Meet the CAD/CAM department!

A lot has changed since the early years of dental technology. Computers and digital technologies are a large part of the industry now. 

CAD stands for Computer-Aided Design and CAM stands for Computer-Aided Manufacturing. 

A CAD/CAM department is only as good as their technicians and their equipment. We are proud to have a stellar CAD/CAM department! So how about we show you a day in the life.

A look at the CAD side:

Our designers, including Ken & Nate pictured here, are proficient in working with our CAD/CAM software.

There are a few different dental CAD programs out there, but we have found great success using Exocad & 3shape. We chose them because frankly in our opinion they are the best. These two programs give more options for designing, and have the ability to make a greater range of products.

Experienced CAD designers are the real key to success. Our technicians are proficient in these programs and are always learning more, and improving their skills.

In order to keep up with these complex programs we utilize high powered design computers with faster processing times, and high end graphic cards. With the right tools at their disposal, our team can make high quality designs to send over to the CAM department for milling.

A look at the CAM side:

Our 3 mills are constantly in production throughout the day.

Whatcom Dental Lab’s milling department utilizes Argen Zirconia pucks. There are 2 different levels of translucency with over 20 shades to mill from. We have found this material to provide the most consistent results.

We have 3 Roland dw52d 5-axis mills running throughout the workdays to handle the large volume of cases coming through the milling department. These mills are able to produce more detailed results which leads to better fitting and better looking cases.

Our Programat S1 1600 sintering oven is used to superheat the raw zirconia to temperatures up to 1600 degrees, hardening the zirconia in the process.

When digital impressions need to be turned into models, or dentures or other removable appliances need to be created, we utilize 3D printers. Whatcom Dental Lab currently utilizes 2 Asiga printers. These printers are specialized for precision work. It’s not only dental labs that utilize these particular machines, but also audiology appliance manufacturers and jewelers as well. 

Our CAD/CAM workflow:

It all starts with an impression. Our impressions are submitted one of two ways: either a traditional impression or a digital impression from the doctor’s intraoral scanner. The digital files are ready to go, but traditional impressions will need to be processed in our model department and then scanned into our software. 

A good impression is truly the foundation to success. An accurate impression, with clear margins is needed to ensure a well fitting, quality case.

Owners Tom & Nate check each that comes though the CAD department before it is sent off to be milled.

To begin the CAM work a 3d model is created from the impression in our specialized design software. This digital model provides more enlargement and detail, and can be saved for later if the case needs to be revisited.

Next the case is designed by our technicians. Our software provides a library of teeth to build from, or it can mirror an adjacent tooth to get started. The technician will place the tooth in a way that reflects both function and aesthetics and then adjust for occlusion. To finish off the design they will fine tune the anatomy to help make it look as lifelike as possible.

All our cases are subject to a quality control check by the owners before being sent to the mill.

Once in the mill a pre-shaded multi-layered zirconia puck is selected to match the custom, or doctored ordered shade. 

The STL file is nested in the zirconia puck on the mill computer, and the proper burr sizes are chosen for accuracy. The puck is placed into the machine to be milled into green state zirconia. The green state is necessary because true zirconia is too hard to be milled.

Brian, our milling lead, carefully removes each case from the puck before sintering.

Once the milling is complete, the crown is cut out of the puck and placed into the centering oven. The sintering oven heats the green state zirconia up to 1600 degrees, increasing the strength from under 50 megapascals(MPa) to 850-1250 MPa, depending on the material.

And with the zirconia hardened the CAD/CAM process is complete and the cases are sent to the finish department to have the final aesthetic and functional adjustments made.

The secret sauce: Our technicians.

As we mentioned before, a lab is only as good as its technicians, and our techs are simply excellent. 

Our designers Nate, Tom, Chris, Ken & Todd take the time to customize each case’s design. Many labs rely on the library teeth and just pick what is closest to fit the patient’s smile. Our techs take it a step further and adjust each tooth to create the most lifelike look possible. It takes extra time, but the results are worth it.

Our milling lead, Brian has put the time and effort into becoming an expert in the materials and machines. Although we use the machines with the best results, it still takes extra time and attention to ensure that each case is imputed and calibrated correctly to get those results. Brian’s eye for detail and knowledge of the systems produces consistent and high quality outcomes for the department. 

Without this top-notch team, Whatcom Dental Lab would not be what it is today.

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