Dental production has been undergoing a digital transformation in the past thirty years with a growing number of labs buying 3D printers, CNC mills, laser markers, ERPs and more. If a lab wants to take full advantage of all this technology and use it efficiently, connectivity is essential.
In the context of digital dental workflows, connectivity refers to the ability of all of the parts of the operation to work together as a single operation, rather than a series of separate, disconnected processes. On a practical level, this means the software tools used to design and prepare 3D models for printing are connected to the 3D printers, post-processing equipment, and other systems that are important to the operation as a whole.
Without a reliable way to connect all of these different systems, labs will struggle to maintain optimal productivity, stay ahead of potential issues, resolve problems quickly, and get the biggest benefit from all of the technology available to them. Think of the connectivity solution as the conductor for the orchestra, or the element that keeps everything in sync.
Connectivity happens in a few different ways in dental labs. The first is connecting all of the output devices, regardless of type or brand.
Crown Ceram, for example, is a large dental prosthesis lab based in France with 120 employees, eight milling machines, five 3D printers for resin, and three 3D printers for metal, all made by different brands and each with its own specific operating software. It can be difficult for any team to be experts on every type of software, with specific workflows on every machine.
With digital production software, the Crown Ceram team was able to put all of its machines onto just one platform. This improved the productivity of the lab’s 3D resin printers by 30% and reduced the time necessary to create a plate by a factor of four on its metal printers.
Digital production software allows technicians to schedule print jobs on any machine, at any time, and in any combination, all in a single experience.
There is no need to schedule jobs for the resin printer in one software application, and then switch to a different application to schedule a job for the metal printer. This makes it easier to increase output, get results faster, and handle higher volumes of jobs without buying more printers.
At Crown Ceram technicians can put more parts in one plate with automated 3D nesting for RPD frames. This allows the lab to print 40 parts per day on a single machine instead of just 20, doubling its capacity.
Another aspect of connectivity extends this idea to other systems that are not printers. ODL, for example, is a family-owned and operated orthodontic laboratory located in Buffalo, New York in the US that makes a full range of appliances including aligners. These aligners require thermoforming and laser marking, both of which are handled by a Hamer machine that uses very different files than the lab’s 3D printers.
With system-agnostic digital production software, ODL can connect to the Hamer system just as easily as the printers, automating printing and thermoforming workflows with the same software. There is no need to have a separate database for the files because of the extensive connectivity of the digital production software.
The third aspect of connectivity is connecting to other operational systems such as ERP tools and service provider portals. Bertram Dental Lab has done both with the same production software.
Connecting to the ERP system saves the lab three hours a day because cases are logged in the ERP system automatically and there is no risk of human error, such as attaching the wrong set of files to a case.
Connecting to the service bureau portal, which Bertram Dental Lab uses for order submissions, eliminated the need to spend another three hours processing job submissions and logging them into the ERP system. Now all of this can happen automatically, and it only takes about 15 minutes.
As Niclas Ziereis, head of sales for German dental lab TEAMZIEREIS puts it: “Digital complexity is growing fast, it was relatively simple for a lab to get by with just one 3D printer just five years ago. Now, there might be 20. Even if you have the best machine on the market, it doesn’t help you if the components don’t work together. One application for the whole production makes it much easier for the production workflow and the employees.”
In order for a dental production to succeed, all the machines and software need to be connected and talking to each other. AI-powered software makes that possible. Learn about the other challenges dental labs face when adopting digital workflows and how AI is helping overcome them in our whitepaper.