Open to the possibilities

March 21, 2012
Noah Levine
Issue 4

Someday chairside digital impressioning may be standard operating procedure and cases will go directly from the operatory to a lab’s computer, but until then, lab scanners will be the main gateway to digital workflows.

Someday chairside digital impressioning may be standard operating procedure and cases will go directly from the operatory to a lab’s computer, but until then, lab scanners will be the main gateway to digital workflows.

Last month the SCCAN series focused on network connected scanners that link a lab with the scanner manufacturer for both the benchtop technology and production of the digitally designed restorations. This month the focus shifts to open-architecture scanners designed to give a lab options in both digital design and physical production.

Open scanners such as systems produced by 3Shape and Dental Wings allow labs to send digital restoration design production on any number of mills, 3D printers and other CAM systems. This means open scanners can bring digital efficiencies to just about any workflow for any type of restoration a lab produces, and users have their choice of production partners, materials and just about every other detail.

“This provides the users flexibility in choice of manufacturers, allowing for freedom and competition,” 3Shape International Product Manager Sven Nonboe said.

Making the work flow

Adding digital processes to a lab is really about leveraging technology to increase efficiency. Working from scanned data for digital case design can allow the lab to automate some of the more labor intensive steps in the fabrication process, and an open system lets the lab choose which parts of the process are to be done digitally and which will still be hand crafted.

Nonboe said 3Shape’s system is designed around that type of flexibility with a full-range of indications available through the company’s DentalSystem™ software, which can be used for everything from basic coping design, to full-contour crowns, implant bars and removable partials. The “user-friendly yet flexible” system guides the user through the scan and design steps allowing people to get to work quickly and at a quick pace.

“With 3Shape’s CAD/CAM, a technician can design a coping in under two minutes,” he said. “Even complex restorations such as removable partials can be designed in less than 12 minutes, reducing production time in relation to the conventional manual process by 70-80 percent.”

Those efficiencies are of great benefit to a busy lab, but the scanners also should let lab technicians make use of the skills, knowledge and techniques they already possess within the digital environment. One way 3Shape is trying to accomplish this is through the high-quality scans captured by the 5 megapixel cameras of the company’s new D800 scanner, which is capable of detecting hand-drawn markings on models being scanned, whether they’re removable design sketches or margin lines. The software then picks up on these lines and automatically incorporates them into the digital design. Nonboe said synergies between the scan and the design technologies are designed to be efficient so labs can achieve optimal outcomes via digital production steps. And these synergies go both ways between the scanner and the software.

“For example, if the user selects a certain indication and teeth in the order form, the software can relay the information to the scanner to ensure optimal scanning for the specific order,” he said.  

Open but not isolated

Getting into scanning via an open-architecture scanner does leave the lab with many decisions to make. What products will be produced based on digital designs? Will all or just part of the case be done digitally? Will production be done via a mill or printer in-house? If outsourcing the production, who will the cases be sent to?

With open systems, labs face these choices, but they’re also not locked into that decision once the choice has been made. If an outsource production partner isn’t delivering the expected quality, the lab can look for another place to send cases, or even another material or fabrication technique to test out.

Labs also are not left on their own when approaching these decisions. Dental Wings scanners are sold through Zahn Dental while 3Shape scanners are available through a range of resellers. Labs can look to theses sources for both training and production recommendations.

“3Shape resellers will assist users setting this up, so sending a case is as easy as sending an e-mail,” Nonboe said.

Open scanner systems allow labs flexibility to change and expand how they work. If digital business grows, a second workstation can be added to the system so the same scanner can be sending cases for design by two technicians. If a lab starts off sending designs out for production they are not locked into using the same system or materials when deciding to bring some of that business back in-house.

Fitting the model

Just as they’re designed to be flexible in how they can be used, open-architecture scanner systems are just as flexible when it comes to being a good fit for a lab. Nonboe said 3Shape now has an entry level D500 scanner for smaller labs, and the technology can be put to use in both specialized labs and full-service operations.

While milled restorations seem to be the first thing people think of doing with digital workflows, Nonboe said with 3D printing and other production technologies available via outsource and in-house systems that can be connected to the 3Shape scanner and software, labs can go digital for some processes without becoming strictly CAD/CAM operations.

“CAD/CAM is obviously a prerequisite for some materials, such as zirconia, but the use of 3Shape is by no means limited to that-you can use it for milled ceramics, PFM, implant bars, abutments, removable partials,” he said.

That freedom is the biggest advantage to open systems. Labs going this route are setting themselves up with digital options. The lab can make a digital transition at its own pace and if that plan isn’t working, it can be changed. 3Shape is committed to improving its software and hardware to provide labs of all sizes with more opportunities and options via digital production.”