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Case Study

LightForce Orthodontics Brings to Market Fully-Custom Dental Braces

LightForce Orthodontics leveraged the design automation capabilities of nTopology to reduce dental brace design time by a 60-fold. Their patient-specific braces result in better patient outcomes, 33% faster installation, and increased comfort.

To achieve this feat, LightForce had to overcome several challenges related to the design software. These included the amount of time taken to design the brackets manually, the inability of legacy CAD software to track the progress of a multi-step design process, and the difficulty to train new users on the software.

With nTopology, the engineers of LightForce reduced pre-installation time on several fronts by enabling the automated implementation of design processes, the reuse of design workflows, and the ease of training new users.

The result was a 60-fold decrease in the time required to design a custom dental brace for each patient. This helped LightForce to scale up its business, meet the high demands, and ultimately become profitable.

 

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Lightforce's custom dental braces

Technical Takeaways

  • Mass customization: Rapidly design custom products using reusable workflows or fully automated processes.
  • Failure-proof designs: Create robust design processes with modeling operations that never fail throughout the process.
  • Workflow traceability: Track and document the design tasks from start to finish and identify and correct errors quickly.

Business Value

  • Custom medical devices: Generate patient-specific product designs without increasing the engineering time.
  • Train your workforce: Leverage trainee-friendly prescriptive and intuitive features to train your workforce quickly.
  • Scale your operations: Overcome design bottlenecks in patient-specific solutions using robust and automated processes.

Key Statistics

Manual design time

From 10 hours to 3 hours

Automated design time

From 3 hours to 10 minutes

Application Time

From 1.5 hours to 30 minutes

Productivity

100+ dental braces shipped every day

Brackets Per Patient

20 custom designs

Material

Ceramic polycrystalline alumina

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Introduction

LightForce Orthodontics is a dental device designing and manufacturing company founded in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 2015. The company serves as an engineering aide to orthodontists across North America by designing and manufacturing 3D printed orthodontic treatment devices. Their mission is to revolutionize dentistry with their patient-specific dental braces.

This case study sheds light on how LightForce has spearheaded a new era in orthodontics, leveraging the design capabilities of nTopology’s design software.

“The models are better, we save a tremendous amount of time on the design process, and we’re able to bring new people up to speed very quickly.” Amos Benninga, VP of Engineering at LightForce Orthodontics

 

Closeup of LightForce’s 3D printed custom dental braces and tray designed in nTopology

Closeup of LightForce’s 3D printed custom dental braces and tray designed in nTopology

“One-Size Fits One” in Dentistry

Eighty-five percent of patients need wire braces to straighten their teeth. To hold the wire, dentists or orthodontists need to attach brackets (small, square handles) to the front of the teeth. Installing each bracket by hand takes a long time and often results in immense patient discomfort.

LightForce wanted to provide custom-designed, 3D printed orthodontic treatments to help eliminate the challenges of manual bonding and shorten the treatment times. The idea was to create a portal that would provide a fully digital workflow so orthodontists could design fully custom treatment solutions for their patients.

Orthodontists can specify the location of each individual bracket on a 3D scan of the patient’s mouth using LightForce’s online portal.

Orthodontists can specify the location of each individual bracket on a 3D scan of the patient’s mouth using LightForce’s online portal.

The custom brace is placed within a custom tray, and it can be directly attached to the patient’s teeth using dental cement. After light-curing the adhesive, the orthodontist can remove the tray with the braces accurately positioned over the patient’s teeth.

Since the brackets are custom-made to fit the 3D contour of each tooth, orthodontists do not have to spend time bending wires as they would conventionally. The new procedure significantly reduces the time a patient needs to sit in the dentist’s chair from 1.5 hours to 30 minutes.

Scaling Up Engineering Operations

While the idea of creating custom brackets that fit the contour of each tooth of the patient may seem straightforward, executing it without errors in a short amount of time is a significant challenge. The challenge lies in the design phase.

Using legacy design software, it used to take as long as 10 hours of design to create a brace and a dental tray that attaches to 20 differently contoured teeth in a patient.

