At the brightly lit “Smile House” manufacturing facility in Antioch, Tennessee, just outside of Nashville, SmileDirectClub employees in purple masks, gloves, and other safety gear work amid the industrial hum of an unconventional production process. The facility is the heart of an innovative approach to manufacturing that has delivered affordable orthodontic treatment and straighter bites to more than a million customers in a major disruption to the 120-year-old, $12 billion orthodontics industry.
In three pristine rooms, much of the action happens within 60 state-of-the-art HP Multi Jet Fusion 3D printers, which follow detailed plans to produce customized molds. Each mold is as unique as the smile on your face and custom made for each customer’s teeth. The molds will be used to shape SmileDirectClub’s signature clear plastic aligners, which are then shipped directly to consumers.
3D printing systems have the potential to evolve manufacturing from mass production of identical products to “mass personalization” of unique, customized products at scale, when and where they are needed, says Ramon Pastor, head of 3D printing technology, operations, and Metals at HP. “It is a great example for many other industries — such as health and wellness and consumer goods — that mass personalization is possible, scalable, and that we can produce it,” he says.
Expanding access and affordability
According to SmileDirectClub, although 80% of Americans could benefit from orthodontic care, just 1% get it, primarily because of cost, among other barriers. Sixty percent of US counties don’t have an orthodontist.
Removing those barriers is a major goal for SmileDirectClub. Braces, the classic strategy, typically cost $5,000 to $8,000, says Dan Baker, SmileDirectClub’s global head of supply chain. SmileDirectClub’s Clear Aligner therapy offers straighter teeth at less than half of that cost: $1,950.