Are you a dental practitioner looking to get into digital dentistry through 3D printing? Read on to find out how to choose a dental 3D printer.
Additive manufacturing is becoming an integral part of digital dentistry. The use of 3D printing improves the quality of final products, reduces costs, and optimizes the workflow. Therefore, 3D printing is a logical choice for dental clinics and dental laboratories.
The market for 3D solutions is constantly expanding and additive technologies are becoming more accessible. In this guide, you will learn how to choose a 3D printer for dentistry.
This guide explores the different 3D printing technologies that are suitable for dentistry and how to help you determine which 3D printer to choose. We cover how analog and digital workflows differ and what it takes to integrate 3D printing into your business.
3D Printing Technologies for Dentistry
There are two 3D printing technologies most widely used in dental clinics and laboratories. These are laser stereolithography (SLA) and digital LED projection (DLP). While there are other methods of 3D printing, but they are rarely used in dentistry and are covered in detail in our other articles.
SLA 3D Printing
Stereolithography involves using a laser beam to cure certain areas of liquid photopolymer resin poured into the printer bath. The curing is done layer by layer.
The Formlabs Form 3B dental 3D printer uses a modern SLA modification – Low Breakout Force Stereolithography (LFS) technology. Because the layer is easily peeled off the bottom of the vat when the print bed is lifted, the tension between the layers is reduced, resulting in a crisp, accurate print with improved surface and edge quality.
DLP technology uses the same chemical processes as SLA and LFS. However, the resin is not cured by a laser, but by a projector or UV LEDs that pass through the LCD matrix.
Low Breakout Force Stereolithography (LFS):
DLP projection (DLP):
SLA, LFS, and DLP 3D printers work quite similarly.
The quality of 3D prints differ depending on the design of printers, available materials, costs, and other factors.
How to Evaluate Dental 3D Printers
Here are some of the things to keep in mind when looking for a dental 3D printer.
Precision and Detail
Manufacturing high quality, precise end products is the most important task for any dental clinic or laboratory. Unfortunately, not all 3D printers can provide the required level of quality and accuracy.
When comparing different dental 3D printers, do not limit yourself to studying their technical specifications. Some manufacturers mislead potential buyers with false specifications. For example, some of them commonly refer to layer height, laser spot size, or pixel size as “precision,” even though these do not directly affect the precision of the final detail.
Also, some companies quote a single number for accuracy (say 50 or 75 microns). However, what they are most likely referring to is the upper limit of the printer’s resolution.
Basically, detail and accuracy depend on various factors such as, the quality of the 3D printer, the 3D printing technology used, printed materials, software, post-printing, and how well all of these systems are calibrated. The most reliable way to evaluate a dental 3D printer is by checking the final printed product.
Always compare the stated print accuracy with the scans of actual printed samples. What’s more, ask to print a free sample or order a part of your own design to see if the print quality is as stated.
Ease of Use
Consider how easy it is to use the 3D printer. You and your team will have to learn how to use the equipment and maintain it on a daily basis. Try to find out how easy it is to learn using the new 3D printer by watching a video online, attending a trade show, asking questions to the sales team and so on.
Fortunately, most modern desktop SLA and DLP 3D printers are intuitively designed. Therefore, clinic and lab staff can easily navigate the printing process.
Pay attention to the maintenance that the printer will need and how to interact with it. For example, thanks to the automatic resin dispensing in Formlabs SLA and LFS 3D printers , you don’t have to wonder if there is enough resin to print your product.
Some printers come with proprietary software for preparing 3D models for printing. For example, PreForm is provided for Formlabs 3D printers. Some manufacturers also offer to use third party software. Check the features of the printing software.
The features will depends on the software tool. For example, PreForm offers one-click print setup and a wide range of manual settings to control density optimization, support size, adaptive layer thickness and material and time saving features.
You can download PreFrom for free to test its features.
3D models printed with SLA, LFS and DLP technologies require post-processing. The parts must first be rinsed in a solvent to remove excess resin. Biocompatible parts of teeth, like other photopolymer prints, also require subsequent curing or “baking”, i.e., additional exposure to ultraviolet light to gain full strength.
