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Accuracy and density optimization in directly

fabricating customized orthodontic production

by selective laser melting
Yongqiang Yang
School of Mechanical Engineering, South China University of Technology, Guangzhou, China, and
Jian-bin Lu, Zhi-Yi Luo and Di Wang
School of Mechanical and Automotive Engineering, Institute of Mechatronic Engineering, South China University of Technology,
Guangzhou, China

Purpose The purpose of this paper is to investigate the research approach to optimize shape accuracy, dimensional accuracy and density of
customized orthodontic production fabricated by selective laser melting (SLM).
Design/methodology/approach A series of process experiments were applied to fabricating customized brackets directly by SLM, using
316L stainless steel. Shape accuracy can be optimized through the study on fabricating characteristics of non-support overhanging structure. A scanning
strategy combining contour scanning with orthogonal scanning, which differ in scanning speed and spot compensations, was proposed to improve
dimensional accuracy. Scanning laser surface re-melting was added to enhance the SLM density.
Findings Optimized SLM parameters lead to high shape precision of customized brackets, and the average size error of bracket slot is less than
10 mm. The customized brackets density is more than 99 per cent, and the surface quality and mechanical properties meet the requirements.
Originality/value The paper presents the state of the art in SLM of customized production (especially medical appliances) by optimizing part
properties. It is the first time that SLM is employed in the manufacturing of customized orthodontic products. It shows the original research on
overhanging structure and compound scanning strategy, approach to optimize SLM part accuracy. An improved laser surface re-melting is employed in
the density optimization.

Keywords Advanced manufacturing technologies, Medical products, Stainless steel, Rapid manufacturing, Laser forming, Optimization, Accuracy

Paper type Research paper

1. Introduction of customized orthopedics surgery-orienting model, customized

crowns and fixed bridge, etc. by SLM (Yang et al., 2009; He et al.,
Selective laser melting (SLM) is a new kind of rapid 2010).
prototyping (RP) technology in the last decade. Its biggest Lingual (tongue side) orthodontic brace with customized
advantage is the capability of fabricating nearly 100 percent brackets is an evolution from standard lingual brace. By
dense metallic parts, compared to other RP technology such designing the bonding pad according to the three-dimensional
as stereolithography, selective laser sintering, etc. SLM is shape of the corresponding tooth, which reduces the thickness
layer-wise material addition technique that allows generating of pad body to 0.3-0.6 mm, the bracket can fit and cover
complex 3D parts by selectively melting successive layers of most lingual surface of the tooth. The reduction in thickness
metal powder on top of each other, using thermal energy of the bracket, bracket bonding pad and arch-wire leads to
supplied by a focused and computer-controlled laser beam. It several significant advantages as compared to prior art
is widely used in the rapid direct manufacturing of mold parts systems and satisfaction of the long-felt need in the art for a
and customized medical appliances in complex shape more satisfactory lingual orthodontic system (Wiechmann et al.,
(Kruth et al., 2004; Hollander et al., 2006; Wu and Yang, 2007). Every customized lingual bracket has a unique non-
2007). Vandenbroucke (2008) and Vandenbroucke and linear curved bonding pad to accurately confirm the three-
Kruth (2007) (Catholic University of Leuven, Belgium) dimensional shape of the corresponding tooth. The arch-wire
have studied SLM of biocompatible metals for rapid slot in the bracket must be precisely 0.46 0.64 mm
manufacturing of medical parts. Yang Yongqiang et al. have (0.018 0.025 inch). To meticulously produce such small
conducted profound research on the directly manufacturing and detailed customized brackets, manufacturers use a RP
system with thermoplastic ink jetting to fabricate wax patterns
The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available at and investment casts the brackets (Grimm, 2006). As for metallic part, the production cost and time would be
significantly saved if customized brackets could be directly

