Clear aligners continue to increase in demand and 3D printing has proven to be an ideal technology to produce these mass-customized devices. Silicon Valley-based Carbon has made clear aligners one of its top priorities for expansion in the European market by offering the most seamless solution to produce them at scale using its L1 production solution optimized for clear aligner models. As a Sales Director for dental aligner solutions in Europe, Lea McGurk, has been tasked with helping dental laboratories across Europe understand the benefits of turning to Carbon’s turnkey, the subscription-based business model for their clear aligner production requirements. In this exclusive interview, we dig a little deeper into how Carbon makes it possible to go from one printer to a fleet of printers.
[The] Carbon L1 solution offers software, hardware, and materials designed for aligner manufacturers converting a complex and high-cost production flow into a digital, organized, and cost-effective operational processLea McGurk, Sales Director for dental aligner solutions at Carbon
You recently joined Carbon… how have the first few months been?
“Exciting to say the least! I have met so many people with a similar mindset, with a passion for solving challenges in partnership with our customers. I’ve had the opportunity to get to know all the people who bring added value to our customers through their cross-functional efforts and get familiar with the customer base and their unique perspectives and goals.”
We at 3dpbm knew you from your time in prior career stops – how did you end up at Carbon?
“While I was working at a prior printing company, I already knew of Carbon, and I looked at the company as a great competitor. As a consumer, I knew of course about Carbon’s famous partnership with adidas and the work it was doing to help companies bring better products to market at scale. I bought a pair of trainers even before joining the company! But even more so, I especially admired Carbon’s unique solution for aligner production at scale. When I was contacted a year later by Jeremy Truelove, the Global Director of Business Development for Carbon’s Clear Aligner Solutions, I was intrigued, and especially inspired by the way he spoke of his approach with customers. He shared his vision for how I could contribute to Carbon’s plans and provide support to European aligner companies.”
Can you share more about your contribution to the company?
“The aligner market has become so competitive which has increased customers’ demands for production efficiency. My role is to provide cross-functional consultation with customers across numerous languages. I show customers that adopting the Carbon L1 solution will reduce the need for a high number of employees to execute time-consuming tasks such as analogically organizing their print jobs sequences, placing models manually on the platform, and going through several lengthy steps of post-processing workflows.
“Carbon’s L1 solution offers software, hardware, and materials designed for aligner manufacturers converting a complex and high-cost production flow into a digital, organized, and cost-effective operational process. We focus on customer success and not every company produces the minimum volume to get the most from having a Carbon L1 printer in-house. For those companies, we make alternative recommendations.”
Which of your prior career experiences are you finding to benefit you in your role for Carbon today?
“I have been working with market research and within the AM community for many years globally and during those years I have managed sales and business development teams in a variety of industries. My focus has always been in the medical and dental fields, especially orthotics and clear aligners. The connections I have made with customers, industry players and ecosystem partners through those years gave me a good understanding of what is needed in the market and how now, working for Carbon, I can offer a solution that includes hardware, software, and materials as well as a cross-functional team of experts to guide and support the customer in every step of their production needs.”
What else inspired you about Carbon?
“Carbon in general stands for innovation and a culture of collaboration. The team inspires me with their understanding of the demands facing aligner customers every day. Their approach to solving those customers’ needs is so multifaceted. Carbon is not just a 3D printer manufacturer, but an organization that unites all on one platform to help customers go from design to production at scale, developing unique hardware, software, and material solutions for an elegant factory-in-a-box.
“Adding to all of that, I really love Carbon’s culture, making sure people feel part of a group, despite their experiences, nationalities, and backgrounds.”
Can you provide some additional details on the workflow you just mentioned?
“In an effort to drive cost, variability, and human resource constraints out of the process of aligner model production, the Carbon L1 printers are paired with a set of components that make for an efficient and clear post-processing workflow. Most famously, Carbon’s spinner allows a solventless spin-dry process that eliminates the standard model-washing process that often uses a solvent bath or a media tumble.”
Is this the only spinning solution in the market?
“No, there are others, but I’ve yet to see one so straightforward and efficient.”
What makes it so?
“It’s all about organization and accuracy. First, the spinner that is included with our L1 production solution allows the models to spin on-platform, which keeps the jobs organized instead of putting them into a bucket that has to be sorted later. Second, the spinner rotates at a pace of 10 cycles every second, so by the end of a 2-minute spin, the platform has spun approximately 1200 cycles, resulting in an exceptionally clean model that ensures aligners have an excellent fit. This means that Carbon is not artificially flattening out the peaks and valleys of the anatomy, but instead, it’s spinning off the resin that wasn’t meant to be part of the printed object, which ensures aligners have the best possible fit.”
