Facilitating learning and growth through education and
collaboration with professionals in the orthodontic industry.

Adding 3D Printing Brings New Opportunities. But Make Sure You Know the Facts Up Front.

Increasingly, dental practices and labs are taking the leap into 3D printing for dental models. With more than 10 years of experience working with this amazing technology, I can tell you that if you are realistic about the benefits vs. cost issues, adding 3D printing capabilities can offer some exciting possibilities for your business.

First of all, it’s important to stress how much the technology has evolved and improved in just 10 years. While the initial benefits emphasized production control and turnaround, today’s 3D printed models ensure appliance accuracy that is easily on par with using traditional plaster/stone models.

Then there are the bottom-line opportunities. For instance, having a machine on-site means you can turn invisible retainers around in just one or two days. This alone is a significant customer benefit that could provide additional sales opportunities.

A 3D printer also can improve workflow efficiency by eliminating additional appointments and giving your practice a new level of control over product delivery.

And let’s not forget the “cool” factor. Customers are often impressed by the latest technology, and most people (especially the kids!) love watching a 3D printer in action.

So while they can offer a number of benefits, keep in mind that the savings may not live up to promises made by sales representatives. In fact, there are a number of logistic and expense issues to consider. Here are just a few:

  • Model printing and post production is messy and emits some odors. It requires a dedicated, ventilated work space for the printer, UV curing unit, and ultrasonic alcohol cleaners.
  • 3D printers also require trained staff members to operate.
  • Each printer is configured to work with a specific resin. Additional printers may be required if you wish to work with multiple materials.
  • If your business becomes dependent on 3D printing, it’s a good idea to invest in a backup printer in case of any lengthy maintenance issues.
  • Fabricating acrylic (methacrylate) appliances on 3D printed models requires using a unique releasing agent, another sometimes overlooked expense.
  • There are also costs to consider for IT support, and any potential OSHA regulations that may arise in the future.

Following is a more granular overview of expenses. It’s based on using the Form III printer, one of several high-quality, popular models we use in our lab:

  • Our calculations start with a technician accepting an STL file and going through the entire build process from start to finish. They’re based on a $16/hr pay rate.
  • Labor for file manipulation is $3.46/case (10 min). This is calculated at $16/hr labor with added employee benefit costs of 30%.
  • Post-production labor is $1.04/case (3 min). This uses the same wage as above.
  • Costs for 99% isopropyl alcohol are $37/gal. This is based on $23/gal for initial purchase plus $14/gal for disposal. You can process approximately 125 models with each gallon, which equals about 30 cents/model. Manufacturers recommend two washes per model, but three is ideal.
  • For resin costs, figure on the average model using 15 ml of resin. At 15 cents/ml, this equals $2.25/model. There is also a percentage of wasted resin to be factored in.
  • Printer purchase costs can be depreciated. For instance, the initial cost for our example Form III printer was $4,500, plus $500 for the service plan. The average shelf life is about 2,400 models. Divided into $5,000, that equals $2.08/model.
  • Printer consumables like resin tanks and cleaners may add an additional 25 cents/model.
  • Software for model building and file manipulation can cost up to $2,000/year, which you can divide over the number of models you print that year.

If you are clear eyed in advance about all of the costs involved, as well as office space and staffing logistics, then adding a 3D printer can be a much smoother transition. And once things are up and running, you may be amazed at the benefits this technology could provide for your business and bottom line.