Formlabs offers Form Wash Rinse and Form Cure “ Bake” solutions that automate these steps to save time keep your production environment clean.
Finally, depending on the design, some prints need to be cleared of supporting structures. Formlabs Form 3B prints supports with reduced contact size, which leave almost no residue when removed. This makes post-processing much easier and less expensive.
The early 3D printers made many unsuccessful prints, and almost half of the life of the machine was spent on servicing. However, the latest generation printers are much more reliable. According to users of Formlabs 3D printers, of the millions of prints made on tens of thousands of machines, the number of successful prints is over 95%.
3D Printer Cost and Return on Investment
When you implement a new technology, it should be financially viable for your business and make a profit.
For example, if your clinic prints surgical templates or dental models to make thermoformed aligners, then costs can be reduced by 75-95%. This is much better than outsourcing the manufacture of these products to third-party laboratories. The savings you will have will be enough to pay for a 3D printer in a few weeks, and then return its cost many times over the next years of operation.
The specific payback periods will depend on the volume of printing and the final cost of services in your clinic.
When comparing different dental 3D printing solutions, consider:
- Upfront costs; the cost of the printer, training, setup, and possibly software
- Operating costs ; consumables, electricity, staff time
- Maintenance and repair costs.
Try Formlabs’ online tool to calculate part cost and lead time using 3D printing and compare time and cost savings with other manufacturing methods.
Materials and Software
A professional 3D printer is one of the most versatile tools used in modern dentistry. The ability to print special materials is key to this versatility.
The material you will use will depend on the printer model.
Advanced dental 3D printers can produce a wide range of items, including:
- High-precision models of crowns and bridges
- Surgical templates and molds for cast and stamped prostheses
- Biocompatible dental products for long-term use, such as splints and retainers
- Orthodontic instruments – transparent aligners and Hawley anchors, which are made by thermoforming on 3D printed models
Some 3D printers only work with “native” proprietary materials, while others may also use third-party materials.
If you prefer using third-party materials, check that they provide clinically acceptable quality and accuracy. Also, keep in mind that using biocompatible materials on non-approved 3D printers violates application requirements. It is better to find out such nuances in advance to know what risks you will be facing when using untested 3D printers and materials.
Manufacturers regularly release new materials with new properties. Therefore, the printer you buy today may be able to create more and more types of dental products in the near future.
Speed and Bandwidth
Consider the printing speed of a 3D printer and its performance. Print speeds for SLA, LFS and DLP 3D printers are generally comparable.
Since the projector exposes the entire layer, the DLP print speed of each layer is constant. This means that the total print time depends on the print height.
SLA and LFS 3D printers create every detail using a laser. Therefore, the print speed will vary from layer to layer.
Generally, SLA and LFS 3D printers print a single print or small parts faster. On the other hand, DLP 3D printers print multiple products faster, filling most of the print bed.
If you are looking to buy a DLP printer, you may have to choose between resolution and work area size. A small DLP 3D printer prints quickly, but only a small amount of parts are placed on the print bed. A printer with a high assembly volume prints more parts at the same time, but often at a lower resolution. Therefore, such a printer may not be suitable for printing therapeutic dentistry models or surgical templates that require increased accuracy.
SLA and LFS 3D printers combine all of these options in one machine, allowing dentists to decide whether they will optimize resolution, speed, or throughput as appropriate.
Throughput and cost of 3D printed products on Form 3B dental 3D printer:
The second option reduces the initial cost. By purchasing one low-cost machine, the lab can test how it works before expanding production in response to demand. This allows you to pay for equipment when you need it, instead of making slow payback large investments in a rapidly changing market.
In addition, when there are multiple printers, the risk of downtime is reduced. If one machine needs service or is busy, you can start printing for the next order on another.
Digital Dentistry and 3D Printing
Several years ago, dental 3D printers were only available to the largest dental laboratories. Today, they are widely used in many laboratories and dental clinics.
To find the right dental 3D printer, consider needs of your business. Also, do your research and evaluate the quality of real prints printed on different dental 3D printers.