Dental News - Moving the dental world from analog to digital: 3Shape’s success story continues

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Moving the dental world from analog to digital: 3Shape’s success story continues

From right to left: Nikolaj Deichmann (CFO), Tais Clausen (CTO) and one of the in-house developers at 3Shape. (DTI/Photo courtesy of 3Shape, Denmark)
Bernhard Moldenhauer & Matthias Diessner, DTI

Bernhard Moldenhauer & Matthias Diessner, DTI

Mon. 23 May 2011


COPENHAGEN, Denmark: On occasion of Scandefa, a major dental fair in Scandinavia, DTI recently visited the 3Shape headquarters in the heart of downtown Copenhagen, to learn about the company’s new products and future strategies. The historical building right next to Kongens Nytorv square and the Royal Danish Theatre features light and airy rooms, a perfect environment for a young, passionate and ambitious organisation driven by the quest to develop the best technological solutions in 3-D scanning and CAD/CAM.

Often called “The Google of the Dental Industry,” 3Shape was launched 11 years ago in a one-room apartment by two young and ambitious graduate students from the Technical University of Denmark and Copenhagen Business School—Tais Clausen and Nikolaj Deichmann. At that time, Clausen was finishing his master thesis on a groundbreaking 3-D scanning technology and Deichmann was finalising his Master of Finance and Economics. Knowing each other from common friends, they joined forces to participate in the prestigious Venture Cup business plan competition, organised by McKinsey, in which they finished second. Throughout the competition, they constantly discussed how the technology could be commercialised and thus, the idea of launching 3Shape was born.

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Initially, Clausen and Deichmann approached companies in the hearing aid industry with the idea to develop a quality control system for hearing aid shells and ear moulds. Similar to a dental restoration, the devices need to be custom fit to the patient’s hearing canal and are traditionally made by taking an ear impression that is then manually sculpted, cut and used to make a mould—a time consuming, manual procedure.

”During these first meetings, we realised that we could actually create a mass customisation production system,” Deichmann remembered. “So instead of just checking the quality we decided to go directly for changing the workflow completely, from a manual process, where you spend several hours of shaping the hearing aid shells, to a completely digital workflow.”

3Shape digitised the entire manufacturing process by introducing a 3-D scanner for ear impression taking, a management software and a CAD software that is needed to simulate the position of all the electronic components, which need to fit along with the shell into the patient’s ear by taking minimal space and a CAM software for controlling the manufacturing equipment. They developed the system for one specific hearing aid manufacturer but retained all rights to sell the technology to others. There were only six companies controlling approximately 90 per cent of the global hearing aid market and within a period of three years, all of them went from a completely manual to an entirely digital production. Today, about 90 per cent of all hearing aid devices are produced by using 3Shape’s technology.

Clausen and Deichmann were always aware of the 3-D scanning technology’s enormous potential so they soon looked at other industries, such as dental laboratories, where the manufacturing processes are similar to the hearing aid industry. In 2004, 3Shape began to receive an increasing amount of requests from dental companies that were interested in the technology.

”We quickly decided that if we wanted to replicate our success in the hearing aid industry, we needed to go for the full solution to have a very user-friendly system that the dental laboratories would adopt. Therefore, we went to a lot of laboratories, small ones and big ones, and tried to figure out how we could optimise the processes instead of just finding a better way to make zirconia copings. From the very beginning, our vision was to achieve a complete switch from analogue to digital,” Deichmann explained.

3Shape introduced its first 3-D dental scanner and CAD/CAM software for virtual restoration design at International Dental Show (IDS) Cologne in 2005 and the system became a raving success. In the following years, the company extended and enhanced their dental laboratory product range by continuously listening to and involving their customers from the early stages of the product development process.

“Perhaps the most important lesson we have learned is that innovation is only successful if it moves and is guided in directions that truly benefit professionals in their daily work,” Clausen, CTO and spearhead of the 3Shape development team, pointed out.

Today, CAD/CAM has conquered the dental laboratories and clinics, ensuring high profitability by maintaining top level quality through standardised and controlled treatment and production processes that are also benefitting the patient. In Germany, traditionally an early adopter of new technologies, approximately 82 per cent of all ceramic restorations are already produced by using CAD/CAM technology. ”The question today is no longer if CAD/CAM will endure in the industry, but rather when all dental professionals will be taking advantage of it,” Clausen said.

After having conquered the dental laboratory industry, 3Shape also leveraged the proven technologies to the dental clinics. ”We analysed all existing scanning systems on the market and defined what we like and what we didn’t like about them. We wanted to created a system that incorporated all the advantages and eliminate all the drawbacks of the existing systems. Our solution really needed to be faster, easier, more accurate and more reliable,” Deichmann said.

At the opening day of IDS 2011, 3Shape launched its newest achievement, the TRIOS intra-oral scanning solution, which aims to revolutionise the dental practice. The 3Shape booth was literally flooded with dentists trying to get a glimpse of sleek and elegantly designed scanner.

One of the TRIOS 3-D scanner’s notable features is that it does not require dentists to apply spray or powder to coat the patient’s teeth, making scanning an easy, fast and comfortable process that does not ruin scan accuracy by adding material to teeth surfaces. In addition, it can scan any materials, such as metals, semi-transparent materials and skin. It only requires minimal amount of training for use in clinical practice. The scanner captures over 3,000 2-D images per second, which is 100 times faster than a conventional video camera. Dentists who witnessed the presentations at IDS stated that the ”impression-free” dental practice seems to be just around the corner.

An open communication interface allows dentists to send the scanned data via the Internet directly to the laboratory of their choice, where the technician can start designing the restoration immediately using 3Shape Dental System software or the appropriate interface to third party software. The TRIOS communication software also includes a tool to visualise the technician’s solutions for the patient, for example on an iPad, while the patient is still in the chair, which is especially important for anterior cases.

The system is designed to give dentists high-quality restorations and treat more patients rather than spending time and money on chairside milling. It handles a wide range of indications and produces quality 3-D data that can easily be realised by any laboratory.

Generally, digital data is controllable, predictable and available any time by requiring only minimal space. This guarantees that the dentist owns and is able to use patient data without limitations and can potentially export virtual setups to other systems, such as for appliance manufacturing.

Surprisingly, 3Shape is the only major dental company that goes by a non-exclusive basis. All products are designed as plug-and-play solutions and feature open interfaces for connection to third-party applications.

3Shape has been recognised three times as Ernst & Young’s Entrepreneur of the Year in the Innovation category in Denmark. This prestigious award recognises innovation, leadership, state-of-the-art products, international network and clear strategy to pursue continuous growth.

Today, 3Shape’s development team counts more than 100 developers of 22 different nationalities, with a least 30 PhDs among them. All products and solutions are born from the union of cutting edge technology with the latest trends in the industry and in the markets. 3Shape product managers and key developers have regular meetings with distribution partners around the world to keep each product in a top-of-the-class position. During the whole life-cycle, the products are developed in close collaboration with partners, who understand and gather the needs of their customer base and the market.

But even with ten years of outstanding history, 3Shape never stops looking ahead. The company believes that the age of fully digital dentistry is only a few years down the road even if there will always be smaller, traditional dental practices.

For further information regarding 3shape, please follow this link.

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