Revolutionizing clear aligners in 3D printing dental: MJF's breakthrough in mass customization

Revolutionizing clear aligners in 3D printing dental: MJF's breakthrough in mass customization

With the help of an innovative 3D printer, dental companies are reinventing how 3D molds, and aligners are designed and manufactured.

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What are dental aligners?

Dental aligners are personalized trays that are designed to correct dental alignment issues including minor crowding, rotational issues, relapse, and other malocclusion problems. Using a series of mouthpieces that are changed every few weeks, they put gentle pressure on misaligned teeth and gradually move them into alignment.

They are removable and virtually invisible, which provides better aesthetics than conventional orthodontic braces. Thanks to the capabilities of 3D printing, dental aligners are manufactured through thermoforming of 3D printed molds.

When paired with other innovative technologies, like 3D scanning, augmented reality, and eCommerce-based ordering tools, the process of ordering  aligners offers a streamlined treatment plan and helps patients visualize their path towards inconspicuously achieving a straight smile.

How big is the market for dental aligners?

The global clear aligners market size was valued at USD 4.1 billion in 2022 and is projected to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 30.08% from 2023 to 2030. Demand is being driven by a number of factors, including the increasing prevalence of malocclusions, the growing demand for aesthetic dental treatments, and the increasing availability of dental aligners.

Challenges that aligner manufacturers are facing

The aligner industry is facing a number of challenges, including:

  • Status quo: Traditional orthodontics, such as metal braces, are still the most popular form of orthodontic treatment.
  • Recyclability: Over the course of a treatment plan, it is typical for a patient to receive 10-20 sets of aligners. Significant waste is generated in their manufacturing and use.
  • Scalability: To meet untapped demand, the invisible aligner industry must be prepared to grow quickly.
  • Economics: Many insurance companies do not cover the cost of clear aligners. This can make them unaffordable for some people. Aligner companies need better technology to address this underserved market.
  • Patient compliance: Clear aligners require patients to wear them for a certain number of hours each day. If patients do not comply with the  treatment plan, they may not see the desired results.
  • Manual labor: Companies that still rely on manual labor for production steps face a challenge in achieving mass production.

How dental aligners are manufactured

There are two main phases in the manufacturing of dental aligners:

The first step is to capture the patient's teeth data by using an intraoral scanner or a traditional impression. The resulting digital image is then used to design a personalized treatment regimen for the patient by creating different CAD files that correspond to different aligners that the user will need to wear. The number of aligners needed will depend on each individual. Then the parts are prepared to be 3D printed using an HP sustainable material.

Once molds are manufactured, aligners are produced by thermoforming plastic sheets over them. Once that process is complete, the aligners are trimmed and polished to ensure a comfortable fit. The final step is to package the aligners and ship them to the patient.

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The benefits of 3D printing molds

Before 3D printing evolved, there was no technology capable of producing millions of personalized molds at scale.

A new, more robust 3D printing solution enabled leading aligner manufacturers to deliver high-quality aligners to the market, transforming the way orthodontic treatments are approached and ensuring the continued success of these brands in the dental industry.

HP´s 3D printing solution allows 3D printing dental scalability

Many additive manufacturing technologies are capable of printing a mold, but when it comes to producing aligners, having a technology specifically designed for high-volume production and mass customization becomes crucial. This is where HP Multi Jet Fusion (MJF) technology shines by enabling efficient, repeatable, and cost-effective production at scale, making it an ideal choice for aligner manufacturers who need to produce a large number of aligners with consistent quality.

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With HP’s 3D printer, dental companies benefit

HP Multi Jet Fusion is an ideal example of innovation in additive manufacturing. With it, dental aligner brands and their customers can get additional benefits such as:

• Scalability

HP MJF offers exceptional scalability for dental mold production, resulting in increased productivity. Through build optimization and the utilization of cooling units, it allows high-volume production without any interruptions. Furthermore, the automated processes take scalability even further. This enables mass customization at scale while ensuring a low cost per part.

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• Sustainability

Many of HP´s customers actively participate in Arkema's Virtucycle Program, which offers recycling options for HP MJF polyamide parts and powder. This program replaces the costly and environmentally unfriendly practices of landfilling or burning.

It's worth noting that a significant number of 3D printed molds for thermoforming aligners are manufactured using non-recyclable resins, which ultimately end up being burned or disposed of in landfills.

