Dental Lab Pioneers Highlight the Potential of Digital Denture Production (Part 2)
Wada Precision Dental Laboratories has long been at the forefront of the dental laboratory market in Japan and is one of the largest dental laboratories in the industry. The lab’s CAD/CAM Center, which conducts research into state-of-the-art dental techniques, tested Roland DG’s first dental 3D printer, the DWP-80S, to streamline the denture fabrication process. We spoke to Mr. Shizuo Higuchi, Managing Director and Mr. Norihiro Yoshitsugu, Assistant Manager of the lab’s Production Division about the potential of dentures produced using digital tools.
The DWP-80S is a 3D printer that can produce three types of applications required for making dentures to suit the shape of the oral cavity of each and every patient. It can create custom trays that accurately take the patient’s unique impression, base plates that form the base of dentures, and the casting mold for the metallic framework of the denture. In Part 2, we asked Mr. Higuchi and Mr. Yoshitsugu for feedback after they actually used the DWP-80S.
What is the production process currently being used to make dentures at Wada Precision Dental Laboratories?
Yoshitsugu: We work with 100 to 200 patients per month just at the Osaka Branch, and receive orders for up to 400 individual custom trays. We ask our partner dental laboratories to produce any orders that we are unable to manage in-house.
Higuchi: Many processes are required until dentures are completed, which takes a long time and is hard work for the dental technicians. For example, each custom tray takes around 30 minutes to make by hand, but printing can start in 10 to 15 minutes if a 3D printer is used, including the scanning and design processes. If multiple custom trays are made at the same time, it will be possible to cut production time by more than 40 minutes. Dental technicians can also work on other jobs while the custom trays are being printed, which means even more time savings can be made throughout the entire process. If we can shift to digital technology to produce the parts required for making dentures, it will not only reduce the workload of dental technicians, but also mean that we can shift production in-house for the dentures that we used to outsource.
How was your experience using Roland DG’s dental 3D printer?
Higuchi: I think that the features designed specifically for dentures are very good. The majority of 3D printers for dental use are marketed with versatility that suits a wide range of applications. When it comes to actual operation, however, I feel that individual devices designed for each specific application are easier to manage. Rather than using an expensive multi-purpose device suited to many applications, I think operation is more efficient using multiple dedicated devices that are available at an affordable price like the DWP-80S.
Yoshitsugu: I had mainly been using dental mills and do not actually have much experience with 3D printers, but I found that the DWP-80S is convenient to use and I was able to master it very quickly. The dedicated software has a simple control screen and very few items that need to be configured before starting printing, which meant I could start making dentures straight away. It is also so compact, and I love how easy it is to be placed on the work desk.
What applications in particular do you think the printer will be used for at your lab?
Higuchi: We are planning to use it for producing custom trays. It looks so convenient, as once dentures are made using the 3D printer, they can be fine-tuned quickly and used straight away. For a company like ours that is working toward improving the denture production process, the quick and reliable production of parts required for making dentures is a major advantage.
What are the key points for the successful utilization of digital processes for dental technology?
Higuchi: To improve work efficiency by installing digital systems, it will be essential for operators – the dental technicians – to continue improving their skills, and for the dental laboratory itself to develop an optimal operation system. Young technicians have less experience compared to the seasoned experts, but they take a proactive approach to learning new digital technologies. If we can reduce work hours by adopting digital methods, younger technicians would be able to spend more time learning other techniques, including analog processes, and cut the time required to develop the core skills in half, or even a third of the time compared to previous methods. An example of a system of operation might be experts working on applications that require a high skill level, with younger technicians, who are more accustomed to using digital tools, creating the digital data or operating the devices. I think such a system would raise the work efficiency of the entire laboratory, and in turn increase production capacity.
How do you want to apply digital technology at dental laboratories in the future?
Higuchi: When it comes to dentures, at some point in the future I would like to be able to use digital tools to make them all the way through to the actual completed dentures. The first step to developing a fully digital production process will be to apply digital technologies to one part of production.
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