By Dr. John White,
Smiles by White
As an Align software beta tester and a Tier 7 / Top one percent Invisalign provider, I have had the unique opportunity to get a behind-the-scenes look at the making of Invisalign at the Costa Rica computer design lab and Mexico manufacturing facilities.
The process can be outlined in three phases.
1. 3D Image Capture. It all starts with a digital impression that I take in my office. I use an intraoral scanner to take a very accurate digital impression of the patient’s teeth rather than the goopy “molds”.
2. Design. I fill out a prescription by answering a checklist of questions to determine which software algorithm is used for the basic setup, and I also include special instructions for adjustments I would like to make to each case and send those to the lab technician in Costa Rica. Since I have done thousands of Invisalign cases, I use my expertise to do the final design myself by taking what I get back from the computer and the lab technicians and making adjustments to achieve the desired goal. In fact, I usually program the software and bypass the technician in the lab in about two-thirds of my cases.
3. Manufacturing. As the largest user of 3-D printing technology in the world, the Align Technology manufacturing plant in Mexico produces 200,000 unique aligners every 24 hours. An automated process divides the desired movements into a series of “baby” steps, and each step is printed by a 3-D printer. Then a piece of plastic is heated, pressure adapted, trimmed and polished to custom make each aligner. These aligners are bagged sequentially, packaged in boxes and shipped to my office.
In 2016, I did 396 new cases of Invisalign and this year my practice is on track to do just under 500, which puts me in the top one-quarter of one percent of Invisalign providers. Even with the high volume, the current turnaround time is three to four weeks. This is from the time I take the digital scan, until my patients get the clear aligners—a process that travels from my Northeast Ohio offices to Costa Rica and Mexico and then back to my offices in NE Ohio.