Digitalized e-Manufacturing workflows: Direct Metal Laser Sintering technology enables high quality parts, cost efficiency and time savings

At their booth in hall 4.1, booth F48, EOS, the leading supplier of laser-sintering systems, will be showcasing advanced e-Manufacturing solutions for dental crowns, bridges and implants at this year’s International Dental Show (IDS) show taking place in Cologne/Germany March 22 till 26, 2011. This digitalized manufacturing workflow based on the laser-sintering technology enables substantial time savings as well as parts that are characterized by excellent mechanical properties, a constant quality and a high detail resolution. Martin Bullemer, Business Development Manager Medical at EOS is convinced that "cost control as well as flexible and rapid product cycles will determine the future of the dental industry. Manufacturing with laser-sintering can offer all of this." 

During the past year, about 1.5 million individual dental copings and bridges were manufactured in automated manufacturing centers via e-Manufacturing with the EOS laser-sinter technology. Core of this process is the EOSINT M270 - the only system of that kind which produces costs-efficient and high quality dental restorations by using Direct Metal Laser-Sintering (DMLS). With this production process dental copings and bridges made of CE (CE 0537) certified powder based on CAD data can be developed within a very short time thus enabling a dramatic automation and digitalization shift in the dental industry.

From casting to laser-sintering: industrializing the dental industry

Dental restorations have long been conventionally produced primarily from metal through the use of casting techniques. Currently, though, dental technology is undergoing a radical shift and a process of industrialization that has already taken place in other markets. Today, the use of digital dental technology is on the rise and manufacturing processes are being automated. Using the conventional casting production process, a dental technician can currently produce only about 20 dental frames per day. Laser-sintering is a significantly superior method: one fully-automated laser-sintering system can produce approximately 450 high-quality units of dental crowns and bridges within 24 hours. This corresponds to a production speed of approximately three minutes per unit on an average, making laser-sintering a true industrial process ensuring high productivity at a reduced costs.

High quality products, cost efficiency and time savings

By digitalizing the work steps, it is possible to weed out error sources from the assessment of the patient to the production in the lab and to guarantee consistent high quality. This reduces the risk of incorrect preparation or moldings, of imprecisions in fit as well as during the finishing work or costly repetitions. Digital in data generation, laser-sintering at the same time enables a high reproducibility of production properties and a patient-specific serial production. At the same time, this technology is much more cost effective than conventional precision casting. As such, the software supported workflow enables reduced processing times, permitting the dental technician to concentrate on the vital peripheral processing steps of value creation such as aesthetic and function-orientated ceramic veneering.

Technological centrepiece of  dental e-Manufacturing: EOSINT M 270

The technological centrepiece of dental e-Manufacturing is the Direct Metal-Laser Sintering (DMLS) system EOSINT M 270. In order to manufacture dental restorations based on this additive manufacturing method, the 3D CAD data is sliced into layers. The system runs with an Ytterbium-Fibre–Laser with a nominal output of 200W. The desired geometry of dental crowns or bridges is produced in layers by selectively fusing metal powder and with the possibility of integrating identification tags. After production has been completed, supports can easily be removed. Since operating a DMLS system requires personnel only for loading and unpacking the machine, two production cycles per day can be executed. Currently, EOS has an installed base of more than 35 dental EOSINT M 270 systems worldwide.

For the manufacture of dental crowns and bridges, the EOSINT M 270 processes a special cobalt chromium molybdenum-based super alloy, EOS Cobalt Chrome SP2. It is biocompatible and CE-certified for use in the dental industry (CE 0537). This well established material has seen considerable demand in recent years and is very inexpensive compared to precious metal alloys. The quick solidification after melting leads to a fine and homogenous microstructure whereas during the casting there is always a risk of overheating and segregation. EOS owns a large patent portfolio relating to the Laser sintering technology, including rights licensed from BEGO Medical GmbH for the production of dental prostheses and related products using laser sintering technology.

Clients of EOS are convinced by the benefits the EOS technology brings: „We have integrated selective laser melting (i.e. DMLS) into our CAD/CAM system carat because this technology enables dental high quality restorations“ says Dr. Owe Böhm, Head of R&D at Heraeus Dental. „With this, we establish a flexible and efficient way of processing base metal and as such enhance manufacturing options within the cara system. In cooperation with EOS, Heraeus offers an up-to-date SLM technology (DMLS) to CAD/CAM users in their manufacturing centres. As a result, custom-fit, homogeneous Cobalt Chromium crowns and bridges can be achieved.”

Bullemer concludes: „With the DMLS systems our clients today can achieve high precision prostheses with highly reproducible properties. In addition to this, we talk about a controlled process here – production parameters are established and well documented.”

Commercialization of dental Implants over the last three years

Another dental application has experiences a tremendous commercialization push over the last three years. Italy-based EOS client Leader Italia s.r.l. has pioneered the series production of a range of innovative dental implant screws which have been specially designed for production as well on EOSINT M 270 using Titanium material, and include unique advantages. Conventionally such screws are machined from solid metal. In laser-sintering, the screws are grown by melting the metal powder together, so material wastage is avoided. The laser exposure is controlled to produce a hybrid structure comprising a fully dense body with a porous surface morphology, which eliminates the need for coating and offers enhanced bioactivity. It is also a highly productive process.

Because no tooling is needed, different types and sizes of screw can be produced within each job, according to demand. The result is efficient and flexible series production of a high-performance product. Federico Rizzi, Product Design Manager says: “The innovative laser-sintering of titanium enables us to computer-design and manufacture dental implants and relative surfaces characterized by intercommunicating cavities that replicate the bone structure – which is impossible to obtain through traditional surface treating processes. As such we can contribute to advance dental implantology to the next level.”

EOS was founded in 1989 and is today the world-leading manufacturer of laser-sintering systems. Laser-sintering is the key technology for e-Manufacturing, the fast, flexible and cost-effective production of products, patterns and tools. The technology manufactures parts for every phase of the product life cycle, directly from electronic data. Laser-sintering accelerates product development and optimizes production processes. EOS completed its business year 2009/2010 with revenues of 64 million Euros. The company employs 300 people worldwide, 250 of them in Krailling near Munich, Germany.

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