Preliminary design of LightForce's custom tray in nTopology

Preliminary design workflow that automatically generates a custom tray in nTopology

In this situation, scaling up engineering and manufacturing operations meant that time had to be cut down wherever possible. Three areas presented significant challenges in this regard:

  1. Reduce manual operations: Optimizing bracket design manually took a long time, especially since technicians had to individually custom-design as many as 20 brackets for a patient.
  2. Eliminate redundant steps: It was difficult to track the design and optimization process, which meant that users had to restart if an error occurred.
  3. New user onboarding: Previous software was not intuitive to the user, which increased the time needed to train the staff.

To achieve this, the engineers of LightForce turned to nTopology’s engineering design software. Leveraging nTopology’s design automation capabilities, the engineering team of LightForce built the back end of their product on the software. nTopology is used to generate both the design of the braces and the dental tray that orthodontists use to install them.

Automating design workflows

Orthodontists who use LightForce’s platform obtain intraoral scans of their patient’s teeth and upload them to a secure cloud server. On the back end, nTopology generates multiple versions of bracket designs based on each tooth. Previously, LightForce engineers had to manually optimize each of these designs, which drastically increased the engineering time.

“This is when the automated workflows really shine, potentially saving engineering departments hundreds of hours and providing more consistent product designs as well. It was a game-changer for our company.” Amos Benninga, VP of Engineering at LightForce Orthodontics

Since the critical limiting step in the production of custom-made braces was the designing process, it was crucial to reduce the design time to scale up LightForce’s manufacturing operations. Just by shifting from the legacy software to nTopology, LightForce reduced its manual design time from 10 hours to 3.

To bring down this design time even further, the engineers of LightForce leveraged design automation. nTopology’s Command Line Interface (nTopCL) feature effectively makes manual operations in the design workflow unnecessary. nTopCL enables you to run nTopology workflows in a headless, programmatic environment using scripts. Such automated processes have now helped the engineers of LightForce to fully automate the design step and reduce the design and validation time to a mere 10 minutes.

Tracking & reusing design workflows

A significant challenge that LightForce had noted with the CAD software they used previously was the inability to track the progress of their multi-step design work. As a result, users had no way of knowing which steps they had already completed. To add to this issue, users had to start afresh if they made an inadvertent error in the design workflow. These issues led to an exaggerated design time and hence, hampered the productivity of LightForce’s engineers.

nTopology provides visibility into each step of the design workflow, allowing users to track the design parameters they used in different iterations of the process. It further provides its users the opportunity to identify errors at any stage and reuse previously designed workflows. Error handling and reusable workflows ensure that LightForce engineers do not have to waste their time performing endless repetitive tasks. Instead, they can focus on performing focused reiterations and optimization to yield failure-proof and unbreakable product designs.

Intuitive & trainee-friendly onboarding

Training new employees on using a new and advanced software platform can often prove tricky, tedious, and time-consuming. LightForce identified this challenge early on in its journey when using legacy CAD software to design custom braces. They found it hard to train people to learn how to use their previous CAD software without errors.

“Before, we were using a CAD tool that was not prescriptive and allowed freeform operations. It was more difficult to find people able to learn the process, which, for a growing company like ours, was becoming a real obstacle.” Amos Benninga, VP of Engineering at LightForce Orthodontics

The prescriptive and intuitive nature of nTopology makes it possible for inexperienced team members to swiftly pick up the nuances of the software and use it to its full potential. Its reusable workflows further make it quite trainee-friendly, allowing any technician to reuse a workflow that someone else designed comfortably. Thus, LightForce was able to quickly train its staff to use nTopology to the company’s benefit.

LightForce's dental brackets are delivered in a box and are ready to apply to the patient.

LightForce’s custom dental braces are delivered in a box and are ready to apply to the patient.

The Future of Patient-Specific Dental Braces

Customization of orthodontic and medical devices can have a significant positive impact on a patient’s treatment. This is why the engineers of LightForce are constantly trying to improve the output of the patient-specific dental brackets project.

The most recent addition to the project has been the nTopCL feature which has helped automate the design process even further and significantly reduce design time. The hope is that with similar updates to the platform in the future, LightForce and nTopology will continue to revolutionize patient-specific design and treatment for orthodontists around the world.

Learn more about nTopology

Do you want to know how you can use nTopology to rapidly develop mass-customized product designs for your organization and why leading companies in the aerospace, automotive, medical, and consumer goods industries rely on it? Request a demo to speak with an nTop expert.

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