How dental labs can automate zirconia milling with a Manufacturing OS


A Manufacturing Operating System (OS) helps modern dental laboratories save time and money with automated production workflows, comprehensive machine monitoring, and AI-driven optimisation. We’ve explored in detail what a Manufacturing OS is and how it’s used in the first blog post of this four-part series. Now we turn our attention to a specific case of automation in the dental lab – milling crowns and bridges. We break down the process into key steps, identify the hurdles and show how a Manufacturing OS helps you overcome them.

A mainstay of many modern dental laboratories, CNC milling technology is used to create everything from crowns and prostheses to abutments. However, the successful operation of a dental milling machine requires technicians to perform monotonous and repetitive tasks for long periods – a role that’s proving increasingly difficult to fill.

In addition to the pressures of time-consuming manual tasks, the number of machines, and range of brands and technologies in a dental lab continues to increase, creating new demands on staff.

To simplify dental lab operations, Oqton’s Manufacturing OS allows staff to operate all their machines from one platform. By intelligently automating the workflows, including for CNC milling, Oqton reduces the need for people to intervene in the process.

Automating a dental crown milling machine

To understand how automation works, we take a closer look at a real-life example – zirconia milling of crowns & bridges. The usual steps involved in milling crowns & bridges with our Manufacturing OS are:

1. Importing files: You can import up to 53 file formats and our Manufacturing OS will automatically repair any errors in the files.
2. Feature detection: The Manufacturing OS has an AI engine that automatically identifies the part it’s processing, whether it is a single coping crown or bridge with multiple elements. Oqton will also map out the features, such as the margin lines, and the proximal surfaces.
3. Orientation: Nowadays, many dental technicians manually orient their parts. As a business grows and workloads increase, dental lab employees come under increased pressure to speed up this process. With our Manufacturing OS, parts are automatically oriented, scaled and positioned in stock, minimizing undercuts and respecting tool axis limitations.
4. Stock selection & nesting: One of the fundamental tasks of a dental technician is to find suitable blank discs from a large stock of partially used ones – a time-consuming job which can quickly become overwhelming and limit a dental laboratory’s ability to take one more work. In our Manufacturing OS, the right disc is automatically selected from your stock, depending on colour, thickness and how much used material is available. The software will also automatically nest the crowns and the bridges for you.
5. Pin generation: Our software generates pins automatically in line with industry standards, but it also allows you to choose your settings. Whether you want to determine your pin density or optimise material consumption, with a Manufacturing OS you’re in the driver’s seat! The software learns from your technician's decisions and applies them to future jobs.
6. Tool path generation: The Manufacturing OS calculates toolpaths and generates the necessary NC files. Based on feature detection, milling templates are automatically assigned, thereby optimizing machining efficiency.

By automating dental CAM, companies can scale quickly and significantly increase their output without compromising the quality of their product or investing hundreds and thousands of euros into new machines. Many dental laboratories are already using our software with significant returns on investment.

French dental prosthetics company Crown Ceram is one such example. Founded 40 years ago as a family setup, by the end of 2019 they had grown into a big business, with eight milling machines, five 3D printers for resin and three metal 3D printers, with many different makes and models. The numerous machines required specific software, which made it difficult to streamline the workflow in their dental laboratory.

In our Manufacturing OS, they found a single solution for many machines that enabled them to increase productivity and take on increasingly complex projects. You can read the full story about Crown Ceram’s success and other examples among our other customer stories.

In addition to milling, Oqton’s Manufacturing OS can also help metal additive technology, which is used to make RPD frames and dental bridges. We’ll explore this topic in our next blog post.

Find out what we can do for your dental business, and send us a message for more information!