Dental Tribune International

Teledentistry pioneer invests in mass production of 3-D-printed clear aligners

By Dental Tribune International
June 25, 2019

PALO ALTO, California, U.S.: SmileDirectClub has teamed up with multinational information technology company HP to install 49 Multi Jet Fusion 3-D-printing systems at its production facility in Antioch in Tennessee in the U.S. According to an HP press release detailing its collaboration with the clear aligner maker, SmileDirectClub is poised to further disrupt the US$12 billion (€10.5 billion) orthodontics industry with an increased annual production capacity of close to 20 million 3-D-printed mouth moulds.

Founded in 2014, SmileDirectClub prescribes and manages orthodontic treatment plans through its online teledentistry platform. The company’s sales have had a cannibalistic effect on wider revenues for orthodontic care and its business has been the subject of both controversy and patent infringement suits. In 2018, the American Association of Orthodontics (AAO) went so far as to issue a warning about direct-to-consumer orthodontic companies. The AAO named SmileDirectClub, among others, and recommended an in-person consultation with an AAO member to American consumers considering orthodontic treatment.

Currently marketing its products and services in the U.S., Canada and Puerto Rico, SmileDirectClub plans to expand into the Australian and UK dental markets this year and is banking on HP’s 3-D-printing technology to accelerate production.

With the new printing systems installed, SmileDirectClub will boast the largest Multi Jet Fusion 3-D production facility in the United States. HP explained that the new equipment would enable SmileDirectClub to produce 50,000 unique 3-D-printed moulds every day. Running at full capacity, over 18 million units could be shipped to market every year.

The development was announced at the RAPID + TCT 2019 additive manufacturing trade show in Detroit in the U.S., where the two companies said they intended to revolutionize the path to a straighter smile for millions of people. SmileDirectClub claims that 80% of Americans would benefit from orthodontic treatment, but the costs involved prohibit more than 1% of them receiving it.

“SmileDirectClub is digitally transforming the traditional orthodontics industry, making it more personal, affordable, and convenient for millions of consumers to achieve a smile they’ll love,” Alex Fenkell, co-founder of SmileDirectClub, noted in the press release. He explained that HP’s 3-D-printing and data intelligence technology will enable the company to achieve “this level of disruption” in the industry by increasing the scale, quality and consistency of its manufacturing operations.

Christoph Schell, President of 3-D Printing and Digital Manufacturing at HP, said the two companies “are reinventing the future of orthodontics, pushing the boundaries of customized 3-D mass production and democratizing access to affordable, high-quality teeth straightening for millions of people”.

No date was given for the deployment of the fleet of printers, but the press release said SmileDirectClub expects to ship close to 20 million mouth moulds in the next 12 months.

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