3D Printing

Collaboration enables 3D printing in manufacturing

25th September 2018
Alex Lynn

The originator of 3D printing, 3D Systems, announced at IMTS 2018 that Align Technology, makers of the Invisalign system of clear aligners for straightening teeth, has increased its investment in 3D Systems’ SLA 3D printing technology as part of Align’s continued operational expansion and unprecedented use of 3D printing in manufacturing.

The multi-year collaboration is part of Align’s highly customised additive manufacturing solution that meets the needs of Align’s global business.

Align Technology’s vision is to bring innovative solutions to dental professionals to deliver excellent treatment outcomes and great patient experiences. Since its inception, Align has partnered with 3D Systems to create a customised additive manufacturing component of an end-to-end manufacturing workflow that produces more than 320,000 unique medical devices (Invisalign clear aligners) per day.

Align has harnessed the accuracy and scalability of 3D printing to grow its patient base nearly 6X since 2009, with more than 5.8 million patients treated globally, with each patient representing a multi-piece set of unique clear aligners. Align continues to expand and scale its operations and manufacturing, including localised production in key markets like Asia Pacific, where Align recently opened manufacturing to serve the local market.

Align estimates the total Asia Pacific market for Invisalign clear aligner treatments to be 3 million cases per year. Anticipated overall market growth for the orthodontics market in China is 15 – 20 percent annually.

Srini Kaza, Vice President, Product Innovation, Align Technology, stated: “Align Technology disrupted the orthodontic industry by creating a digital approach to straightening teeth that makes treatment possible for more people than ever. None of what we have been able to achieve would be possible without 3D printing technology. We believe that our manufacturing process is the largest mass customisation operation in the world. We are leveraging our world-class mass customisation capabilities including 3D printing as we expand manufacturing operations in China, Align’s fastest growing region.”

3D Systems partnered with Align to develop a customised solution that meets Align’s long-term business strategy and goals using 3D Systems’ ProX SLA 3D printing technology, materials, and software as part of its aligner fabrication workflow. The additive manufacturing solution is used to create sacrificial tooling, which leads to the creation of the final, patient-ready aligners.

Each component of the additive manufacturing solution has been optimised to meet Align’s unique manufacturing requirements and process. The design flexibility enabled by additive manufacturing has helped Align include risk-mitigating processes that prevent potential confusion of millions of patient-specific devices. For example, each Invisalign patient’s treatment plan includes multiple unique aligners.

One of the benefits of 3D printing is the ability to print many different parts at once, with each print run potentially including aligners for multiple patients. To avoid confusion, each aligner has a unique patient ID which is added into the design of the aligner through the CAD file and printed directly into the device. This unique identifier does not divulge any patient information, yet allows manufacturing technicians to track and manage production and shipment of each patient’s complete set of aligners.

Vyomesh Joshi, president and chief executive officer, 3D Systems, stated: “At IMTS 2018, 3D Systems is showcasing its solutions for large scale factory automation that are transforming manufacturing. Align has embraced 3D Systems’ 3D printing solutions from its inception to produce a first of its kind medical device. Today, the company produces more than 320,000 custom aligners per day, and will surpass that number as new operations, such as the latest facility in China, come on-line, a scale that can only be accomplished with the help of additive manufacturing.”

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