Your orthodontic appliance may have been 3D printed
Creating unique items to satisfy medical requirements is, arguably, one of the applications that additive manufacturing was created for.
Additive manufacturing, which includes processes commonly referred to as 3D printing, has been in the news lately. While you might not have a replicator (ala Star Trek) sitting in your kitchen anytime soon, the thought of creating an object from a model on a computer screen is fascinating.
Such processes have quickly found opportunities for creating one-off items that would be expensive or difficult to make by more conventional manufacturing methods. If you think about where such things are common, medical industries come to mind where implants and that sort of thing are used every day.
The attached video is an interview with Buddy Byrum, vice president of product and channel management for 3D Systems. He says that Invisalign now uses stereolithography to manufacture its orthodontic devices, and has created upwards of 17 million unique sets so far.
Somehow the technology that would marry 3D modeling and printing would make for a fascinating capability to study and manipulate how a patient’s teeth fit together and how they can be moved for better alignment. A technician could see exactly how moving the left side of one of your front teeth back by .015 in. would look and then generate the appliance that would make that movement.
For mass production of low cost items, 3D printing probably won’t displace injection molding or screw machines anytime soon, but for these high-value one-of-a-kind devices, it’s an ideal combination.
Peter Welander, pwelander(at)cfemedia.com