Prodways Begins Work on Autonomous Dental 3D Printing
Michael Molitch-Hou posted on March 25, 2019 |
Prodways has unveiled a roadmap for creating clear dental aligners with little human intervention.

Since it was acquired by Groupe Gorgé in 2013, Prodways has been growing and transforming at a rapid pace, developing new 3D printers and materials while acquiring numerous smaller companies and expanding its product portfolio. All the while, some have been wondering when Groupe Gorgé’s own technology, including robotics, would come into play.

Though there may have been other aspects of Group Gorgé’s tech under the hood of Prodways printers, it is with this latest announcement by the French 3D printer manufacturer that we are beginning to see how robotics will reshape Prodways and, potentially, the 3D printing industry as a whole. At the IDS dental trade fair, the company unveiled a roadmap for the automated production and shipment of clear dental aligners made with 3D printing.

Prodways is already involved in the dental market with its MOVINGLight ProMaker L series of 3D printers, and makers of invisible aligners have long used 3D scanning and 3D printing to produce molds for thermoforming custom aligners. Prodways leverage of Group Gorgé’s robotics expertise will help to automate the entire process, from 3D scanning to printing to thermoforming and packaging.

Aspects of the workflow are already available, specifically software for performing intraoral scans and the ProMaker LD10 and LD20 3D printers, which the company suggests are capable of producing “55 dental models” in an hour. Yet to be released is an automatic build platform loader/unloader module, to be released in summer 2019. This module is meant to provide eight hours of continuous production completely automatically.

In Q4 of this year, a “semiautomatic thermoforming and marking module” will be released, which will reportedly be capable of trimming, polishing, packaging and shipping (though these last two features are described as optional). With this setup, Prodways suggests that it will be possible to produce 1,200 aligners a day over three shifts.By next year, a “fully automatic thermoforming and marking module” is planned, which will be able to make 2,250 aligners daily.

These last two versions of the setup will consist of two or more 3D printers that will use a whopping two tons of materials every year. To get a sense of what that means from an environmental perspective, read our article on 3D printing plastics.

Naturally, we’ll have to wait until these modules are released to validate the veracity of the news, but the concept is not so complex that it shouldn’t be realistic. We’ll also want to know the cost and how much intervention is involved. Like technology generally, the reality is far removed from the fantasy, and automation might not actually mean a fully automated factory. And then we’ll want to discuss the ethics of automation and work in general.

If Prodways does deliver on its promises, it’s not difficult to imagine how the same technology could be extrapolated to other applications and industries. And, while other 3D printing companies, like 3D Systems and Stratasys, have their own visions for automated 3D printing solutions, none of them have a parent company with its own robotics division.

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