Thanks to the recyclable nature of HP´s materials and Arkema's program, HP can re-compound high-performance polyamides into pellets suitable for injection molding applications. An excellent example of this is the successful partnership between Ford, Lavergne, SmiledirectClub, and HP, where SmileDirectClub's dental molds were recycled into auto parts for the Ford Super Duty F-250 trucks through injection molding pellets.

• Look and feel

HP MJF technology offers a range of possibilities when it comes to achieving different aesthetics. HP´s 3D Printing Solutions allows manufacturers to achieve various levels of translucency in the final aligners, ensuring that the desired look and feel are achieved2.

How are companies using HP’s 3D Printing Solution for dental aligners?

SmileDirectClub’s aligner manufacturing process is innovative and scalable

SmileDirectClub is a teledentistry company that provides clear aligners to customers. The company uses HP Jet Fusion 3D Printers to produce the molds used to create their aligners. HP MJF enables them to produce the molds quickly and accurately, which allows SmileDirectClub to provide clear aligners to customers at a lower cost than traditional orthodontic treatment.

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SmileDirectClub is the largest producer of aligners in the United States. So far, they have deployed a fleet of HP Jet Fusion 3D Printers at their manufacturing facility in Antioch, Tennessee. The machines can produce more than tens of thousands of unique mouth molds a day, allowing SmileDirectClub to provide clear aligners to customers at a much faster rate than traditional orthodontic treatment.

Read more about how SmileDirectClub is scaling their aligner business with HP MJF.

3D printing dental aligner molds accelerates growth at nivellmedical

Nivellmedical is the company behind the “nivellipso solution”, an aesthetic alternative to fixed braces. The aligner system works with nearly invisible plastic splints that gently—but effectively—move teeth to the desired position.

Every nivellipso treatment case is based on a series of custom-made, removable splints made of biocompatible plastic.

The company uses HP Jet Fusion 3D Printers to produce the molds that are used with its nivellipso dental aligner system. Their innovative solution for straightening teeth combines maximum transparency with an effective design, featuring a unique three-splint system that improves treatment while enhancing comfort for the patient.

Nivellipso’s HP Jet Fusion 3D Printers are able to produce the molds quickly and accurately, which allows them to provide dental aligners to customers at a lower cost than traditional methods.

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Nivellmedical has deployed HP Jet Fusion 3D Printers at its manufacturing facility and is now a leading producer of dental aligners. This allows nivellmedical to provide aligners to customers at a much faster rate than traditional methods.

In addition to the cost and speed advantages, nivellmedical also experienced other benefits from their HP´s Jet Fusion 3D Printers:

  • Improved accuracy and precision: HP Jet Fusion 3D Printers are able to produce molds with a high level of accuracy and precision, which is essential for creating high-quality dental devices.
  • Reduced waste: HP´s MJF technology produces less waste than traditional manufacturing methods, which is beneficial for the environment.
  • Increased flexibility: The HP Jet Fusion 3D Printers can be used to produce a variety of different dental devices, which allows nivellmedical to meet the needs of a wider range of patients.

Read the case study to see how nivellmedical cut the cost of making 3D models by as much as 90%.

uLab Systems achieves sustainability with dental aligners

uLab Systems is a dental technology company that utilizes HP’s Jet Fusion 3D Printers for aligners. The company’s uDesign system uses a digital impression to create a 3D model of the patient’s teeth. The 3D model is then used to produce dental aligners.

uLab’s use of HP´s Jet Fusion 3D Printers has allowed the company to offer a more accurate, comfortable, removable, and affordable orthodontic treatment option to patients. Sustainability is also critically important. After the molds have served their purpose, they are sent to an outside firm, where they are recycled as plastic pellets. This keeps their materials out of a landfill and creates a significant competitive advantage with environmentally conscious customers.

Download the eBook to learn more about how 3D printing dental aligner molds with HP Multi Jet Fusion helped uLab Systems become more productive and sustainable.

Interested in learning more about using HP Multi Jet Fusion for dental aligners? Contact an expert and learn how you can modernize your dental practice with HP 3D Printing.

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Footnotes and disclaimers

  1. Data courtesy of nivellmedical
  2. The aligners are manufactured by thermoforming a plastic sheet over a 3D printed mold. The translucency of the resulting aligner will depend on the surface finish of the 3D printed part.
  3. Data courtesy of SmileDirectClub