In Paul Thomas Anderson's film Magnolia, the character played by Tom Cruise says in a unique scene of the film: "If you look for reasons to the different problems of the world, the answer is always the same: money." If this quotation is in line with the cynicism of the character in this film, there is a background of truth in this disillusioned analysis of the world. This is, in any case, certainly true with respect to dental CAD / CAM. Whether in the dental office or in the dental laboratory, the conquest of the lowest production price is the pinnacle of all battles.
One company has understood this, FormLabs. The Boston based company presented a series of new products last week. These give a very clear idea of the strategy of the world leading company (in volume with around 25,000 printers sold) in the 3D printers industry. The 3D printing industry has the need to expand its market. To date, the only real need that 3D printers have responded to is rapid prototyping. FormLabs is aiming to reduce the cost of use of 3D printers to finally move 3D printing from the prototyping market to that of customized mass production. In reality, today, only the dental industry uses 3D printing for mass production purposes. Indeed, Invisalign® is the largest user of 3D printing in the world, across all industries. Our dental industry sets the tone in a technology that prefigures what tomorrow's factories will be from all sectors. Because we will be faster and more strongly impacted than others by the evolutions of three-dimensional printing, it is important to be interested in the latest trends in custom CAD / CAM manufacturing.
I recommend viewing the keynote that Max Lobovsky, co-founder and CEO of FormLabs, presented at the Digital Factory Event. Before the presentation of new products, Max Lobovsky outlined his vision of 3D printing. According to the young CEO, "the law of More (variation of the Law of More, Editor's note) on the reduction of the cost price of the parts produced by 3D printers will apply as it applied to the cost price of the Electronic components". Thus, according to this law, when the total number of pieces produced doubles, the cost of manufacturing these same pieces is divided by two. It has been nearly 10 years since 3D printers entered the prosthesis laboratories, so it would take 10 years to see their cost of parts reduced by 50%. Given the democratization of their use (thanks in particular to the hyper-competitive price of FormLabs printers), it will take less time than this. In reality, the price of printers has already collapsed.
When, Marketing Director at Henry Schein France in 2007, I brought to market the first 3D Systems printers, we sold them around 100,000 €. The technology used was already SLA (stereolithography), but the only materials available were castable resins. Today, FormLabs SLA Form2 is priced less than 4,000 €, offering a choice of material unthinkable 10 years ago.
Where Max Lobovsky has a more interesting, even disruptive, reflection is in his analysis of the full cost. Beyond the amortization of the printer itself, it is the cost of use of it that is today the important element to act on the costs of the produced parts. This is what FormLabs has been working on. The Form Cell (a stand-alone cell for serial 3D impressions, with Form2) was presented. It is a kind of wardrobe; It makes it possible to operate a series of Form2 printers and accessories (self-cleaning and post-processing units) in an automated and stand-alone way. According to FormLabs, it is thanks to the automation of the manufacturing process in series with a 3D printer and therefore on the reduction of the workforce that the next gains on the overall cost will be essentially realized.
The impact on the price of the manufacture of customed hand prostheses by the company of Mr. Lyman Connor was presented. It is particularly interesting. Thanks to the reduction in the cost of labor and the optimization of the use time of printers, which now operate without interruption, the cost of manufacturing these prostheses has dropped by more than 40%!
Because we are in a very high value-added healthcare environment, the impact of the workforce in the dental industry is very sensitive. That is why FormLabs' approach is particularly relevant to us. Indeed, it is a safe bet that a set of printers Form2 running serially 24/7 will produce models, and tomorrow, complete resin dentures at a cost unimaginable yesterday.
The other innovation presented by FormLabs marks a new technological breakthrough. The Fuse1 printer is a printer adopting laser selective sintering technology (SLS) for a price of less than 10,000 €. SLS technology has been in the public domain since 2014 only. It was a golden opportunity for the arrival of newcomers in a market where the first prices were around € 200,000. It should be noted that FormLabs is not the only company to benefit from the popularization of this technology, the Swiss startup Sintratec had made such an announcement some time ago. It should be noted that FormLabs has integrated from the start the issue of the overall cost of use. Thanks to a removable chamber the printer can be continuously used with reduced downtimes. The cost of consumables is also optimized, this new printer you can use up to 50% recycled powder. It should be noted that the two nylon materials are offered to date with dental use to my knowledge. Will this printer be able to print metal in the future? The question remains unanswered to date.
When it was democratized ten years ago, the technology of 3D printing arrived with a promise: lower labor costs and with its corollary the return of factories from the South eastern countries to western countries. That promise has not yet been fulfilled.
Because the lack of productivity gain (therefore money) was the problem, the FormLabs approach is certainly the missing link for fulfilling this promise. The latest announcement by Max Lobovsky confirms this feeling. New Balance, the sports footwear company also based in Boston will offer its customers worldwide shoes with custom insoles produced with the Form2 printer in the United States. These are now public products with extremely tight cost prices that use such printers.
Dental laboratories and dental offices will, from now on, be less focused on the technical possibilities of printers or milling machines, but on the productivity gains they will bring. It will remain for health professionals to adapt their organizations to optimize the personnel costs associated with the use of this technology. It is a different question ....