Rapid Prototyping Journal

18/6 (2012) 482 489 Received: 14 January 2011
q Emerald Group Publishing Limited [ISSN 1355-2546] Revised: 10 May 2011
[DOI 10.1108/13552541211272027] Accepted: 29 June 2011

Directly fabricating customized orthodontic production by SLM Rapid Prototyping Journal
Yongqiang Yang, Jian-bin Lu, Zhi-Yi Luo and Di Wang Volume 18 Number 6 2012 482 489

manufactured without any intermediate processes. However, Table II 316L stainless steel powder chemical compositions (mass
improvement is still needed in precisely fabricating SLM- fraction.%)
customized brackets, because customized brackets require
C Cr Ni Mo Si Mn O Fe
extreme shape accuracy (overhanging structure), dimensional
accuracy (, ^ 30 mm) and surface density (.99 percent). 0.03 17.5 12.06 2.06 0.86 0.3 0.13 bal.

2. Experiment apparatus and method be supported. However, for some customized parts like SLM-
customized brackets, the tooth-facing surface of bonding pad
2.1 SLM system and material
cannot be manually polished. So support could not be added
The study was conducted on the independently developed
on the overhanging area of this surface, and the solution could
SLM RP system Dimetal-280 (Figure 1). Its main process
only be raising the fabricating critical angle. So an
parameters are shown in Table I. The processing procedure
overhanging structure model simulating the bonding pad of
follows the basic principle of RP.
customized bracket (Figure 2) was designed to experiment the
As a type of widely applied SLM material, gas-atomized
effects of scanning laser line power (P/v) and scanning modes
ANSI 316L stainless steel powder is used in this experiment.
of fabricating overhanging surface.
316L stainless steel is considered to be a biocompatible and
In order to experiment under the same condition and
corrosion resistant material. And it is much more widely used in
environment, models with different P/v (Table III) were in the
orthodontic area compared with cobalt-chromium and
same SLM fabrication. Because of device limitation, laser
titanium alloys. Table II shows the powder chemical
power P was the invariable 120 W. Scanning speed v varies
compositions. The powder is spherical and its size
accordingly to arrive at different P/v. Based on the fabrication
distribution is d (v, 0.5) , 15 mm, d (v, 0.9) , 30 mm, the
result of overhanging surface model with different laser
mean diameter is 17.11 mm, and apparent density is 4.04 g/cm3.
parameters, fabrication limitations of overhanging surface
were measured and analyzed. Then a set of Typodont
2.2 Overhanging structure model
brackets was fabricated with the optimal process parameter
Overhanging structures are usually met when fabricating
and brackets shape accuracy was tested.
individual parts. The wrap of overhanging areas would limit
the slop angle of overhanging structure that can be fabricated.
Moreover, sink caused by the over-deep melting of laser beam 2.3 Compound scanning strategy
would bring roughness to the overhanging surface. Generally, In this study, orthogonal scanning was used to rapidly and
overhanging surface which is lower than critical angle needs to fully fill the scanning area. Inter-layer stagger scanning
strategy, in which scanning lines of the scanning layer would
lie in the middle of the two consecutive scanning lines of the
Figure 1 Dimetal-280
previous scanned layer, was added into the orthogonal X-Y
scanning so as to enhance density (Wang et al., 2010). The
result is that orthogonal scanning will cause an increase in
surface roughness and obvious steps on inclined surface.
Balling ends of scanning lines abreast in the part surface
built scales pool, resulting in rough edges of scanned layer; in
Z-axis direction, alternating scales edges formed significant
steps (Figure 3). In contrast, contour scanning has distinct
advantages. Contour offset scanning could fabricate an almost

Figure 2 Overhanging surface model


Table I Main process parameters of Dimetal-280

Item Parameter Item Parameter 3

Wavelength 1,090 nm Focus length 163 mm

of fiber laser Table III Parameters of overhanging curved surface fabrication
Max laser 200 W Max fabrication 280 280 300 mm
No. Laser power (W) Scanning speed (mm/s) P/v (J/mm)
power size
Beam # 1.1 Range of scanning 50-2,000 mm/s 1 120 200 0.6
coefficient M2 speed 2 400 0.3
Focus beam 70 mm Layer thickness 20-50 mm 3 600 0.2
size 4 800 0.15

