I ran across these videos showing the step-by-step manufacturing of Invisalign aligners (patient point of view and orthodontist point of view) based on 3D Systems equipment and thought they were really neat to share. In my other life as an engineer/tech writer, I get to follow the latest technological advancements in additive manufacturing, an umbrella term that describes a dozen or so processes that create solid parts out of raw plastics, metals, ceramics and other materials (ask me about chocolate!)
That’s in contrast to creating a part by cutting away (machining) material from a solid block, a process now termed subtractive manufacturing. I figure it’s comparable to how watches were just watches until the digital versions came out, then people had to start describing them as either analog watches or digital watches. (You may have heard about Jay Leno using additive manufacturing to create hard-to-find spare parts for his collection of high-end cars. If you haven’t, check it out.)
This is a custom resin mold for a partial denture (green), made on a 3D Systems ProJet
(Image courtesy 3D Systems)
For some years these processes were called Rapid Prototyping but since you can make real, final-use parts as well as prototypes, that has changed. It’s really like Star Trek and the Jetsons rolled into one – you create a 3D computer-aided-drawing (CAD) file of a part, do some clever software processing to “slice” that information very much like a CAT scan creates a slice-by-slice image, and use that information to control the additive manufacturing system as it builds a part, layer by very fine layer. The processes differ in how they work, what materials they use, and how much it all costs, but the results are amazing and have many applications in the medical and dental fields (see “Rapid Tech aids Medical/Dental Fields,” Desktop Engineering May 2010) as well as in automotive, aerospace, consumer products, the arts (check out the lamps available at .MGX) and toys (custom World of Warcraft figures come to your house!)
So, though this topic sounds rambling, the technology of additive manufacturing plays a very relevant and ever-increasing role in the world of orthodontics. Who knew my two areas of interest would connect so well?