Application-Specific 3D Printing ‘Takes the Work Out of Workflow’: Interview with Structo
Structo focuses on taking the work out of the workflow, company Co-Founder and CEO Huub Van Esbroeck tells us.
Just as 3D printing enables customization in production, 3D printers designed for specific applications enable more focused functionalities. It is this application-specific mentality that sees Structo finding success in dentistry with its chairside Velox automated desktop 3D printer.
While the company acknowledges that they could have designed a larger machine with automated post processing, they realized that a desktop system would be more beneficial to those who would be working with the machines -- in the dentist chairside market, that means clinicians, not technicians. Structo sought to create a product that would let these clinicians focus on what they do best in delivering better patient outcomes, with the 3D printer in place to make their lives and workflows easier.
Van Esbroeck fills us in with a look at dental 3D printing designed for chairside use.
In your opinion, what makes 3D printing a good fit for dentistry?
“Dentistry is the one industry where 3D printing is being used as a manufacturing method for high volumes of unique parts on a daily basis. From small dental clinics to large clear aligner manufacturing labs, 3D printing is slowly forming the backbone of what used to be a very traditional industry.
There are currently ~7.4 billion people in the world. Each one requires some form of dental treatment. That is almost 15 billion unique parts to print, something only 3D printing can achieve.
As the entire dental industry is moving towards digitalization and away from traditional impression-taking methods, the increasing use of scanners requires a fully digital workflow on the back end to go from digital scans to physical output.”
What are some benefits of application-specific 3D printers?
“Not all 3D printers are made equal. Despite the hype of 3D printing that made everyone believe that they can print anything and everything with a single machine, anyone in the industry (I am sure you would agree) will tell you this is far from realistic - unfortunately. This is especially true in dental applications, we see large labs that own multiple printers, they very rarely are all the same machine. Lab owners tend to find out some machines are better than others for specific use-cases, and so they eventually allocate each printer for very specific applications. Most labs operate with a dedicated 3D printer for models, another for surgical guides, another for custom impression trays, etc.
When we designed the DentaForm lab printer a year ago, we designed it specifically for high volume model production in dental labs. For that particular application, what matters most to lab operators is ease of use, high throughput, build platform size and speed. We once overheard our competitor describing Structo to a customer as a "one trick pony", as it only prints models. For us, this is almost a point of pride - because what if your lab just needs that one trick done in very high volume, and done faster and better than anyone else - you'd still buy the one trick pony.
When you focus on designing products for very specific applications, you will find that they perform really well in that particular area.”
Where does the Velox 3D printer fit into the dental workflow?
“The Velox 3D printer was designed specifically for the clinic chairside segment of the dental market. With Velox, we take away the hassle of not only post-processing, but also the CAD design process of a typical dental workflow. The idea is that we provide the dentist with a ‘lab that sits on their desktop’; the machine takes care of all the work in between taking the IO scan and receiving the final printed part.
We have first automated the entire post process of cleaning and curing the printed parts, and are now working on integrating the product with CAD design services, so that the dentist just has to upload an IO scan, after which we can provide CAD and file preparation services (support structures, positioning, slicing, etc) in the cloud. Finally, we load the print job directly to the physical machine inside the clinic and start it printing via remote access. The dentist can retrieve the physical 3D printed model/guide/crown ready for use, less than 2 hours later – no intermediate steps required and truly enabling same-day dentistry.”
Can you share more insight into why the system was designed for chairside use, rather than creating a larger system with automated post processing?
“Having the DentaForm printer in the market for labs, we often received inquiries from clinicians who are exploring their options to get into 3D printing - we would nearly always have to turn these customers down. Of course, a few of the larger practices did always purchase DentaForm printers, where their production volume is so high that they basically run a small in-house lab. That said, we always knew that the DentaForm just wasn't designed for the majority of the chairside segment.
When it comes to chairside, what matters most is not throughput or platform size. Unlike dental labs that print hundreds of models a day, a clinic only needs to print a handful of appliances a day, and usually no more than a single piece at a time. The challenge we set ourselves is, how can we build something that will really enable every clinic to start in-house manufacturing, and do it in such a way that same-day dentistry becomes viable without running an in-house lab.
Dentists are not focused on appliance manufacturing in the same way labs are - so we should build technology that allows them to spend more time chairside with the patient, and less time working with machinery like 3D printers, milling machines, and CAD software. The more time they have to see more patients, the more revenue they will generate for their practice.
Velox was designed with all these factors in mind. At the end of the day, you have to know who are you designing a particular product for.
With Velox, we aim to take the work out of the clinician's workflow so that they can have more time to focus on what clinicians do best, improving patient outcomes.”
How does the Velox 'take the work out of your workflow'?
“Existing chairside desktop 3D printers in the market only do a single thing. They print.
Therefore, a very typical workflow you would see starts by the dentist taking an intraoral scan of the patient. They then use that scan to design the required appliance using CAD software, whether it is a temporary crown, a model with a removable die, or a nightguard. After designing and another file preparation step, the appliance will get printed with a 3D printer. Finally, like with all resin-based 3D printing technology, the printed part needs to go through a series of post-processing steps before delivering the final appliance to the patient.
Velox allows you to go straight from intraoral scan to final printed part at the push of a button.
There are 2 aspects of Velox that allows the printer to do this.
First of all, the printer itself is designed with integrated post-processing capabilities:
The system is based on a rotating carousel that rotates to the respective printing process. When the user hits ’Start’, Velox will print the desired appliance. After printing, the carousel rotates to the 2-step aggravated cleaning baths. And finally, the integrated UV light box completes the entire print process.
The other aspect of Velox is the cloud dental appliance designing service we call ‘AutoPrint’. Working with industry partners, we provide this remote designing service so that clinicians can also skip the CAD process and go straight from intraoral scan to final printed appliance.”
How has market reception been since the introduction of the Velox?
“We announced Velox in February 2018 at the annual Chicago Dental Society Midwinter show, and the response has been tremendous ever since. Everyone can't wait to integrate Velox into their workflow ranging from actual customers to industry partners. We are on track to start our beta program late this year, with expected market availability in selected regions early 2019.”
Are there plans for other specifically developed 3D printers to best fit industry applications?
“Application-specific 3D printing solutions is how we approach our product development and we will continue to do so. Another interesting trend in the dental industry is the proliferation of clear aligner therapy in orthodontics. In the past year alone, we have seen a lot of new players inside and outside the industry enter this particular space. We are developing a soon-to-be-announced product line just for that. More news to come.”
What else should we know about integrating 3D printing into dental workflow?
“‘Digital dentistry’ used to be a buzzwords people throw around in the industry, but right now we have reached the point where it is no longer a movement in the distant future. The digital revolution of dentistry is here today. It's now up to the lab owners and doctors to select the right solution that would make the most sense for their workflow. We believe our application-specific approach towards product development will help push digital dentistry even further by delivering solutions based on every specific use case, whether that's in the lab or the clinic.”