Directly fabricating customized orthodontic production by SLM Rapid Prototyping Journal
Yongqiang Yang, Jian-bin Lu, Zhi-Yi Luo and Di Wang Volume 18 Number 6 2012 482 489

Figure 3 Two scanning modes and their 458 SLM inclined surfaces
Scan space



Notes: Left: orthogonal X-Y with inter-layer stagger; right: contour offset scanning

ideal part contour with controllable size and relatively smooth contour scanning was employed with spot compensation lc
surface. Nevertheless, there are some deficiencies in contour equal to or smaller than the average scanning line width. After
scanning, such as rolling surface caused by high-scanning that, orthogonal X-Y with inter-layer stagger was applied
speed fluctuation, and easily sticking powder on scanning line with spot compensation lxy which must be greater than lc for
(Figure 3). Through the study of this paper it is found that a avoiding the balling ends pool crashing the contour edge. To
low-speed scanning along the contour could get smooth achieve this, the spot compensation lxy should be definitely
melting lines and stable contour. greater than the radius of balling pool.
To optimize the dimensional accuracy and surface quality of
bracket, a scanning strategy compounding linear orthogonal 2.4 Laser surface re-melting (LSR) for density
scanning mode and contour scanning mode with different Customized bracket requires not only the internal density of
scanning speed and spot compensation was applied and more than 99 percent for sufficient strength; but also calls for
experiment on the dimensional accuracy of bracket slot smooth surface without any pore after polishing, so that
bacteria can be prevented from growing. However, Figure 5
(Figure 4). Compound scanning mode was proposed to
improve the precision of a SLS/SLM part (Shi et al., 2007).
More attention was paid to the balance of surface precision Figure 5 Relative densities with different P/v (layer thickness 25 mm)
and density in this study, so interaction between two scan 100
modes was taken into account. During the first scanning,
Figure 4 Two scanning modes with different spot compensation
Relative Density (%)

Desired edge

Contour scan edge with 94

fluctuant width
Orthogonal X-Y scan tracks lc
Contour scan tracks
0.10 0.15 0.20 0.25 0.30
P/v (J/mm)

Directly fabricating customized orthodontic production by SLM Rapid Prototyping Journal
Yongqiang Yang, Jian-bin Lu, Zhi-Yi Luo and Di Wang Volume 18 Number 6 2012 482 489

