"Rapid prototyping is the future," says Dennis Lanier, co-owner, Lab2000, a 30-person operation in Columbus, Georgia. "It's more material efficient and cost effective than milling. When printed zirconia copings and bridges come to market, they will replace the base metalwork with metal-free options that are affordable to everyone and with turnaround times that will bring the work back from overseas."
Although Lanier has been using CAD/CAM since 2004, his foray into rapid prototyping began about a year ago when he purchased the EnvisionTec Perfactory® Mini DDP printer which he's using with Zahn's Dental Wings scanner. The addition of the EnvisionTec DDP, which "prints" 3D wax/resin patterns that can be used for both pressed and cast restorations, has had a dramatic impact on his laboratory's productivity and workflow.
He's using the printer to extend his production hours without overtime and producing over 500 patterns per week, almost triple his manual waxup production level. An especially valuable feature is that the printer can be operated through remote access using any offsite computer. The user simply logs in and can then use the design software and start the printer just as if he were on-site.
"We love the flexibility of remote access and we can keep production moving after hours or on weekends. To be able to work from home saves money and is a positive thing for employees. We need these types of tools to stay competitive in the future," says Lanier.
Lanier says Zahn's training process and his own love for teaching made the transition fairly simple, even though he lost a couple of technicians who weren't interested in making the switch from manual to digital waxing. "This generation of Dental Wings software is much easier to learn. Entry-level people can now handle work that only experienced people could do before," he says. "It's also much neater and cleaner than manual waxing."
He's also seen an improvement in the accuracy of the waxups and a .5% reduction in remakes (down to 2%). "Using the automated printer showed me where we were cutting out steps with manual techniques," he says. For example, the software shows different views and has signals warning if there won't be enough porcelain support in a waxup design.
Art Rocco, co-owner, Rocco's Dental Studio, a 15-person lab in Escondido, California, also purchased the EnvisionTec Perfactory Mini DDP printer last year after 15 years of using CAD/CAM. The lab now fabricates 90% of its waxups for metal cases digitally and has one waxer instead of three. "We still do some manual waxing if there are only a small number of cases because it doesn't make sense to run the machine. Plus, we still need a top level waxer for the occasional touchup or complex case," says Rocco. "We see more accurate thicknesses so the cases move through the metal department more quickly and we see better fit and quality."
A Digital Partner
For successful implementation of any digital technology system, finding the right vendor partner is essential and both Lanier and Rocco have found that partner in Zahn, which is the exclusive distributor of the EnvisionTec DDP and the Dental Wings Scanner. While the labs adopt new tools and adapt to the changes in workflow, Zahn's Custom Milling Center supports them.
"When we purchased the system, Zahn provided two days of training at CMC in Colorado as well as on-site assistance, and it continues to provide ongoing troubleshooting and hands-on support through remote access," says Rocco. In one instance, a complicated case with a cantilevered bridge exceeded the parameters of the software. Zahn's technicians were able to access the computer remotely in order to tweak the settings to get the desired setup. "We tend to push the limits of technology on higher-end cases and Zahn representatives are a phenomenal resource to help us do that," says Rocco.
Likewise, Lanier values access to a spectrum of Zahn product managers and technicians for purchasing advice. After just one year using the EnvisionTec printer, Lab2000 was in the market for an additional unit. "Our problem was not if we needed another machine, but deciding which model to get," says Lanier. "We could have gotten another Mini DDP, a Standard that would do our work in fewer runs or a Large that would also do other tasks. Zahn representatives helped us sort through the options to determine which EnvisionTec model best suited our need to increase capacity further." Ultimately, the lab chose a second Mini DDP Printer.