Fu said that “all markets in the future will be niche markets” while Weijmarshausen said “the future of manufacturing is not making a lot of a few, but a few of a lot.”
In many ways dentistry is the business of manufacturing customized one-of-a-kind items. This includes everything from a simple filling built in place to a complex removable denture with cast metal and processed acrylic custom fitted to a patient’s mouth.
(By the way one of the things I’ve secretly enjoyed about being a dentist is that I can make things from metal and acrylic that most people can’t.)
With this heritage it is no surprise that dentistry pioneered digital manufacturing techniques. The first commercial CEREC units were sold in 1985.
Just like word processing and digital photography completely changed the printing and publishing industries, 3D printing will completely change the manufacture of goods, including dental prosthesis. Right now consumer 3D printers like MakerBot are available for $2,000 to $3,000. They are not yet equipped to create acceptable dental restorations but there is no reason to believe they won’t be perfectly capable of creating them in the near future. At the very least the technology being developed for consumer products will transfer to dental products making them better and cheaper.