shows that the relative density could get to 99.03 percent only line power was so weak that appearance of sinking could not
when P/v is about 0.2 J/mm. Morgan et al. (2002, 2004) have be further reduced if scanning speed was continuous raised.
found that a rough surface causes the entrapment of gas upon To summarize, for SLM 316L stainless steel 500, in layer
deposition of a new powder layer. The new layer is being thickness 25 mm, the overhanging surface finish would be
scanned, the gas is superheated and expands rapidly removing finest on laser line power 0.15-0.2 J/mm, and the wrap and
the liquid metal above it, thus creating a pore. We try to apply sinking of overhanging area would be tiniest, the critical angle
LSR to improve scanned surface roughness and increase the could low to 308.
relative density. In the study by Yasa and Kruth (2009), after In conclusion, lower scanning laser line power (power/
scanning a layer and melting the powder, the same slice was velocity, P/v) should be applied in fabricating the customized
scanned again by the scanning path offset a certain distance part with non-support overhanging structure for leveling up
before putting a new layer of powder, after that the re-melted its fabricating limitation. Meanwhile, the overhanging surface
layer became smooth, and the porosity of the box was reduced that was lower than the critical angle should be avoided by
to 0.05 percent. properly positioning the parts.
In this study, unlike the re-melting mode in Yasa et al.s
research, the SLM scanning path would rotate 908 as LSR 3.1.2 Overhanging structure fabricating effect
path after scanning a layer and melting the powder, with Figure 8(a) shows the CAD model of practical customized
relatively faster scanning speed and larger scanning spacing brackets, of which the bottom are support and others are
than SLM to re-melt the surface (Figure 6). Every re-melting brackets. The upper half section of bracket is overhanging
scanning line would sweep over the SLM tracks vertically, re- structure. It is fabricated in 25 mm layer thickness and 0.2 J/
melt the peak of the tracks, and fill the gaps between two or mm laser scanning energy (laser power 120 W, scanning speed
more consecutive-melted lines. Eventually, the re-melted 600 mm/s). Showed in Figure 8(b), the overhanging
surface became smooth and dense, which might make powder structures were entirely fabricated without obvious wrap and
spreading even and greatly lower the possibility of pore sinking compared to the CAD model. Without sinking, the
production. We used the process parameters of SLM- overhanging surface was dense and shining, which fully
customized brackets to build a box and then experimented expressed the non-linear overhanging surface.
LSR with different parameters, get the box with the density Further, 12 brackets with obvious overhanging structure
up to 99.36 percent and brightly surface, shown in Figure 6. were collected and their dimensions accuracies of overhanging
In directly fabricating customized brackets by SLM, LSR structures were compared. The height a of bracket bonding
was added into the fabricating strategy as an additive strategy. pad in building direction (Z-axis) and horizontal width b of
In order to be processed continuously, we use a higher overhanging structures were measured, respectively, and the
scanning speed (800-1,000 mm/s), a greater scanning spacing results were then compared to the designing dimensions
(0.08-0.1 mm) to re-melt the surface once every layer, without (Figure 8(c)). Table IV shows the measurement result, in
changing the SLM scanning power. Meanwhile, in order not which a and b are designing dimensions, a0 and b0 are
to affect the contour accuracy of SLM scanning layer, spot measured result, e1 and e2 are respective errors. It shows that
compensation for LSR should be slightly larger than the the height errors of 11 brackets are , 0.1 mm in building
contour scanning (0.06-0.08 mm). direction except for No. 10 bracket (0.13 mm). On the other
hand, in the horizontal direction, error e2 depends on system
scanning accuracy, and the result (0.01 mm) fits the system
3. Results and discussion scanning accuracy.
3.1 Shape accuracy
3.1.1 Fabricating overhanging structure without support 3.2 Dimensional accuracy of bracket slot
The experiment results showed that scanning laser line power Table V is the optimized compounding scanning strategy of
(P/v) was the primary factor affecting the built overhanging SLM-customized bracket. Because of the existence of non-
surface. After measuring and analyzing the build model, wrap support overhanging structure, the setting of laser power and
and sinking were both appeared on the surface (Figure 7). scanning speed vxy are based on the conclusion of fabricating
Measuring results showed that the higher laser line power, the overhanging structure without support, which is with laser
more serious wrap would be. When the scanning speed rose, line power 0.15-0.2 J/mm (120 W/600-800 mm/s) and
the wrap of overhanging layer would be weaker, so as to the orthogonal X-Y scanning to fill the selective area. Based on
incline angle that appeared sinking (Figure 7). On the other the SLM scanning line width 0.11-0.12 mm, the spot
hand, when the laser line power was decreased to 0.15-0.2 J/ compensation of contour scanning lc was set as 0.05-
mm, the improvement of surface finish by decreasing the laser 0.06 mm. And the spot compensation of orthogonal X-Y
scanning lxy was set as greater than lc in 0.08-0.1 mm.
Figure 6 The brackets fabricated by the optimized compounding
scanning strategy (vc: 200 mm/s, lc: 0.06 mm, vxy: 600 mm/s
and lxy: 0.1 mm) also are showed in Figure 8(a). Their slot
Laser Beam
Remelting Direction width was measured by a microscope (Figure 9). Customized
bracket slot was designed to be 0.45 or 0.65 mm wide
Remelted Surface SLM Tracks depending on its corresponding tooth for containing the
maximum size square orthodontic archwire (1800 2500 ). The
production standard requires width error to be smaller than
^30 mm. The measured results with compound scanning mode
Notes: Right: schematic diagram of LSR; left: a LSR box and original orthogonal scanning are collected in Table VI.
(remelting ten times) In the total 24 brackets, there are 20 brackets with slot width

