High-End 3D Printing Becomes Affordable
Proper use remains critical in ensuring optimal results
Jessica Birrell, CDT
The future is now with 3D printing in dental laboratories. Anyone who has been hesitant to purchase a printer should educate themselves right away because the technology is here, the precision is here, and the materials continue to develop and advance. Businesses can now balance being on the cutting edge with maintaining uncompromised esthetics and strength in their products.
What are some of the most impactful developments?
This is an exciting time. In the past, the market has been somewhat limited to inexpensive desktop printers that sacrifice precision and very expensive larger printers that are difficult for many laboratories to afford. Now, we are starting to see some options in the middle that are very accurate but also in a lower price range. This has opened the door to more accuracy with models, surgical guides, and other basic applications, but it has also made printing dentures and night guards realistic for more laboratories.
One new feature that I am really excited about is the oxygen inhibition layer that some printers utilize. With this, the printing plate does not need to move up and down to get air; it can remain completely embedded in the resin with the inhibition layer underneath the resin. This allows the material to cure on the plate without the need to move up and down, which can cause distortion.
What are the key considerations when purchasing a printer?
Understand what your laboratory needs and what the main uses for your printer will be. How many digital scans are you receiving that require printed models? Do you want to print night guards and/or dentures? If you are only printing models, what types of cases are you doing? Do you need accurate margins for dies? Some of the smaller desktop printers work well for single units, but the more complex cases are where we start to see some distortion.
While great progress is being made in combining precision with affordability, purchasing decisions still should take into account that some machines are better for certain indications than others. Make sure to research what each machine offers, and then you can determine how each option can best fulfill your laboratory's needs.
How can a user get optimal results from a printer?
Understanding correct post-processing procedures is critical. If you are not utilizing the right curing units and post-processing techniques, you are jeopardizing the quality of the final product. Curing can increase a material's strength, but over-curing can cause the material to distort or become brittle. In my laboratory, we have one curing unit for models and a different one for dentures, as dentures and night guards are best cured in a light polymerization chamber. We experienced a lot of failures before learning this.
Besides post-processing, the key to 3D printing is first understanding your digital design and knowing your parameters, then determining which printing system to use with which material. We are seeing significant amounts of collaboration among manufacturers of hardware and materials to ensure tthe success of the materials with compatible printers.
Everyone should at least be paying attention.
Some laboratories might still be best served outsourcing their 3D printing, but as the industry continues to evolve, there will absolutely be a need for a 3D printer in every laboratory.
About the Author
Jessica Birrell, CDT, is the Owner of Capture Dental Arts in West Jordan, Utah