eQuality Tech is using Geomagic to help Fight Bite cut design time for customized mouthguards from a day to an hour.
No one knows exactly what goes through the mind of Myles “The Fury” Jury when he walks into the ring for an Ultimate Fighter mixed martial arts bout. He’s certainly not worrying about his mouthguard, an individually fitted device made by Fight Bite (Clawson, Michigan) for maximum protection and comfort.
It currently takes Fight Bite about a day to design custom-fitted mouthguards such as those worn by Jury and Daron “The Detroit Superstar” Cruickshank. But, that could soon change dramatically. Thanks to a 3D digital process developed by eQuality Tech (Shelby Township, Michigan), Fight Bite could cut the time down to an hour or less.
Better protection with proper fit
A person’s dental structure is like a fingerprint, but capturing it accurately in 3D is much more complex than placing a thumb on a scanner or ink blotter.
The 3D digital process proposed by eQuality Tech relies on Geomagic Studio software to post-process data from the 3D scan of a dental impression and turn it into an exact digital model that can be manufactured for a perfect fit.
That perfect fit ensures a lot more than comfort and safe teeth. According to a study by the Nevada State Athletic Commission, a properly fitted mouthguard provides a level of protection far beyond the so-called “boil and bite” mouthguards that can be purchased at sporting goods stores.
“Each person’s jaw has a different size and shape,” says the study. “With a properly made and fitted mouthguard, your lower jaw is not in contact with the base of your skull, reducing the possibility of secondary trauma and concussions.” Beyond protection, a custom fit helps promote free breathing and talking.
Common ground, common goals
Fight Bite and eQuality Tech came together through a strong set of commonalities, including dental experience, geographical proximity, similar goals, and a shared go-get-‘em work ethic emblematic of young entrepreneurs.
“What makes Fight Bite so unique is their knowledge and background in the dental industry,” says Srdjan Urosev, CEO of eQuality Tech. “Also, the owners have been around martial arts and the MMA (mixed martial arts) for a long time. They understand the requirements for a quality mouthguard because they have been in the ring and taken the punches.”
Fight Bite’s founders, Paul and Karl Keller, grew up working in the labs of their father’s orthodontist practice, where they gained in-depth knowledge of dental anatomy and structure. Their business combines that experience with their love of mixed martial arts.
The Kellers and Josh Bitterman, a managing partner and former amateur MMA fighter who heads up Fight Bite’s marketing and sales, found kindred spirits in eQuality Tech, a company specializing in 3D scanning, reverse engineering and virtual quality control for industrial and dental clients.
“They have a diverse portfolio of customers – everything from jewelry to automotive to dental – and are young entrepreneurs like us with a lot of expertise and an excitement about our product and brand,” says Bitterman. “They have the same goal as we do: producing a highly customized product in a mass setting.”
In only two weeks, eQuality Tech developed key parts of the process that could speed Fight Bite’s production by twenty fold.
The first step in the digital process is 3D scanning of the dental impression for the athlete. eQuality Tech uses a Rexcan DS2 scanner from Solutionix, which is designed for dental and small-component scanning. Set-up and scanning takes only two minutes. The output is a standardized STL-format CAD file that is imported into Geomagic Studio software.
“Geomagic Studio plays a major role in the process,” says Urosev. “Its ability to thoroughly automate what used to be manual steps is amazing.”
After bringing the scan model into Geomagic Studio, Urosev decimates it to reduce its size for faster processing, then fills holes and reduces data noise that gets collected during the scanning process.
The sculpting tool in Geomagic enables Urosev to define, add and remove the margin lines needed for manufacturing. He then takes a scan of the exterior shape of the athlete’s mouthguard and aligns it with the clean impression.
“This is a bit tricky,” says Urosev, "since the shape of an existing mouthguard does not match the shape of the new impression. Geomagic Studio enables me to warp and shape the regions that are different, then merge the two together to create a new mouthguard.”
The last step is cleaning up, trimming, filling holes and removing overlap to create a watertight 3D digital model.
Tackling the manufacturing challenge
With the day-long process of manually creating a customized mouthguard reduced to a one-hour digital process, eQuality Tech and Fight Bite are turning their attention to manufacturing.
One of the sticking points is the materials used in mouthguards – ethylene vinyl acetate (EVA) or PolyShok. Currently, no 3D printing device uses these types of materials. eQuality Tech and Fight Bite are exploring three different options:
• 3D printing the mouth guards if a 3D printer can be found to handle EVA or PolyShok.
• 3D printing a simple mold and pouring EVA or PolyShok material into it.
• 3D printing a simple and cost-effective tool that can form the EVA or PolyShok into a mouthguard.
Conquering the previously impossible
The timing for mass customization of mouthguards couldn’t come too soon for Fight Bite, as the company seeks to expand beyond its core market of mixed martial arts to other sports such as football, basketball, ice hockey and lacrosse.
“We’re concentrating on producing highly customized products in a mass setting,” says Bitterman. “We think we can now do what was thought impossible just a couple of years ago.”
Bob Cramblitt is a freelancer who writes about 3D digital technologies that transform the seemingly impossible or highly improbable into reality. He can be reached at email@example.com.