27 April 2009

Laser-sintering enables automated manufacture of dental crowns and bridges

One sector of the growing healthcare industry that is expanding particularly rapidly is the dental market. Even with the best of hygiene, nearly everyone will at some time need a dental prosthesis or implant.

There are already automated processing centres producing dental restorations of the highest accuracy by laser-sintering EOS CobaltChrome SP2, a biocompatible and CE-certified material. The cost-effective method is challenging even manufacturers in the Far East, helping to keep jobs in Europe.

According to a survey conducted by the Millennium Research Group, the European market for dental crowns and bridges will continue to grow steadily over the next few years. The factors expected to influence this development are many. Technological innovations in the field of manufacturing methods, such as laser-sintering, are all part of the picture. New treatment methods as well as new materials are additional factors that will increase the number of dental restorations in the coming years.

The survey calculated the market value in Germany in 2007 for crowns and bridges to be US$ 900 million - almost one half of the European dental industry's entire turnover. The Millennium Research Group estimates that the European market for crowns and bridges will grow annually by an average rate of eight percent until 2012.

Technological advancements in the field of dental care are contributing to this by employing production methods like laser-sintering to provide dental restorations that are simultaneously more affordable, more readily available and of high quality.

Until now, dental implants have traditionally been made out of metal via a casting process which enables a technician to produce 20 dental frames per day. Laser-sintering is a superior and more productive method: one fully-automated laser-sintering machine can produce up to 450 parts for dental crowns and bridges within 24 hours, and all of the finished parts are of the same consistently high quality.

The time savings and the financial advantage that dental laboratories gain are huge. The messy tasks of deflasking and cleaning moulds are dispensed with, allowing the dental technician to concentrate on his or her core competence, namely the post-processing of the metal structure and its aesthetic upgrade – ceramic veneering.

The technological heart of dental e-Manufacturing, the EOSINT M 270 laser-sintering system, can produce dental implants by direct metal laser-sintering (DMLS) using a focused, solid-state laser. The machine is fed with CAD data to produce, from metal powder and in only a few hours, the most complex of geometries which exhibit excellent mechanical properties, surface quality and detail resolution. The CobaltChrome SP2 alloy was developed by EOS especially for the dental industry for use in the EOSINT M 270.

On its stand at the International Dental Show, IDS 2009, held in Cologne during March, EOS showed the entire dental manufacturing process chain. All the steps involved in laser-sintering crowns and bridges were demonstrated, from the initial scanner to the creation of the 3D CAD data and the laser-sintering machine, ending with the finished veneered product - the skill which remains in the hands of the dental technician.

Commented Martin Bullemer, EOS Key Account Manager Medical, “I am convinced that cost control as well as flexible and rapid product cycles will determine the future of the dental industry. Manufacturing with laser-sintering offers both of these advantages."

The further development of dental CAD/CAM applications with new impression and intraoral scanners will make it possible to send high-quality data directly to the processing centre. The only thing missing would be a dental model for occlusion testing and post-processing, or a workpiece holder for use during veneering.

Such a model can be laser-sintered on a FORMIGA P 100 from PA 2200 powder, a top-quality plastic, on the basis of already available data. Consequently, laser-sintering provides a complete solution for the manufacture of dental implants.

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