There’s no doubt that 3D printing has disrupted conventional manufacturing. Greener and more cost-effective on many levels, 3D printing is also liberating product design from traditional machine production constraints. A partnership between HP and SmileDirectClub highlights how 3D printing has revolutionized production through “mass customization.”

SmileDirectClub makes it easy and affordable for individuals with mild to moderate teeth misalignment to obtain personalized plastic teeth aligners. New patients visit the company’s SmileShops or a partner dentist for an initial set of high-resolution images of their teeth. SmileDirectClub’s digital platform uses the images to design 12-18 sets of aligners. Worn for two weeks each over 4-6 months, each aligner gently pulls the patient’s teeth into progressive positions along their treatment plan. Patients and providers can view every stage of their treatment plan via the company’s 3D imaging software.

At a facility in Antioch, TN, SmileDirectClub uses state-of-the-art HP Multi Jet Fusion 3D printers to mass-produce individually customized orthodontic molds used for constructing personalized plastic teeth aligners. Digital plans for the molds, generated from the patient’s high-resolution images, provide the HP printers with a precise pattern of voxels: the 3D equivalent of pixels. 

Following the plans, the printers layer industrial-strength nylon into customized shapes and contours to produce a unique mold every six seconds, without the need for reconfiguration or special parts. Clear aligners fabricated from the mold are then shipped directly to the customer from the facility. HP recycles the molds for reuse primarily in the automotive sector, and customers can drop their aligners in the recycling bin along with other plastic items.

Through mass customization, SmileDirectClub has taken on two of the biggest barriers to orthodontic care: cost and the lack of skilled providers in many locations. Costing up to 60% less than traditional braces, virtual checkups using the company’s tele-dentistry platform eliminates the need for in-person appointments. Patients in areas without a participating dentist can request a home teeth impression kit to generate their treatment plan.

By harnessing the many benefits of 3D printing, HP and SmileDirectClub have demonstrated that mass customization is on track to disrupt the health industry. Low-cost, personalized medical products and direct-to-consumer supply chains will likely play a significant role in equalizing healthcare access worldwide.