Ormco Lythos Digital Impression System

Transforming Technology into a Breakthrough Product with Experience Design

  • Awards
  • Best in Biz Award 2013
  • Good Design 2013
  • Capabilities Used
  • Strategy
  • Industrial Design
  • Engineering

Ormco, a leading manufacturer and provider of advanced orthodontic technology and services, had created a process for 3-D digital orthodontic scanning. The company partnered with Altitude to help productize the technology, using an innovation process that combined research, experience design, and engineering to create a breakthrough system.

I consider Altitude an innovation partner. They became a part of our team. We deeply trusted them, and that moved the design development forward more quickly.

- Bob Billon, Vice President of R&D, Sybron Dental Specialties/Danaher Corporation (Ormco parent company)

Breaking the Mold

Anyone who has had orthodontic work knows how uncomfortable it can be. Before work can be done, the orthodontist typically must make a mold of your teeth. In many cases, the mold is sent to a lab, which uses the impression to create the braces or a retainer. But what if orthodontists could skip that cumbersome, uncomfortable, and time-consuming process altogether and instantly create a 3-D digital model that allowed them to prescribe and adjust braces more effectively?

Using deep ethnographic research and Ormco’s optical technical requirements as experience design drivers, we worked hand-in-hand with Ormco to create a small and compact, yet ergonomic, system for capturing digital intraoral impressions—the Lythos Digital Impression System.

A System is Born

Originally, the vision was to create a small scanner consisting of a wand and a holder, which could be carried from room to room and plugged into a desktop or laptop computer. However, the complex scanning process necessitated the use of a custom-designed computer. Despite the increased challenge of integrating the computer into the instrument, the goal was still to achieve a design that was compact, portable, and lightweight. Altitude worked closely with Ormco’s R&D team to create a system that balanced ergonomics, portability, and performance.

The wand tip design presented its own unique challenges. The tip needed to be rigid enough to meet precision optical alignment tolerances while subjected to forces that resulted managing the patients oral tissue during the scanning process. But since the wand tip is discarded after use, it also needed to be extremely affordable. Altitude developed a concept for a disposable plastic sheath that could be applied and removed easily by simply squeezing at the attachment point.

In addition, both the wand and cradle had to be easy to clean and ready for multiple uses over the course of the day. To accomplish this, we designed them with smooth surfaces in order to reduce the chance of infection and meet FDA requirements for hygiene.

Finally, because of the many different positions and configurations of equipment in a typical orthodontist’s office, we needed to create a flexible interface that could be viewed from numerous angles. Together, we developed a touchscreen monitor that could be pulled up from the cradle and adjusted to accommodate multiple positions and chair heights, all while maintaining the original requirement that the system be easily transported from room to room.


Ormco released Lythos in 2013. It has hit the market with great success within the orthodontic community, shipping over 100 systems in North America in less than two months. Recently, the workflow for Ormco’s Insignia software system has been transformed, with over 50 percent of new cases being processed completely as digital data-based cases. The user-friendliness of the design is complemented by its open platform, which allows orthodontists the freedom to use their data independently or as part of Ormco’s proprietary Insignia and DigiCast CAD ecosystems. Because the digital impression system is much more comfortable than the traditional impression process, orthodontists can provide higher patient comfort and satisfaction—a win for the office. Putting the orthodontist practice at the center of the design has paid off.Altitude