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Standardization: The Key to a Digital Future
IDT sits down with three company leaders at the 2011 International Dental Show.
In March, at the 2011 International Dental Show (IDS) held in Cologne, Germany, three major manufacturers of materials, equipment, and services for the dental industry announced their commitment to spearhead the standardization of CAD software in digital dentistry. Straumann, 3M ESPE, and Dental Wings joined forces to create an open-standard software platform for a combined range of dental restorative applications.
Inside Dental Technology sat down with the leaders of these three companies—Sandro Matter, global vice president, Global Products, Straumann; Mark Farmer, vice president and general manager, Digital Oral Care, 3M ESPE; and Naoum Araj, president of Dental Wings—to get their views on why they believe standardization is necessary, how the move to create a standardized design software platform will impact and benefit their customers, and where they are in carrying out this initiative.
IDT: What prompted the decision by your companies to join in the quest to create and adopt a standardized CAD software platform?
Matter: Straumann is a forward-looking company that seeks to provide optimal solutions for customers. Recent analysis of the CAD/CAM market told us that laboratory owners are hesitant to invest because there are so many different systems and software platforms on the market. Their biggest question is: Which system will position my business and sustain it in the future? Another concern is access to multiple restorative solutions and brands. Many full systems are closed to being able to provide quality restorations and lock users into a vertical market that limits restorative choice. But to meet demand and compete, labs have to purchase and offer several different systems. It is very difficult for the market to fully develop when purchase decisions rest on issues such as compatibility and “open” or “closed” architecture. Furthermore, the investment decision might be based on the maturity and staying power of the technology/software rather than on which product is the best for restorations. Thanks to compatibility, other industries that have gone through similar transitions were able to solve the confusion by creating a single standardized platform offering full access. At the same time, reliability and quality manufacturing have been maintained.
Farmer: At 3M, we were looking to adopt a prosthetic design platform with that would offer enhanced features and productivity. We sensed that the need for software changes would accelerate in the future and we wanted to work with a company that could keep pace with these new innovations. This prompted 3M to engage Dental Wings to develop our next generation of Lava Design Software. When Straumann came to us with the concept of standardization and cooperation, it was a logical step. When we launched the Lava CAD/CAM system in 2002, there were not a lot of digital options for dental labs. As the adoption of digital technology has accelerated, we have selectively opened the Lava System. 3M will maintain connectivity to those systems with Lava Design 7. Our collaboration with Straumann and Dental Wings fits with our values and goals. Like Straumann and Dental Wings, we believe a standardized software infrastructure will benefit the industry.
Araj: Offering a standardized software platform will help Straumann, 3M ESPE, and other companies to focus on their core businesses. It will also allow Dental Wings, whose core competency is developing and engineering new scanning and software solutions, to provide a standardized infrastructure—which in turn will provide access to a wider range of restorative solutions. The recent investment by Straumann into Dental Wings is a strong indication of their long-term commitment to the standardization process. This financial commitment will enable us to hire more engineers and software developers to attract other companies to join the platform and add their workflow.
IDT: How will this decision impact current users of Dental Wings, 3M ESPE, and Straumann scan/design technology?
Farmer: For Lava Milling and Design Centers, 3M ESPE’s collaboration with Dental Wings will provide improved functionality and features at a more accelerated pace. Lava Design Software 7 offers many new Dental Wings features and functionalities. My objective is to get our design and milling centers up to speed on this new software by the end of the year, because, as we go into 2012, 3M ESPE will be announcing the development of a couple of exciting new materials that dentists will be prescribing—especially the new full-contour milling product. We are already working on software versions 7.1 and 7.2 to handle these new materials. We believe this partnership will keep Lava Design and Milling Centers on the cutting edge of new developments in indications, digital integration, and new milling materials. In terms of accessing Straumann CARES capabilities, our users will not immediately have access to that workflow. However, through this new software version, users will be able to participate in designing restorations that come through the Lava Chairside Oral Scanner for Straumann abutments. Therefore, this partnership will be a great benefit both to our companies and our customers.
Matter: Straumann’s overall goal is to create a software environment that will allow users to easily switch between programs and processes or access different products and protocols in a single software platform. That is the direction in which we believe CAD/CAM must move to gain much broader acceptance in the industry.
Customers who have invested in the CARES scanner will still use the same hardware, but they will have the option to switch or upgrade to the standardized next generation of CARES software that will be based on the Dental Wings software platform at an attractive price. The first upgrade, the seventh generation of our CARES software, will be available to users in Europe by the end of this year and to users in the United States early in 2012. This will be an intermediary software version combining proven CARES workflow with Dental Wings functionalities in one platform. The CARES version 8 upgrade will provide the fully integrated software built on Dental Wings Open Software (DWOS) and is scheduled for release by summer 2012.
New functionalities will be available to those who choose to upgrade, and CARES users will be able to receive data from 3M ESPE Lava C.O.S. intraoral scanners in addition to iTero scanners.
Araj: For Dental Wings, the goal is to provide a common software infrastructure on which competing companies can collaborate. Each company will still have its own proprietary workflow within the Dental Wings platform. Companies can then decide which of their competencies they wish to share. The objective is to have as many companies as possible share competencies without technical barriers. In this way, users can design in a completely open, unrestricted fashion and send the design wherever they choose, or they can use the pull-down menu to access the strict design protocols of the material companies. As companies continue to join the project, the Dental Wings user community benefits from the direct access of new integrated workflows, without having the associated costs and wasted time of having to learn multiple new interfaces. As industry continues to develop new protocols, users have nearly instant access, allowing them to compete on a very local level, which is especially important to mid- to smaller-sized labs. What makes much of this possible is our proven DHS (Dental Hub System) technology, which is built into the DWOS architecture; this eliminates the labs’ often overwhelming IT and expensive inter-connectivity barriers and makes data communication easy, rapid, and secure.
IDT: The collaboration has invited other companies to become part of this software platform infrastructure. How has the invitation been received and where are you with adding new companies and protocols to the software platform?
Farmer: This initiative is being spearheaded by Dental Wings. The company is talking with other companies to bring them on board.
Araj: The initiative is being perceived as very attractive, and many companies have responded to our open invitation to join us. The interest in joining to establish and shape a global standard software is growing, and in the meantime, we are working with all the big companies. But the industry must understand this not a turnkey process. For companies wishing to protect their brand and the final restoration with proprietary workflow protocols, Dental Wings must complete a quality check process before being qualified by the company. For example, it took 2 years and thousands of prostheses before Dental Wings qualified in the 3M Lava system. The same is true of the Straumann design protocols.
Matter: They are strongly attracted by the advantages of a standardized software platform—if for no other reason than the financial advantage of not needing to support their own software development team. To drive the standardization process, Straumann has established a working group within the DICOM (Digital Imaging and Communication in Medicine) Standardization Organization to work on a standard for CAD/CAM design software. DICOM is a universal standard for handling, storing, printing, and transmitting information in medical imaging and has been adopted for CT cone beam scans used in dentistry.
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