Automation and robotics can be tools that greatly help end users such as clinicians, surgeons, and therapists. But on the production side, both technologies also are highly valuable in the manufacture and test of medical devices.
Streamlining Dental Production Lines
As in all other manufacturing areas, robotics and smart automation are the foundation for streamlining medical production. In dental manufacturing, Core 3D Centres was an early adapter of robotic technology because it needed to create a medical milling center that could meet the demands of its large dental laboratory customer base.
“We learned early that we would have to rely on advanced automation to do this, so we researched machines. Our best choices were DMG20s with the robotic system,” said Tim McKimson, global engineering director/general manager USA at Core 3D Centres.
“A dental abutment normally takes 25 minutes to mill. Our system takes about 20 minutes. We are able to put in an overnight shift of abutments, so when the shift comes in the next morning, all they do is take them out, package them up, and ship them out, and prepare their workload for the same thing,” he said.
The company faced some challenges at the beginning. While robotics provides a lot of flexibility, Core 3D had to find the perfect fit to make it work in its environment. The company chose Siemens as its control of source when it specified its DMG machines.
“There are a few different controls that you can put on a DMG machine, and we like Siemens because of the flexibility they gave us. Once our people were trained on the systems, which was very easy and quick, they found that they could put a lot of routines into the machines very easily and very fast,” McKimson said. “We saw immediately that Siemens was the best choice for us."
For example, Core 3D has always used Motoman robots. Today’s Motoman robots are slightly different from the earlier models, with a larger capacity. By upgrading its robots to the newer Motoman robots, Core 3D doubled its capacity. McKimson said that the company now produces over a thousand units a day that range from things as simple as a zirconia crown or as complex as a denture bar.
“An abutment is an abutment. Each is unique, but very similar in shape and size. What we’ve done is, in cooperation with a company called Open Mind, developed a software template so users can bring an abutment design into the program, click a couple of buttons, and it does all the calculations for the machine, sets up the robot, the part. Then the same people just go out and load up the machine and let it go. It runs 24/7,” he said.
“When digital dentistry first came out, the systems were kind of closed, meaning if you bought one system, you had to buy their software, their tooling, everything. All the systems were like this in the beginning and they did not work with each other,” he said.
“So we started talking to people and slowly the technology started opening up so you could choose which software you wanted and send out a neutral file that a different software could read, regardless of what kind of machine you were on. Then we put all that together and came up with what we believe is best-in-class for a flexible system that can handle all our needs—and all of our customers’ needs,” he said.
“We are unique. We have a lot of high-end dental technicians, but we also have highly qualified engineers that have come from other industries working here too. To round it out we have the top software engineers and designers that focus only on each area and make sure the data and graphics flow is always on the leading edge, equal to or better than consumer electronics. This is essential to be able to take advantage of all the potential for a company like ours,” he said.
Core 3D is a global company with locations in eight different countries. Its management meets quarterly with all of the teams of engineers working in each location to discuss what’s working and what’s not working as well as how to utilize the robots the best way they can. The company then develops game plans for the coming quarters.