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Setting Up Your Lab

How to plan space for your digital lab.

Space is the primary consideration in setting up any lab. For those creating a lab from scratch, this will be easier. For those with an existing lab, it will be more difficult because many owners will find it hard to eliminate analog components that really serve no useful purpose, but “have value” or “might be used” someday.

Walk through your workflow.

An easy way to consider the space requirements is to mentally walk through the workflow in your mind, understanding that there are usually multiple different workflows that will occur. Then create a map of the lab and plot out the physical dimensions of the equipment space, workspace, storage space, and movement space. Three common workflows to consider are in-house aligner fabrication, digital indirect bonding, and soldered/welded appliance fabrication. The information below will use the in-house aligner fabrication workflow as an example.

Four types of spaces need to be considered:

Counter Space for Equipment | Counter Space for Work | Storage Space | Movement Space

Digital Lab

Counter Space for Equipment

For physical equipment, most manufacturers have footprint and height dimensions available. Equally important is the dimension of the equipment while in use. For example, 3D printers are static while printing, but the printer must be opened to add liquid resin or to remove the printed model. Some printers open vertically others open horizontally; so overhead space or lateral space may need to be considered depending on the printer.

The most common pieces of physical equipment used in a digital lab that occupy counter space include:

This would be used for practice management, lab prescription, workflow management, tooth movement setups, 3D printing, or other functions.

This is the workhorse for creating 3D models from STL files. Several types of printers are available based on the desired use of the output model – The most commonly used in orthodontics is Digital Light Processing (DLP), Stereolithography (SLA), and Fused deposition modeling (FDM).

This can be a commercial product or easily built. Either way, it uses 99% isopropyl alcohol (IPA) for removing uncured resin from the outer surface of the printed models. This should also consider a nearby sink for rinsing the models under tap water and/or handwashing.

This is used to dry the models after washing (others use drying/warming units) as well as to blow off any debris left on aligners after polishing. 

This is a box equipped with lights that emit a specific wavelength of light (most common is 405nm) to perform a final cure of the outer surface of the model. 

This is a standard dental curing light used for curing block-out material for models with significant undercuts.

This is a machine with a heating element and either positive or negative pressure for forming Essix-type retainers on orthodontic models and is something that most offices already have.

This will be used with various trimming/polishing burs for finishing aligners or other appliances.

This is relatively new and not required. However, some form of disinfection or sterilization is needed for appliances fabricated in a lab prior to final packaging. Considering the traditional options of liquid disinfection, we opted for a UVC light sterilization process that requires no rinsing or drying.

This is used for sealing the individual aligner deliver bags after quality control checks.

This can be in any office cabinet, but we opted for a physical rack that allows us to hang pharmacy prescription bags earmarked for specific patients and is located in the lab.

This is a transparent orange box for loading aligner templates prior to clinical delivery.

This is relatively new and not required. 3D printed models are not heat tolerant to the temperature reached during traditional silver soldering. Pulse-arc welding is performed at a much lower temperature that 3D models can accept. If you anticipate making metal appliances, take into consideration the counterspace required.

Some labs will require a vent system for the 3D resin fumes. Every resin has a different composition. Some give off a strong smell, others very little. Some staff may be very sensitive, other not. Local environmental factors that affect this are the office size, the closed or openness of the area, the air exchanged by the HVAC system, ceiling height, etc. We measure the local VOCs on a daily basis and have never required a vent, but it should be considered during lab setup.

Counter Space for Work

The most common work areas include:

While it may be possible to place the computer under a counter, space will be required for the monitor which can also be wall-mounted. Still, unless a tablet is used, space will be required for a mouse and keyboard.

Space is required to remove the models from the 3D printer buildplate. We do this over the sink where the models are rinsed after cleaning in IPA.

This is where aligners are removed from the circular thermoforming material with scissors, then trimmed/polished. This space is directly in front of the lab handpiece.

This is where quality control is performed prior to loading aligners in bags and sealed. This space is directly in front of the heat sealer.

This is where templated are loaded so is directly in front of the light-proof box.  

Storage Space

Another space consideration is that of storage. Some items will be used frequently and are stored in drawers for easy access, while others that are used less frequently can be stored in cabinets or closets.

Several items associated with 3D printing require storage  – extra buildplates, resin tanks, and resin; these items are not used after every print, but should be close at hand as they are used frequently. These items are kept in a cabinet above the printer for easy access. Items that will be used with every print include gloves, paper towels, and model removal tool. These items are kept in a drawer under the printer.

This is something that is used frequently so should be kept close to the thermoforming machine. These items are kept above the machine in a cabinet for easy access.

Movement Space

The amount of space required will depend on how many lab technicians may need to be in the space at any given time. It is important to plan for the future, and consider if multiple people will need to pass by each other in the lab.