door for distinctive production opportunities, like digital dentures, surgical guides, mouth guards, etc. But is that where it all ends? Have we reached optimal additive manufacturing protocols and processes? Many maintain that there will be further development in the way we generate output resin with additive manufacturing, and I, too, believe more will evolve.
Evolution is the nature of industry progress, and additive manufacturing is no different, particularly as it relates to dentistry. Two unrelated studies have been published recently, each documenting genuinely novel approaches to create 3-dimensional objects. One approach has been to utilize video rather than single-source projection of light; thereby the object is cured and built concurrently with other parts of the same object.1 This method has been successful in producing small objects and could potentially produce larger objects as well. The speed in which this technology forms a 3-dimensional object is truly remarkable and in a fraction of the time it is currently done. A different approach claims to 3D print within a soft gelatin methacrylate hydrogel.2 According to the authors, "Our process enables us to construct components that encase other pre-existing solid objects, allowing for multi-material fabrication. We also demonstrated print times of 30 to 120 seconds for diverse centimeter-scale objects." Think of the possibilities this sort of technology could create within our profession!
Both approaches seem promising; whether either could be scaled to production capacity is yet to be determined. It is, however, very exciting to see studies like these because they will undoubtedly propel additive technology forward within dentistry. Astute dental professionals are keeping a close eye on this evolution in an attempt to remain ahead of the curve and harness the full capabilities of this technology.
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1. de Beer MP, van der Laan HL, Cole MA, Whelan RJ, et al. Rapid, continuous additive manufacturing by volumetric polymerization inhibition patterning. Sci Adv. 2019;5(1):eaau8723. Published 2019 Jan 11. doi:10.1126/sciadv.aau8723.
2. Kelly BE, Bhattacharya I, Heidari H, Shusteff M, et al. Volumetric additive manufacturing via tomographic reconstruction. Science. Published 2019 Jan 31. doi: 10.1126/science.aau7114.