Directly fabricating customized orthodontic production by SLM Rapid Prototyping Journal
Yongqiang Yang, Jian-bin Lu, Zhi-Yi Luo and Di Wang Volume 18 Number 6 2012 482 489

Figure 7 Effect of scanning speed on the overhanging surface with 120 W and orthogonal X-Y scanning

Begin Sinking
60 Totally Sinking
Forming Failure
Forming 50

Angle ()
Totally sinking 30
transition 10

Dence Surface 0
200 400 600 800
Scan Speed (mm/s)

Notes: Left: fabricating model by scanning speed 200 mm/s; right: fabricating effect by different
scanning speed

Figure 8 Customized brackets fabrication example





Notes: (a) CAD model; (b) SLM brackets (without after treatment); (c) measuring dimensions (layer
thickness h: 25 mm; power: 120 W; scanning speed: 600 mm/s)
Table IV Measurement result of overhanging structure of customized brackets (mm)
No. a a0 e1 b b0 e2
1 6.125 6.16 0.03 2.006 2.02 0.01
2 9.235 9.30 0.06 2.263 2.26 0.00
3 8.015 8.08 0.06 1.797 1.80 0.00
4 5.313 5.32 0.01 1.694 1.70 0.01
5 8.978 8.88 2 0.10 2.007 2.00 20.01
6 8.543 8.54 0.00 2.711 2.70 20.01
7 6.918 7.00 0.08 2.147 2.16 0.01
8 9.024 8.94 2 0.08 1.758 1.76 0.00
9 10.090 10.08 2 0.01 2.001 2.00 0.00
10 6.905 7.04 0.13 2.181 2.18 0.00
11 9.656 9.68 0.02 1.758 1.76 0.00
12 10.466 10.48 0.01 2.165 2.16 20.01

Directly fabricating customized orthodontic production by SLM Rapid Prototyping Journal
Yongqiang Yang, Jian-bin Lu, Zhi-Yi Luo and Di Wang Volume 18 Number 6 2012 482 489

Table V SLM-customized bracket fabricating strategy (layer thickness 25 mm)

Scanning order Scanning mode Laser power (W) Scanning speed (mm/s) Spot compensation (mm)
1 Contour scanning 120 vc: 200-400 lc: 0.05-0.06
2 Orthogonal X-Y vxy: 600-800 lxy: 0.08-0.1

