Wednesday, 19 June, 2024

01 Jan 2011 | eLABORATE

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CAD/CAM: How do you choose?

Over the past 12 months, there has been a myriad of new CAD/CAM systems coming onto the market, with each having their own claim to fame. The industry is now completely spoilt for choice. With so many systems available and all of them promising the world, how can we pick the ones that will actually deliver? Aside from looking at the usual factors of cost, quality and consistency, outlined briefly below are some other hints on what to look out for, what to avoid and what questions to ask when assessing any CAD/CAM system.

Ask about what can be milled, NOT what can be designed

On the surface, they may seem like the same question but actually, it is not so straight forward. When determining the capability of a system in terms of what it can produce, what a system's software can design may not accurately reflect what it can mill. There are many systems on the market that have taken “off the shelf” scanners with ready-made generic dental CAD software that can design a multitude of different products. However, due to incomplete integration of the software and milling components, some systems do not have the milling capability to produce what their software has designed. It is very important that you place an emphasis on determining what you can cost effectively mill and not what you can design. Some systems may advise you to send the designs created in their software to another milling centre for production but, because the software producing the design has not been calibrated specifically with the milling machinery, discrepancies within the final product could result.

Avoid being lured by the promise of things to come

When assessing a system's capabilities, concentrate on what products are being delivered by that system TODAY. You want to know whether the system, in its current form, can provide you with the services and products that you need for now and into the future. It is easy to be distracted by promises of flashy new features, to be launched in six months time, that you may only use 5-10% of the time, whilst forgetting about the bread and butter capabilities that you will ultimately need, 90% of the time. No system is absolutely perfect so focus on the products and materials that you use the most. It is always more sensible and cost-effective to look for a system that can deliver 90% of the products you need, with a consistent and high level of quality, 100% of the time.

Accuracy of the scanner and milling

The accuracy of the final product is dependent on the accuracy of two machines: the model scanner and the milling unit. The accuracy of the scanner is paramount because its role is effectively taking, what amounts to, a digital impression of the gypsum cast. Milling machines usually have their accuracy measured in microns, but the figure is often quoted per milling axis. So make sure this aspect is checked carefully. Remember that all tolerances are cumulative so, even a small discrepancy per axis, can amount to a much larger final discrepancy if the machine is milling in 3, 4 or 5 axes.

Ease of operation

The principle behind CAD/CAM is to make things quicker, easier, more efficient and more accurate when compared to doing it manually. It is important that any CAD/CAM system that is ultimately chosen meets these criteria. Having a system that is slow and difficult to learn and work with will make your work flow cumbersome and inefficient. As a result, over time, it will discourage you from continuing to use the system. The scanner should be fast and accurate whilst the CAD software should be easy and intuitive to learn and use.

Ask for references

This may seem like a simple piece of advice but you will be surprised at how much good information you can gather from asking your industry colleagues, friends and peers. Their first hand experience is quite often the most perceptive and honest. Ask them about their experiences regarding things like quality of service, the level of after-market support and the quality and consistency of the products they have received, as these are all very important considerations when deciding on which system to use. You will most likely be able to find a pattern very quickly in the responses you receive from them. Avoid systems that consistently receive poor assessments - there are usually good reasons for it!

Try before you buy!

Trying out the products produced by any CAD/CAM system you are considering using or investing in is the simplest way to be sure you have chosen the right system. Utilize the fact that many milling centres provide a scanning service for customers who do not own a scanner. If the system can consistently provide you with a good quality product over the course of several different cases, covering different materials and indications, then you know you're onto a good thing!

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