Faster resin printing, higher machine throughput and easy laser marking integration. These are just some of the advantages the US-based orthodontic lab ODL has seen since they started using Oqton’s Manufacturing OS for their model printing, and aligner and retainer production. The impressive results emboldened the lab to explore new ways of growing with Oqton and to step into metal printing too.
ODL is a family-owned and operated orthodontic laboratory located in Buffalo, New York that’s been serving the needs of dental professionals for almost 40 years with a full range of traditional appliance and digital solutions.
In 2022, the need to improve efficiency came to a head. ODL originally had four Carbon M2 printers for making models for thermoforming retainers and aligners, but two of these were approaching the end of their subscription period. They decided to purchase one Carbon L1 and kept a third M2 on a pay-per-use subscription.
“Our goal was to minimise the usage of the pay-per-use M2 while finding a way to continue to print our current volume”, explains Stuart Steinbock, VP of Corporate Business Development at ODL. The only possible means of achieving this was by adopting Oqton’s efficient, AI-driven software.
“We print hundreds of models a day, of which over half go through our M-series printers”, continues Steinbock. “When we were doing the analysis, we were averaging about six prints a day per printer.
“With Oqton, however, we were able to take that to 8 to 10 prints a day on a 50-hour week. We've since got that up to 12 to 14 prints per day. That’s double the prints per printer, with half the number of printers.”
Much of the initial efficiency gains, explains Steinbock, came from auto-hollowing. The Carbon printers measure the thermal interface of the build platform and cassette where the exothermic reaction is created by the curing of the resin to ensure that a safe operating temperature isn’t exceeded – as soon as it does, it slows the printing process down to allow the heat to dissipate.
Without the automated hollowing offered by Oqton, ODL’s previous ‘solid models’ were generating too much heat and extending print times by 30 minutes, requiring up to two hours per print. “By being able to hollow”, explains Steinbock, “we don't have as much of a cross-sectional area to cure, and so we were able to save half an hour per print right off the bat to give us those couple of extra prints per day that we needed.”
Auto-hollowing has allowed ODL to reduce the total resin needed, which reduces the cost per model. For ODL that averages $100 a day in resin savings.
“The resin savings alone more than pays for the subscription cost of the Oqton software”, enthuses Steinbock.
Steinbock describes the previous system of manually nesting models onto the build plate as like “having to play Tetris” and “remarkably tedious”.
With Oqton, the number of models per build plate has gone up from an average of five up to an average of nine.
“What the team members have remarked is that Oqton’s software finds really novel ways of being able to nest different print files in ways that they wouldn't have thought of”, says Steinbock. “That allows extra files to go in each and every print run.”
The Manufacturing OS also allows print jobs to be queued up in advance. Running a split shift at ODL, the ‘day’ team can drag-and-drop models that were prepared earlier by the digital department. When the ‘night’ team turns up, they already have a full list of jobs ready to go so that the printers are never sitting idle.
The next opportunity that ODL saw for improvement was in the automated thermoforming and laser marking of their aligners. Having ordered a Hamer machine, to automate thermoforming, ODL faced a headache in finding an external database to house and process all the files, and communicate with the Hamer.
With the treatment planning software generating a slew of files for each patient case, processing these different formats so that we were able to coordinate the correct laser positioning and information for marking was “the bane of my life”, admits Steinbock.
“We struggled mightily with finding an independent contractor to write the database and then be able to do the service and support. Hamer suggested, ‘well, you know, there’s this company called Oqton that can do this’. Well, we loved Oqton already, so it was a really easy phone call! Implementation was remarkably quick, efficient and well within our project price target”.
In fact, the next best quote – amid a number of ‘no quotes’ from firms who admitted it was too complex for them to attempt – was three times the price Oqton quoted.
Enabling the Hamer production with Oqton’s automated solution was key to ODL’s growth plans. Prior to the Hamer, ODL was running multiple Biostar thermoforming machines which require a 1 minute 50 second cycle time via a hand-fabricated analogue production method.
Now ODL sees a 20 second cycle time on thermoformed parts through the Hamer machine, informs Steinbock: “It greatly improved our capacity, with less training to be able to pump out thermoformed parts. So it's part of our larger growth initiative, now”.
The next plan is to move into metal printing. Currently ODL outsources a significant number of printed metal parts per day. From July 2023, however, the purchase of a Trumpf TruPrint 1000 model will allow ODL to metal print in-house. “We were absolutely thrilled to learn that Trumpf uses Oqton for their printer and fleet management”, says Steinbock.
If he were to advise other firms considering Oqton software, Steinbock suggests that “AI takes a little bit of time to learn how to do your job best. Even though from muscle memory you're used to doing it this way, it's about being open to change, trusting the process, but then really pushing it. If you need to ask for modifications, or do something to fit your particular business, then just ask them. Oqton is a good partner that's willing to listen to us and be responsive.”
Now, after little more than a year of partnership, “our guys would never let us take Oqton out!” laughs Steinbock. “It's really allowed them to do their job a lot better, with tons less stress, and way more efficiency.”
And would Steinbock personally consider switching away from Oqton? “Nope. You’d have to pry it out of my cold dead hands!”
ODL is a family-owned and operated orthodontic laboratory located in Buffalo, New York. Serving the needs of dental professionals for almost 40 years, it offers a full range of traditional appliance and digital solutions. In 1984, James Wright built ODL from the basement of his father’s orthodontic clinic. Now the firm boasts over 60 staff and describes itself as having “one foot firmly planted in the tried-and-true traditions of orthodontic manufacturing, and the other bounding forward with exciting new technologies.”