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Inside Dental Technology
June 2022
Volume 13, Issue 6

Options Abound on the Market for 3D Printers

Resolution, build platform size, and material considerations are key

Minh Tran

Additive manufacturing technology has come a long way since the introduction of stereolithography (SLA) in the 1980s. The various technologies have converged somewhat toward digital light processing (DLP), with variations such as utilizing LCD technology with masking. The assorted types of printers offer different advantages and limitations, but there are numerous strong options on the market.

What are the most important considerations in selecting a 3D printer?

The first consideration is whether the printer works on an open system. Some closed systems offer great options that might be best for a particular laboratory's current needs, but if you want to ensure that you will be able to print any revolutionary new materials that come out, an open printer is the right choice. Another consideration is accuracy, and the XY resolution is the key for that; the Z depth is more important in determining speed. An XY resolution of 55 μm or lower seems to be the benchmark today. If you can get closer to 30 μm, that is even better, but that typically comes with a higher price point. Lastly, price per square millimeter is key in comparing build platforms and maximizing your investment.

How important are validations, calibration, and instructions for use?

Those are critical factors for patient safety. In the US, you need to work with validated workflows that are fully FDA-cleared. It is so important that companies perform extensive validation processes to provide detailed instructions for use; they work hard to develop them, so users must ensure that the proper protocols are being followed. Calibration is important as well because these machines do fall out of calibration; if the manufacturer recommends calibrating every 20 to 30 builds, then adhering to those guidelines is important.

What are the most impactful applications currently?

By far, the biggest application is clear aligners. The market leader prints 400,000 orthodontic models per day for clear aligner production. It is the most 3D printed part in any industry in the world. In the laboratory, we also still print a lot of restorative models, though that likely will decrease as the model-less technology matures. Direct print applications are on the rise: splints, surgical guides, reduction guides, and anything else that helps the clinician in producing more predictable treatment outcomes. Digital dentures and permanent restorations are becoming viable as well; right now, we are at an inflection point where the engineering, which had once only been sufficient for provisional and temporary materials, is now at the stage where a number of options for long-term use in the mouth are becoming available.

Key Takeaway

The differences between most of the printers on the market today are very subtle, but they are worth considering as you customize your workflow according to your laboratory's needs. The key points to focus on, however, remain precision and accuracy, and you can find those with various available technologies.

About the Author

Minh Tran is the Founder and Creative Director of DentalTechTips, and a dental technician at Essex Dental Laboratory in Windsor, Ontario.

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