Making the Transition to CAD/CAM

Making the Transition to CAD/CAM

Written by Jeff Noles, posted June 25, 2013 • Blog, Business Advice

CAD/CAM is here to stay, and while most dental labs are focused on determining the right hardware to buy, an equally important consideration is how CAD/CAM technology will integrate into your current business model and how you’ll need to adapt and establish new workflows. Investing in a CAD/CAM scanner is an exciting step, but without proper file management and an integrated lab management software solution, you’ll struggle to increase productivity and profitability.

Choosing a CAD/CAM Scanner for Your Lab

With the industry leaders it’s hard to go wrong. All three of the major players, Dental Wings, 3Shape and Exocad offer scanning services that include limited file transfer capability. You’re able to send a scanned file to a milling or production center directly from the scanner (all three manufacturers charge for this service), but the connectivity ends there.

The Biggest Problem with CAD/CAM

The biggest challenge with using CAD/CAM technology is figuring out how to integrate scanned files into your lab’s workflow. It seems almost ironic that with the explosion of new technology in the dental lab industry, most of the machines available out there are “digital islands” with no connection to other machines or to lab management software. None of the currently available scanners provide anything beyond the digital scanned file, and until something changes there’s no elegant way to integrate that file with your case history, billing, clinical discussions, or production notes. The next logical step will be to connect scanned files with case management software – something we’re working on for SoundTrack users right now.

Integrating Scanned Files Into Your Workflow

Most labs typically organize their file folders for each client and/or attach their scan and design files to case records, which can be clunky and time consuming. SoundTrack users, on the other hand, simply upload 3Shape zip files to auto-populate case records, avoiding having to enter case information twice. Even better solutions are on the horizon though. To streamline the flow of data between SoundTrack and CAD/CAM scanners, we’re using “web services” to allow SoundTrack to communicate directly with your scanner through the Internet. As far as we know, we’ll be the first lab management software company to fully integrate CAD/CAM technology for easy case management and the required FDA documentation. Using this new functionality, you’ll also be able to forward files to outside milling and production centers. We expect to launch this feature sometime in the fall of 2013.

Should You Archive or Delete CAD/CAM Scan Files?

If you’re already making or selling CAD/CAM restorations, then you know that managing files can be a headache. Before deciding how to organize your files, however, you need to decide what files you’re going to keep and for how long. There are differing opinions on this. Some labs believe that the finished restoration is all you need (along with materials documentation) and that they don’t need to save digital files. Other labs want to keep every single file as a digital “paper trail” for the FDA-prescribed 7 years. So far there isn’t an industry consensus on which is the right approach, although we recommend discarding scan files to simplify your file management, especially since the design file is what’s actually milled.

Backing Up Your CAD/CAM Data

If you’re relying on the hard drive in your computer and an external drive, you’ll sooner or later come to grief since all hard drives eventually fail. At very least, you should consider using an online backup service. There are many companies that do a great job backing up everything right down to your file folder structure like SugarSync and Mozy. Other online backup options include Dropbox, Carbonite, JustCloud, Google Drive, Microsoft Skydrive, and many others (at SoundBite Technology we use SugarSync for our internal documents). Because it is crucial to our business to stay ahead of the curve, we’ve already gone a step further, making file management even easier and more efficient for labs.

We’ve designed SoundTrack to save you the hassle and expense of backing up your files and data by saving everything directly inside the case record. Because SoundTrack is cloud-based, we’re able to automatically backup each customer’s database on a daily basis. After backing it up we encrypt it and send it to 3 different data centers. Amazon hosts our network, and we’re proud to say that with this configuration they (Amazon) only expect to lose one “data object” every half million years. So, your files are safe and secure – no crashing hard drives, no IT hassles, and no need for additional cloud-based backup services.

Is CAD/CAM in Your Lab’s Future?

We believe that CAD/CAM technology is the future of the dental lab industry and we encourage labs to integrate CAD/CAM into their product catalogs and workflows. In fact, we’re making a big bet that digital technology not only represents a huge leap forward, but it’s something that labs everywhere will quickly adopt if they haven’t already. We’re so confident in this trend that we’ve fully committed to specializing in integrated digital technology software solutions. While we feel we’ve read the tea leaves right, investing in new technology is not without risk. We urge lab owners weight the cost/benefit carefully, and to be thoughtful about what equipment to purchase, what files should be saved, and how to integrate CAD/CAM files with their workflows. Like any new technology, CAD/CAM can be something you struggle to use effectively, or it can significantly improve your productivity and profitability. Anyone can buy a machine, the real question is… Can you make it work for you?

Not Sure How to Make the Transition to CAD/CAM?

New technology of any kind can be daunting, and we’d like to help you make the transition to CAD/CAM as quickly and painlessly as possible. We’ll explain how to integrate CAD/CAM technology by streamlining workflows, file management, and backups so that you can concentrate on running your lab as efficiently (and profitably) as possible. We can also show you how SoundTrack accomplishes all this and more for your lab in a free online demo. Simply give us a call at (323) 522-3120 between 9-5 PST or click on the button below to request a callback.

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