If you’ve spent any time looking at the 3D printing industry in depth, there’s a number of things you’ve probably come to notice as well accepted facts. One of these accepted facts is that, if you own or sell UV curable resin based printers like stereolithography, DLP, or inkjet-based material jetting systems, there are three primary markets that tend be always a part of the discussion regarding the use or adoption of these printers. Yes, resin based print technology seems to be highly concentrated in the dental, jewelry, and hearing aid industries when considering non-prototyping uses.
This isn’t to say there aren’t uses or applications for these printers beyond these areas, it’s just that these three tend to be the major areas where a lot of the use cases for resin based printers are concentrated.
Why Resins Make Sense
With its recently published study 3D Printing in Dentistry 2018, SmarTech believes that, of the three popular markets driving a lot of the demand and use for photopolymerization and jetting technologies today, that the dental industry holds a clear advantage for long term adoption and use of such 3D printing technologies. Why?
To start, it might be best to understand why resin based printing is so broadly appealing to these industries in the first place. Stated generally, resin based printing provides for excellent aesthetic quality in terms of surface finish as well as fine feature detail capability, which is highly valued in the manufacture of customized hearing aid shells and casting patterns used in investment casting of small detailed metal items. As you might imagine, the casting of rings and other metallic jewelry, as well as the metal subtructures used in prosthetic teeth, require very high resolution printing and smooth surfaces. Because these industries deal in very small components like these, resin based printers can manufacture many custom components simultaneously even using relatively small printers, with a suitable degree of aesthetic quality and mechanical performance for what is often a relatively short service life for printed parts.
Why Resins for 3D Printing Dental
However, there is a unique marriage of industry demand factors and technological capability when looking at the dental industry specifically which makes resin based printing exceptionally compelling even compared to jewelry and hearing aid manufacturing.
First, resin based printers offer an unprecedented level of value-add capability to dental workflows both in a laboratory and clinical setting because of their ability to serve the full spectrum of dental applications. To date, there are nearing a dozen individual applications for resin based dental printing which range all the way from general dentistry, implantology, prosthodontics, orthodontics, and even into oral treatments for sleep apnea. By comparison, resin printers in jewelry are utilized almost entirely for the production of master models and casting patterns, while in the hearing aid industry are still predominantly used only for the production of custom hearing aid shells for in-the-ear hearing aids. Although there is growth potential for use of resin printing to produce other components in other types of hearing aid products, the vast majority today remains in custom shells –a segment of the industry that has declined around 60 percent since around 2008.
Resin printers used in dentistry also have a massive adoption potential that ranges beyond just the dental production center or laboratory, and into the clinical setting, which widens the addressable market for dental 3D printing nearly tenfold. We estimate (conservatively) that there are around 84,000 dental laboratories and production centers worldwide today, but there are likely around 900,000 individual dental practices or clinics when considering general dentistry, orthodontics, oral surgery, prosthodontics, and more. By contrast, the hearing aid industry is controlled at least 80 percent by six manufacturers who operate likely less than 200 individual manufacturing and design sites where 3D printers are likely to be used.
Finally, the dental industry provides a spectrum of applications which cover both short term and relatively high touch/value devices, as well as a number of medically controlled, long term clinical applications which can be served by resin based print technologies. The distinction here between the first point about sheer number of different applications is that the dental industry provides a greater opportunity for resin based 3D printing to become permanently embedded in critical and long term use applications. As we have seen in the hearing aid industry, the primary use case for 3D printers has undergone major demand fluctuations over just a ten year period due to industry changes. Meanwhile, jewelry manufacturing is inherently sensitive to the global economy, where downturns have already been proven to affect the demand for print technologies. In dentistry, however, resin 3D printing holds the ability to become permanently embedded in the industry with little competition. Though digital milling systems are widely used in dental fabrication today (mostly for permanent ceramic dental restorations), resin 3D printing holds long term ability to improve on the current areas in which milling is utilized and capture market share.
To summarize, check out the table below which highlights why SmarTech believes that resin based printing will be driven to a huge degree by the dental industry over the next ten years and beyond.
Source: SmarTech Publishing
All three industries share the ability to revolutionize design paradigms within their respective markets, though it is clear that jewelry is already realizing this benefit and has been for some time. In dentistry, however, there is a clear roadmap for capitalizing on this capability in the long term by developing the ability to print in biocompatible long term dental composites or full ceramics using a similar light curing process and sintering. Such capabilities could be applied in the future to design entire one-piece custom dental implant systems, entirely printed and super realistic dentures, and more.
In summary, stakeholders in resin 3D printing –whether vat photopolymerization or inkjet based material jetting –need to be ready for the impending long term shift to a high dental mix. Though resin printing will remain highly relevant in all three areas for the foreseeable future, the dental industry appears to show the greatest long term outlook for massive market opportunity into the next decade.