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Inside Dental Technology
December 2014
Volume 5, Issue 12

Optimizing CAD Files for Outsource Production

Laboratories must make smart purchasing decisions

By Mark Ferguson

In today’s laboratory environment, most owners and managers are starting to feel great pressure to join the digital revolution. While they certainly are not on the forefront of the digital wave, it is still not too late for laboratories to join the party and keep up with the trend.

Now we come to the dilemma: With all the options available today, how is a laboratory to choose what to buy? With the current market shift toward open systems, and the technology becoming more user-friendly, this question has fewer and fewer wrong answers. The best advice the author can offer to laboratories making these decisions is to remember that you are not buying only a scanner, mill, or other piece of equipment; you also are buying into the company from which you purchase.

3Shape can be used as an example. There are obviously many different 3Shape distributors in the market, but simply buying based on lowest price in the beginning might end up costing you more in the long run.

One important factor that many laboratories fail to take into account is how that supplier will train you and your technicians on how to use the system. Training can occur in many different ways: in person at your laboratory, in person at a remote training facility, or even over the Internet.

The author has trained people using each of these options. While in-lab training can be a minor interruption, in the author's experience, this type of training has proven the most successful. The reasons are pretty straightforward. Opening up your laboratory to someone with firsthand experience of the digital workflow in a working environment can help to integrate that new technology into the laboratory’s current workflow far more easily. The process of accomplishing that integration also can highlight opportunities to use that technology in ways you may not have thought of otherwise.

Another key decision the laboratory has to make is how much they want to take on from the start. Do they want a scanner, scanner and mill, scanner and printer, or everything? With today’s open format, it is easy to start with just a scanner and add manufacturing at a later date. No need to take on too much all at one time. If a laboratory starts with just a scanner, clearly it needs to partner with a manufacturing center.

This partnership is a two-way street. In a typical CAD system, there are many different settings to control the final fit of a restoration. These settings have to be adapted based on the type of manufacturing being done, as well as the material that is used. These settings should be provided by the manufacturing company. While individual settings may be required in either case-by-case or lab-to-lab situations, a standardized baseline should be provided. Based on the desired outcome, different parameters may need to be changed. Without a true understanding of what the parameters do, making these changes should only be done with assistance.

In addition to these parameters, different manufacturing software also can read additional files other than the standard STL file. In crown and bridge, for example, a margin line may also be read. This can give the manufacturing software additional information on a part of the restoration that we most certainly want to pay special attention to—and so should our machines. A standard STL, while a very important file to CAD/CAM, offers no information other than a shape. Most CAD software has the ability to provide these files, but the key question you should ask yourself is, “Does the CAM software have the ability to read them?”

CAM software is the most often forgotten part of the CAD/CAM system. Yet, this important piece of software determines the accuracy of the milled outcome. Dental laboratories often assume the software that came with the machine is their only choice. This is usually not true. An open software will allow a laboratory to add different size burs and vary the speed at which they cut through the material. This can be necessary if the laboratory wants to mill several different materials. With the ability to make these changes comes the responsibility of knowing how the software operates and how best to mill different materials for both speed and accuracy.

In the author's experience with CAD/CAM over the years, many laboratories have taken the plunge. Then they realize they are not saving as much money per unit as they were promised. Now they have a machine that sits in the laboratory not being utilized as much as it could be. So they offer to mill for some friends or start a milling center business as part of the laboratory. Milling is not natural for most dental technicians. It is a different business. To really keep up with market demands in materials and expectations, a milling center needs a dedicated staff of people other than dental technicians. A combination of dental technicians, machinists, and engineers working together really make an effective milling center. For the same reason we all want open architecture systems for what they offer, this openness also adds to the responsibility of the technician designers, and by extension the machine operators. This is precisely the reason Core3dcentres has a variety of people with different experiential backgrounds working on your behalf.

Mark Ferguson is the assistant manager and dental solutions integrator at Core3dcentres USA.

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