What CAM software really does

May 15, 2017

Jordan Greenberg of hyperDENT explains how CAM software has come into its own.

Until recently, there hasn’t been much talk about or interest in CAM technology and its place in the dental digital workflow. Jordan Greenberg of FOLLOW-ME! Technology North America, developers of hyperDENT CAM software, discusses why that’s changing.

How did you first become interested in dentistry?

Jordan Greenberg: My dad, Ross Greenberg, owned and operated a dental lab near Chicago my whole life, so I always had an interest in the profession. I joined the dental business with a focus on digital technology, as my father and I started SureFit Milling Center in 2006. At this company, I handled the digital production of our zircona, wax and PMMA restorations. I also worked as the Product Manager at DATRON, which specializes in equipment for the in-house machining of implant bars and abutments. Now, I’m the Managing Director at FOLLOW-ME! Technology North America, the U.S. subsidiary of FOLLOW-ME! Technology Group GmbH. This is the company that develops, supports and services hyperDENT CAM software.

Why is CAM software an important part of the digital workflow?

JG: CAM software has been the unsung hero of the digital dental industry since the first milled coping came off a machine. Why? As much as new machines and design software features drive new applications and materials, CAM software is the glue that holds the entire CAD/CAM process together. It translates your 3D design files into a language the mill can understand. If a lab or milling center is having trouble with milling times, tool breakage or finish quality, these are all issues that can be addressed in the CAM software.

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However, people have only recently started to ask questions about CAM. Until now, this software was typically part of a closed system or a pre-configured system with each element chosen by a distributor, so labs and milling centers rarely made a conscious decision regarding CAM. We’re very familiar with this situation, because hyperDENT was the toolpath generating software within the KaVo, 3M and Amann Girrbach systems.

Why is CAM becoming a recognizable CAD/CAM element?

JG: I can think of a few main reasons: 1. Labs are starting to figure out ways to identify problems on their own, 2. They’re evaluating new ways to increase efficiency in their workflow, and 3. They’re looking for ways to differentiate their digital product offerings from other labs and milling centers.

Regarding the first point, with a closed system, you’re limited by the features developed by the system manufacturer. Now users are exploring new solutions on their own. We receive a lot of requests like, “I want better occlusal detail and you can’t add a smaller tool into my machine” or “I want to start using a new material but my existing templates can’t mill it properly.” They’re starting to ask, “where in the process is my problem, why am I experiencing this problem, and what can I do to achieve the results I desire?” On the other hand, with system configurators that have chosen an open CAM solution, they are not just fixing the issues for their customers, but they’re helping them understand where these problems exist and how their adjustments will fix them.
I’m also seeing customers evaluating new ways to increase efficiency in their workflow. As the connecting piece between the design and milling processes, the CAM component can become a bottleneck if it’s not easy to use, efficient and high performance (with regard to calculation time).

As for the last point, CAM is the most effective place to customize your milled products. For example, most crowns are designed with a high level of occlusal detail-so why does this not automatically translate to a milled part with the same detail as the design? The limitation exists in the diameter of your smallest tool or the parameters in your milling strategy that define the final depth of cut. Both of these elements are accounted for in the CAM software.

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What should labs look for in CAM software?

JG: Above anything else, lab owners tend to gravitate toward a product that’s easy to use. And at FOLLOW-ME! we understand this, which is why the user interface in hyperDENT V8, released earlier this year, was simplified. However, it also needs to be efficient. Not only do calculation times need to be fast, but the toolpaths that are generated must be efficient for the machines to produce parts in an acceptable timeframe while maintaining quality standards.

Another required feature of CAM software is its ability to expand and adapt to the changing needs of a lab or milling center. Labs should not assume their initial machine and CAM purchase will handle all their milling needs down the road. However, if the CAM software is modular and can integrate new materials or applications easily, the machine can also adopt these new demands without a significant change in hardware or machine features. For this reason, hyperDENT Compact was developed as our base product with a high cost/performance ratio for labs that want to mill simple crown and bridge applications. Then, when their needs grow and new machines or functionality is needed, we can upgrade them to hyperDENT Classic or add the Denture Module, Abutment Creator, Grinding Module or Template Creator.

How has CAM technology advanced in recent years?

JG: In some cases, CAM development is a reactive process-driven by a new CAD software functionality. We add new features to our existing platform as the market requires. This was the case when angled screw channels became available from CAD developers. However, FOLLOW-ME! differentiates itself by proactively pursuing trends in the market as well. In these cases, we provide a certain functionality before the need exists, and our software can be used as a tool to develop the rest of the CAD/CAM process.

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For example, we created a denture-specific module because we identified a significant interest in the milling of digital dentures. At that time, there wasn’t a complete process or workflow for these types of parts. However, as CAD developers began to include the option to design dentures with their software, hyperDENT users already had the ability to create optimized templates for milling these parts. This allowed users to calculate dentures four-to-six times faster and mill them in half the time or less. If we hadn’t created the denture-specific toolpaths to mill these parts before the need arose, our customers would be limited by these longer calculation and milling times like other CAM software is subjected to.

What do you see in the future of CAM technology?

JG: CAM technology will continue to evolve with the growing demands of our industry. This will include development on both ends of the spectrum, from an easy-to-use CAM solution that can be operated from the simplicity of a touch screen monitor, to hybrid solutions that work in conjunction with other digital technologies like printing.  
We have a new version of hyperDENT PracticeLab that completes the whole CAM process in four clicks or less. There’s a lot of background intelligence built into the program to ensure this process remains as simple for the end user as possible. It’s already built into some new milling machines on the market, and is run from the touch monitor on the unit itself. It’s a true plug-and-play system, but uses our standard hyperDENT technology for performance and stability.  

We have also developed a hyperDENT Hybrid module that caters to high production milling centers. It includes nesting technology for laser sintering of titanium and chrome cobalt bars, which are then transferred to a milling machine for the finishing of implant interfaces and screw channels. It uses the efficiency of printing and the accuracy and finish of milling in one module.