Since their conception in the early 1980s, 3D printers have been applied across countless industries to solve a range of unique manufacturing challenges.
However, the technology was locked behind patents until 2009, which kept costs high and prevented other innovators from expanding upon printer designs.
Fast forward to today and it’s been nearly a decade since 3D printing propelled itself into the commercial market after achieving affordable pricing rates for general consumers, and causing the demand for 3D hardware and engineers to increase dramatically. Now, new innovators have entered the game to enhance 3D printing solutions, such as Structo3D, a company that specializes in developing 3D printers for the dentistry field.
Offering his insider perspectives on their latest developments in 3D printing, and the state of this budding technology, The Burn-In spoke with Marketing Manager of Structo3D, Jonathan Lim.
Discovering the Demand in Dentistry
Structo3D was founded in 2014 as a Singapore-based 3D printing solutions provider that started off by releasing its proprietary MSLA 3D Printing software, allowing printers to produce at higher speeds than previously existing SLA and DLP models.
However, dentists were not the customers Structo3D initially held in mind. When asked how they found themselves as an authority in Dental 3D printing, Lim spoke about how there is an astonishingly high demand for 3D printing in clinical settings.
“The largest user of 3D printers worldwide right now is actually Invisalign, who uses 3D printers to make orthodontal aligners that straighten teeth.
“For us, we never really sat down and said ‘What are we about?’ We just focused on creating quality products to solve the problems we saw as best as possible. We tinkered with different industries and stumbled into dentistry, originally thinking we would probably focus on prototyping, but a dentist gave us a call and said he wanted a 3D printer for his office. From there one thing led to another, and we began focusing everything we did in dentistry.”
Adapting 3D Printer Design
Designing a dental printing solution resulted in Structo3D’s DentaForm model, which Lim expressed was “where the foundation of the company came together.”
This printer boasted higher printing speeds than existing models, creating up to 10 objects in 30 minutes while maintaining the high-resolution printing that’s required for dental equipment and moldings.
But there was still an overlying issue of accessibility in the general users of a clinical setting.
“We realized 3D printers were very messy to operate in clinical environments. They had too many steps that required too much attending to be convenient, and many users became frustrated with operation.”
Setting up the 3D printer, programming its function, adjusting materials, and cleaning the machinery afterward are typically foreign processes to dental environments. As Lim noted, “People using 3D printers in clinics aren’t engineers. They’re experts in treating patients, not operating machinery, which causes a lot of frustration.”
To solve this complex issue, Structo3D released their Velox model, an updated printer designed to streamline machine operations by automating the entire 3D modeling process.
“We wanted to make it as simple as possible for dentists to adopt 3D printers, without needing much technical knowledge. So, we designed Velox to let you plan out the treatment in the software, and from there the machine does the rest.”
The Current Trend toward Niche 3D Printers
Lim attributes a large portion of Structo3D’s success to how they’ve niched their products to specifically accommodate dental needs.
“We realized that these single printer products were being made as one-size-fits-all-solutions for all industries, and were being designed by engineers who were already comfortable getting their hands dirty with those kinds of operations. This technology can be intimidating to non-experts, and that scares people away.
“Over the years, we’ve learned optimizing each application of 3D printing lets us deliver products that actually help consumers.”
While Structo3D was early to apply this strategy with 3D printing, other manufacturers have begun to follow the trend. As Lim explained, “We are starting to see a lot of competitors producing very similar products. As a business, of course, that’s expected. But at the end of the day, this pushes manufacturers like us to perform better, and that’s good because it provides consumers with more quality products and the advantage of choice.”
The Next Step for Structo3D
When asked what’s next for Structo3D, and whether they ever plan to advance their reach into other fields, Lim responded, “At least for now, there’s a lot to do in the dental industry.”
“We’re launching a higher scale automated 3D printer system for larger volumes. Basically, a series of printers that are operated by a robot to simplify manual labor.”
You can find Structo3D’s next project on their website and apply to beta test their scalable dental 3D printing system, Elements.
3D printing has taken the world by storm, and Structo3D are innovating to stay on the cutting-edge as this technology grows.
Do you agree manufacturers must niche their products to best supply consumer demand, or have other thoughts on the evolution of 3D printing? Let us know in the comments below.