Figure 9 Measurement of slot width by a microscope (200x) density of SLM parts without LSR (99.02 percent highest).
Density and porosity affect the surface finishing after it is
polished. For hygiene requirements, dental productions need
smooth and imporous surface. With no pore under a
microscope, surface of SLM/LSR brackets after manual
polish was appropriately smooth and dense which reaches the
surface requirements (Figure 10). Improvement in density
and surface quality by LSR could be obviously observed
compared with the original SLM bracket (Figure 11).
Samples designed according to metallic materials tensile
testing method according to ambient temperature standard
GB-T 228-2002 (eqv. ISO 6892:1998) were manufactured by
SLM stacked along the direction perpendicular to the tensile
direction for mechanical properties test. The measured results
in Table VII show that SLM fabricated parts tensile strength
is significantly higher than casting. The parts tensile strength
is 20-30 percent higher than casting, while elongation is
slightly lower than the casting. Micro-hardness tests show that
SLM fabricated parts hardness is higher than the casting
parts. The main reason is related to rapid solidification
characteristics of SLM process.
smaller than designing size, among which 18 brackets are
20 mm less than designing size. The opening of the remaining
4. Conclusion
four brackets exceeds designing size by , 10 mm, which is
caused by the deformation of thermal stress. And it shows SLM has been characterized as a RM technique for
that most slots by compound scanning mode are more precise customized medical production. The study and experiments
than the ones by orthogonal scanning. In this fabricating on overhanging structure fabricating process provided optimal
effect, the square arch-wire in maximum size could smoothly process parameters to fabricate precise customized structures.
run through the slot after shot-peening and slightly polishing. A compound scanning strategy with different spot
compensations fabricated high-dimensional accurate bracket
3.3 Density and mechanical properties slots than single scanning mode. The application of LSR
A 10 10 10 mm SLM box with the same SLM and LSR raised the density of SLM production up to 99 percent, which
process parameters of customized brackets (re-melting by created customized orthodontic production with high
120 W power, 800 mm/s scanning speed, 0.08 mm scanning strength and surface quality (Figure 12). Mechanical tests
spacing) get the density up to 99.36 percent, higher than the proved that SLM parts had better mechanical properties such

Table VI Slot width of a set of Typodont brackets (mm)

Measured value Measured value
Designed Orthogonal Compound Compound scanning Designed Orthogonal Compound
No. value scan scan error No. value scan scan Error
11 450 437.49 451.78 1.78 31 450 438.44 446.06 23.94
12 450 437.49 451.78 1.78 32 450 441.30 411.75 2 38.25
13 450 447.02 453.69 3.69 33 450 436.53 444.16 25.84
14 650 624.30 640.50 29.50 34 650 647.18 642.41 27.59
15 650 608.10 636.69 2 13.31 35 650 646.22 632.88 2 17.12
16 470 453.69 460.36 29.64 36 470 428.27 451.78 2 18.22
21 450 455.60 447.97 22.03 41 450 450.83 447.97 22.03
22 450 437.49 440.34 29.65 42 450 425.10 447.97 22.03
23 450 424.14 460.31 10.31 43 450 444.16 440.34 29.66
24 650 610.96 644.31 25.69 44 650 636.69 642.41 27.59
25 650 620.49 646.85 23.15 45 650 638.60 640.50 29.50
26 470 446.06 436.83 2 33.17 46 470 466.08 455.59 2 14.41

Directly fabricating customized orthodontic production by SLM Rapid Prototyping Journal
Yongqiang Yang, Jian-bin Lu, Zhi-Yi Luo and Di Wang Volume 18 Number 6 2012 482 489

Figure 10 SEM photo of SLM-customized brackets (after manual polish)

Figure 11 Surface compare (after post-processing)

(a) (b)

Table VII Comparison of mechanical properties, hardness between

SLM and casting parts
Tensile strength Elongation Micro-hardness Figure 12 A set of SLM-customized bracket (after post-treatment)
Samples (MPa) (%) (HV)
Sample 1 636 35 265
Sample 2 624 31 258
Sample 3 582 29 270
Casting .480 39 .220

as strength and hardness, and met the requirements of

orthodontic production. Reducing the surface roughness of
SLM parts is the next research focus for saving more post-
processing cost. The SLM 316L stainless steel customized
brackets have been used in clinical test, and shown its
economic potential. The optimization methods could also be
employed in the fabrication of other medical production, such
as dental prosthetic implant or even orthopedics implant, by
using cobalt-chromium or titanium alloys.

Directly fabricating customized orthodontic production by SLM Rapid Prototyping Journal
Yongqiang Yang, Jian-bin Lu, Zhi-Yi Luo and Di Wang Volume 18 Number 6 2012 482 489

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Vol. 47 No. 6, pp. 873-83. Yongqiang Yang can be contacted at:

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