Medical & Dental

Ashford Orthodontics applies 3D printing, expedites dental production by 24 hours

Five years after its initial experimentation Ashford Orthodontics, a UK based laboratory, has shown great success with its 3D printed dental equipment.

According to CEO and founder, Sean Thompson, “Digital orthodontics was something we knew we had to get into. We couldn’t afford not to do it if we really wanted to be a leading player within orthodontics.”

Clear aligners and retainers produced by thermoforming. Photo via Formlabs.

Adopting digital workflow

Founded in 2001, Ashford Orthodontics was formed in response to an increasing demand for laboratories capable of specialist orthodontic technical services. Additionally, Ashford Orthodontics wanted to offer orthodontists and dentists a fair, cost effective price list.

To keep up with the growing number of digital customers, the lab adopted a digital workflow. Unfortunately, the cost and complexity of operating large-scale 3D printers made it difficult to justify using digital workflow in its business. However, by using twelve Form 2 stereolithography 3D printers, Ashford managed to produce high-quality clear aligners, while remaining profitable, allowing it to attract new customers.

Benefits of 3D printed orthodontics

When Ashford first got into digital orthodontics, it accounted for 2% of its business, but after further integration, that number has risen to 15%. Similar success has been seen in other orthodontic companies, such as Align Technology, which has used its iTero 3D Scanning system to produces 8 million orthodontics per year.

Every day at Ashford Orthodontics, the lab has a cutoff time at 3 PM, after which technicians review new scans sent in by clients. They then plan out treatments and set the necessary parts to be 3D printed overnight. In the morning, technicians clean and dry the 3D printed parts, and later thermoform the clear aligners on the finished models.

In comparison to traditional methods, 3D printing has reduced lead time on products by 24 hours. Additionally, if an order needs to be made quickly, a model can easily be spread along several different 3D printers and completed in a few hours. It also allows for technicians to make quick edits to alliengers/retainers.

Thompson comments, “It shouldn’t cost you any more to provide your services to your clients and patients via the digital route than via the traditional impression route. So what we’ve done is quite simply that we swapped the cost of the plaster models—which aren’t needed anymore—with the cost of the resin model,

“Therefore, your lab bill is exactly the same, whether it’s done via the traditional route or the digital route, except you can have things back 24 hours sooner.”

Form 2 stereolithography 3D printers. Photo via Formlabs.

3D printing in orthodontics and dentistry

As other companies search for new, faster, cost-effective production in dentistry/orthodontics, several have turned to additive manufacturing. In 2016, 3D printer manufacturer, EnvisionTEC, received FDA approval for its 3D printed dental products. Similarly, the Tokyo Dental College has been developing a 3D printing lab for designing and producing inexpensive patient-specific dental models.

Thompson concludes: “When [customers] realize that what we’re providing here is very good quality, they trust us to send us the more complex appliances,”

“At the moment, it’s traditional techniques with a little bit of digital, but in a matter of two or three years, it’s going to be digital techniques with a little bit of traditional. And that’s going to be the driving force for our department moving forward.”

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Featured image shows appliances being hand finished by technicians. Photo via Formlab.

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