Would you say that doing away with solvents has a significant positive impact on the environment?
“I would say so! As we become more and more ecologically aware of the harmful effects of harsh chemicals on the environment, Carbon is leading the way in reducing customers’ costs related to the use and disposal of solvents while benefiting the environment. Further, by allowing customers to recollect the uncured resin that spins off the models and use it on a subsequent print job, Carbon’s solution drives down costs per part through more efficient use of its resin. While being eco-friendly can often be expensive, in this case, our customers can build a competitive advantage in production costs while helping to preserve the planet.”
Speaking of resin, you mentioned material innovations…
“Carbon can deliver the broadest range of 3D printed dental applications because we prioritize materials – we invest in the best resins. At the same time, we are always researching and working with our partners on resins that are optimized for speed and accuracy in our printers to keep at the forefront of dental technology while ensuring patient safety.
Carbon has been a leader in material production for years. By producing resins internally and leveraging them across the entire install base, Carbon has been able to provide the reliable performance of a carefully validated hardware-resin pairing, while also passing along cost advantages derived by a consolidated supply chain. We are very connected to our customers and focused on developing hardware, software, and materials according to their needs.”
So how complicated is it to integrate all of this equipment and keep it up and running?
“Installation is seamless and we devote numerous resources to make it simple to get started and even simpler for our customers to keep going and keep growing.
“At the time of installation, Carbon’s teams not only ensure that everything is set up and ready to use on the first day, but are also available as a resource to address any questions specific to each customer’s unique workflows and needs. Carbon’s support team is dedicated to exceptional customer service. But don’t take our word for it, we’ve been ranked number one in customer satisfaction (as measured by Net Promoter Score) by the National Association of Dental Laboratories (NADL) two years in a row.”
“Among other benefits, our customers get access to Carbon Academy – a complete online learning platform and resource hub that allows them to go through training to ensure familiarity with their Carbon solution before our products even arrive in their building.”
“We also offer comprehensive learning paths for digital design training through an expanded partnership with 3Shape that is exclusively available to Carbon customers through Carbon Academy. This modular education platform enables technicians to learn how to design applications including case entry and setup, scanning and importing records, digital design, and exporting files to a Carbon printer.”
How would you say Carbon’s service & support differ from competitors?
“The primary differentiation in customer experience is that our support starts and continues to increase after the installation is complete. Whereas a capital sale structure essentially wipes away the initiative for a company to continue supporting a product after it is sold, Carbon built an incentive for ongoing support into its DNA with the subscription model, which ties Carbon’s success to the customer’s success.
“A system acquisition usually involves high investment and risk, while efficiency and value decrease over time, however, Carbon’s customer service model and subscription offering is built differently. We not only offer real-time support and an integrated service package, but we also incorporate continuous performance improvements via over-the-air (OTA) updates that add new features and capabilities, improved user experience, faster and more accurate prints, and more sophisticated process management. As a result, Carbon technology is learning and operating at the most up-to-date level, avoiding the obsolescence that can afflict competitors.”
In what ways does the subscription model change the way Carbon interacts with customers?
“We have meetings with our customers on a regular basis to maintain relationships and engage in strategic projects to help them achieve their objectives, while we remotely monitor printer health and service needs. We can predictively and preventatively maintain these connected machines through web analytics that tell us ahead of time when a part is going out of spec or when a machine goes down.”
How often does a machine go down?
“Carbon’s technology offers excellent ease of use and best-in-class printer uptime. The printers still do go down periodically, but it’s then that we really shine, with a service team that is dedicated to assessing and rapidly addressing the service issue. During my first week, I heard of one Carbon customer in particular who received a call from our service team, asking what was going on with their printer such that their printer had a strange error message… the customer who answered said they didn’t actually know their printer was down because they were all outside after evacuating the building in the middle of an earthquake! It turns out that the printer had been knocked off its foundation and the printer’s sensitive sensors had picked up on the disturbance and notified Carbon before the customer even noticed!”
Where can current and potential customers get to see the newest Carbon system’s up close?
“We will of course be at Formnext, Carbon’s booth is 11.1 D22. I will be there to speak with interested parties about aligners. We will showcase a variety of industries served by our solutions and will have applications that are already in production at scale on display in the booth.
“The next event after Formnext will be in Cologne, at the 7th DGAO Congress for Aligner Orthodontics. The biggest show is coming up in 2023, with the IDS 2023 at Messe Cologne from March 14th to the 18th. This is where dental professionals get a full overview of all the key industry trends and our aligner technology.”