3D Printing: How One Company Stands Out


I first heard of 3D printing in the fall of 2009 when my teacher showed a video during a school assembly.

The video was of a reporter trying out a 3D printer for the first time. The reporter used computer-aided design to choose a wrench and to customize the color of that wrench.

How My Background Relates to 3D Printing

3D printing is a topic that is near and dear to my heart not only because of the experience that I just shared with you, but also but also because I have been curious about it since and have never gotten much experience with it (sadly, students were not allowed to touch the 3D printer). 

Another reason for my interest in 3D printing is the potential that it has to disrupt the medical technology space. I have always had a profound interest in the health sciences.

I also chose my college (mostly) based on the merits of its pre-physical therapy program and ended up staying in that major for 3 years. During that time I became well acquainted with medical and anatomical terminology, which furthered my interest in 3D printing, as I knew that 3D printing was disrupting the medical technology field.

I changed my major to marketing and ended up working in marketing for a software company.

While I would not describe myself as a dental technologist turned marketer, I might describe myself as a physical therapy student (with a profound interest and curiosity in all aspects of health science) turned marketer.

In fact, I once killed an evening in college watching videos to learn how braces work and how root canal surgery is performed (nerdy, I know). 

Formlabs and The Dental Tech Industry

Moreover, Boston-based company Formlabs is leading the way in disruption of the dental technology space. Formlabs is at the forefront of the 3D printing market and is disrupting the dental space with its 3D printers and software.

SmarTech predicts the sale of 3D printing systems to dental labs will double from $240 million today to $480 million by 2020. SmarTech also reports that 3D printing technology is expected to supply more than 60 percent of all dental production needs by the year 2025.

According to Grand View Research, the 3D printing market in its entirety was worth USD 7.01 billion in 2017. Grand View Research also predicts that the market is set to increase to expand at a CAGR exceeding 16.5% from 2018 to 2025.


According to Sculpteo.com, at EnvisionTEC, a 3D printer manufacturer, the sales of 3D printers for dentistry increased by 75% from 2015 to 2016. Clearly, 3D printing in dental technology is big business and is only growing.

Examples of 3D Printed Dental Technolog

Some specific examples of 3D printed medical dental technology are:

  • 3D printed Dentures
  • Dental Implants
  • Crowns
  • Bridges
  • 3D printed braces
  • 3D printed aligners
  • Replace or repair damaged teeth
  • Orthodontic models
  • Construct surgical tools

For example, 3D printing is helping braces straighten teeth faster with LED Lights. The lights put non-toxic lithium-ion batteries on each tooth that know where to apply more pressure to straighten the teeth faster. 

3D printing is also being used to create invisible teeth aligners.

Why is this significant? 

One day 3D printing will be able to be used for bioprinting, tissue-like structures. Bioprinting could one day be used to treat wounds such as 3rd-degree burns or create replacement organs.

Currently, 3D printing is “limited” to the creation of prosthesis, tools, implants, etc., which is what the list above is showing. The dental technology space is benefiting tremendously from the creation of 3D printed prosthesis, dental implants, tools, etc. 

For example, before 3D printing, creating dentures required highly trained dental technologists who were trained in the use of specific tools and well-versed in anatomy. Dentures and implants also need to fit the patient’s exact morphology. 

Dental Anatomy Is Complex

The anatomy of the mouth is more complicated than one might imagine. For example, when constructing a set of dentures, a dental technologist must keep the following things in mind: 

  • Tooth Curvature
  • Anterior Teeth vs. Posterior Teeth
  • Incisors vs. Canines and Their Different Curvatures (i.e., incisal edge).
  • Mesial Surface – the median line, or the middle of the tooth
  • Distal Surface – farther from the median line of the tooth
  • Occlusal Surface – the surface that comes into contact with the opposing dentition
  • Lingual Surface – The surface closest to the tongue
  • The Height of Contour – the greatest amount of curve, or the greatest convexity or curve from the root axis line
  • Buccal – the side of the tooth closes to the buccinator muscle or the part of the tooth that is closest to the inside of the cheek 
  • And much more

Why This Matters 

When making dentures or prosthesis, the dentist must sculpt the teeth such that the occlusal surface fits correctly and allows for the jaw to fully shut and for chewing to occur correctly. 

There are many intricacies that need to be accounted for when making dentures, implants, or prosthetics and they all need to be accurate to the micron (an extremely small unit of measure). 

In fact, I once read an article about an eagle that had its beak shot off by hunters. Scientists were able to make a 3D printed beak and attach it to the eagle (so the eagle didn’t die), but the beak had to be accurate to the micron and fit in the exact way that the beak was fragmented after being shot off, which is pretty amazing. 

3D Printing Makes Creating Prosthetics Easier 

Dentists can now create dentures, prosthetics, implants, etc. that fit the mold of a person’s mouth perfectly. 

More importantly, they can do so more quickly and easily and not have to worry about mistakes. For example, if a 3D printed device doesn’t fit, then the design can just be modified. Whereas, making a dental device manually requires the maker to start over if they make a mistake. 

How Does This Work? 

Dentists can use computer-aided design (CAD) to design dental products before uploading them to the printer to be created. CAD usually involves creating a wire diaphragm of a product in either 2-D or 3-D.

 In the case of dental products, dentists can design models for the particular dental product that they are trying to create and then upload that to a 3D printer. 

Dentists can also take scans of a patient’s mouth and then upload those scans to the CAD software (Formlabs’ software does this) to make dental products that fit the patient perfectly.

The software allows them to design products that are accurate to the micron. 

What Does This Mean From a Business Perspective? 

 According to Evanodds.com, a dental laboratory could cost upwards of $100,000. Whereas, a 3D printer could be a one time cost of around $20,000. 

Patients also save money, as a crown can cost upwards of $2,000. Patients will be billed less if dentists use 3D printers and avoid the six-figure cost of a dental laboratory. 

Also, as previously discussed, 3D printing makes the creation of dental prosthetics faster, which obviously is good for business. 

Where Does Formlabs Come In?

Formlabs could provide all of the benefits of 3D printing described above and more. According to their website, Formlabs’ printers have accuracy tolerances for margin lines and die surfaces as tight as ±35 microns. That is astonishingly precise. 

They call their printer the “Form 2” and is able to deliver the kind of precision above for less than large-format dental 3D printers that cost $35,000 or more. 

Formlabs also claims that their printers allow the user to print 2-3 times more parts in a single build than DLP printers. They also claim that production environments can see less labor time and costs compared to DLP.

Formlabs allows all of the previously mentioned dental products (crowns, molds, clear aligner models, surgical guides, etc.) to be made from one printer. Formlabs claims the following statistics:

  • 200,000 biocompatible appliances 
  • Over 1,000,000 dental products printed
  • Over 10,000 dental professionals

Formlabs’ software combined with their printers make designing and implementing dental products efficient and accurate. Dentists can take scans of patient’s mouths and then upload said scans to Formlabs’ software. This enables them to design dental products that fit the patient perfectly. 


The dental technology and medical technology space as a whole will experience significant change going forward. The 3D printing industry will be the main catalyst for those changes. Formlabs will be a major driver of those changes so keep an eye out for news from them!