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Inside Dental Technology
June 2024
Volume 15, Issue 5

The Present and Future of 3D Printing Hardware

Key considerations for purchasing and utilizing 3D printers

Minh Tran, RDT

Perhaps the most important factor to keep in mind  about today's 3D printers is that they are only one small part in the 3D printing workflow. Resins and post-processing are critical. Still, selecting the ideal 3D printer for that part of your laboratory's printing workflow is important.

What are the key differentiating features in 3D printers?

The biggest factor is resin availability. I prefer an open system, but if you are considering closed systems, I recommend at least ensuring that they can validate outside materials, so that if something disruptive comes on the market, you are able to take advantage of it. The value proposition of the build plate is important as well, and I recommend considering that in terms of cost per square millimeter in order to have an apples-to-apples comparison with different price points. One more important factor is the light engine; 385-nm light engines have a larger range of photoinitiation, so they are mostly high-quality, whereas some 405-nm light engines are very good but some are not. Consider the manufacturer and where they are sourcing the light engine if it is 405 nm.

Is multijetting the future?

Everyone is saying it is, but I need to see a bit more from the technology. Multijetting is interesting because it allows us to use multiple colors and multiple technologies, which overcomes some of the limitations we find with SLA and DLP technologies. It allows for the printing of some very detailed geometries. However, the material robustness and esthetics need to improve for this technology to be on par with the milling technologies that are the gold standard of today's digital manufacturing workflows. Meanwhile, SLM metal printing and zirconia printing also have a way to go, but we know those materials can be more robust. So, I am apprehensive about saying jetting is the future, but I am definitely monitoring the developments with a lot of interest.

Why haven't we seen more advanced automation solutions for the entire process?

Printing is still very much in its infancy. In the dental profession, we have a lot of people with a lot of expertise in it, and obviously a lot of investment, but printing is still relatively new. Some automation solutions do exist, and all of the manufacturers seem to be focusing on automation now, because there is definitely that gap there. We are reaching the point where printing platforms are mature enough that there is not much differentiation, so automation will be a differentiating way for these companies to really augment their technology.

Key Takeaway

When a part comes off the printer it is only about 20% cured. Washing everything well and curing with a validated curing unit and workflow is necessary to ensure patient minimal cytotoxicity and optimal material properties. Patient safety needs to be the top priority, especially as we move into more permanent and direct-print applications.

About the Author

Minh Tran, RDT, is a dental laboratory technician as well as the founder and creative director of DentalTechTips.

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