On March 18th, Formlabs announced the new Scan to Model feature in their PreForm software, which will directly convert oral scans into printable models. Scan to Model will help dentists with limited CAD experience print their own models in-house.
FormLabs first released their Dental Ecosystem back in 2019, catering to dental professionals interested in printing their own products and models. Today, the dental world has invested in scanning, but is still wary about printing. Almost 30 percent of American orthodontists have an intraoral 3D scanner, but less than 5 percent actually have 3D printing hardware on site.
Formlabs sees that as a bottleneck caused by dental professionals’ unfamiliarity with the tools on the market.
“The biggest barrier in the dental industry now is training and need or willingness to learn digital workflows,” says Sam Wainwright, Dental Project Manager at Formlabs. “A 3D intraoral scanner is just a tool, and the digital impressions it creates are only as good as the user taking them.”
To bridge that gap, the Scan to Model feature converts dental scans directly into printable files. The direct conversion means that users don’t need to use secondary software, or be familiar with CAD modeling; a dentist can upload the raw .stl file from scanning a patient’s mouth and print it directly on Formlabs’ Form 3B printer.
The 3B is an LFS (Low Force Sterolithography) printer that’s specialized for the dental industry, with a flexible resin tank to reduce the peel forces during printing for a smoother build. It prints in “regular” dental draft and wax resins so users can make models, and in biocompatible resins for products like dentures, splints, and crowns. According to Wainwright, the non-biocompatible resins used to print models are the most popular in their collection. And since the printers’ release in 2019, it has been rapidly growing in popularity.
The dental AM market gets less press than its medical cousin, but it is growing steadily. In early 2021, Stratasys released an estimate that the addressable segment for 3D printed dental applications is approximately $1 billion.
“The largest use of 3D printing in the world is a very large dental company that makes over 350,000 horse-shoe arches a day – no other industry comes close,” says Wainwright. But, he emphasizes the need for further development of the software sector, adding, “The digital workflow breaks down if any of those key components [3D printing, 3D intraoral scanners, and dental CAD software] are not yet mature enough, dragging the other parts with it.”