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3D-printing start-up promises 100-fold reduction in print times

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Using a relatively new type of additive manufacturing process called volumetric 3D printing, Vitro3D claims they are able to print objects such as clear aligners up to one hundred times faster than other methods. (Image: Nomadneshot/Shutterstock)

BOULDER, US: After raising an astounding US$1.3 million (€1.24 million) in a seed funding round, Vitro3D will take its place as a commercial rival in the increasingly competitive 3D-printing market. A start-up grown out of the University of Colorado Boulder and the Colorado Life Sciences Incubation Program, Vitro3D offers revolutionary improvements to traditional 3D printing and claims to be able to 3D-print pieces up to 100 times faster than is done using existing methods.

Should the company be able to make good on its claims, its process would take additive manufacturing to a whole new level, making the current printing speed of nearly every other 3D-printing solution on the market virtually obsolete. By utilising a cartridge-based design, there is no resin handling involved. The company also states that the goal is to design parts that require far less post-processing than is currently necessary in production, and this applies to the printing of dental aligners as well as the scaffolds used in tissue engineering.

Though these seem to be lofty goals, if Vitro3D is successful in expanding the current capabilities of volumetric printing, the entire dental 3D-printing market would be turned on its head. The plan is to continue to tackle both speed and detail to ensure accuracy is always maintained. Doing so would mean production times across a number of industries would be reduced.

Dr Camila Uzcategui, CEO of Vitro3D, attributes the company’s proprietary volumetric 3D-printing technology to specific algorithms, carefully designed hardware and material science knowledge. She says that, because the company is now funded, it can “demonstrate the power of [its] revolutionary 3D-printing technology, which offers the potential to change the way complex structures, including intricate custom medical products, are manufactured”.

Currently, methods such as digital light processing and stereolithography are at the forefront of dental 3D printing, but Vitro3D promises that its new technology will be even faster. Volumetric printing is completed incredibly rapidly because the printed object is not built layer upon layer. Instead, the printer uses images projected from various angles to solidify the object within a liquid suspension. The entire printed object is essentially formed all at the same time. Because the object is created by the intersection of lasers, it does not require the supports that are traditionally needed in 3D printing, and the resulting surface can be much smoother and the accuracy even better. Additionally, it saves a significant amount of time in post-processing. The separate machines and products dedicated to post-processing make up a large portion of revenue for most 3D printer companies. However, as other firms are already able to produce millions of aligners with cheap materials, it might take a considerable time for even the fastest technology to take hold, given potentially higher costs related to transitioning methodology, equipment and materials.

Vitro3D promises print times of under 1 minute owing to precisely controlled structure and mechanics, which also results in less waste. Only time will tell whether this latest entry into the field will prove able to compete against the currently dominating companies such as Align Technology, which, from 2021, has produced over 700,000 clear aligners per day. Vitro3D has also not specified whether it intends to be a centralised producer of aligners like Align or offer printing solutions for laboratories or offices.

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