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7 Things to look for when purchasing a CAD/CAM system

After years of thinking about buying a CAD/CAM system you have finally decided that you are ready. So you start googling, contacting peers, online forums and speaking to salespeople. Then you discover that you are more confused than you were before you started your quest. Or you’re settling on the easy choice but not entirely sure if it’s the right choice. 

10 years ago there were far less manufacturers and distributors on the market. Due to limited options it was easy to purchase a CAD/CAM system. However, now there are an infinite amount of CAD/CAM equipment and software to choose from with differing levels of compatibility and capabilities. This can cause a lot of confusion and frustration. 

Googling is a good tool to discover information about CAD/CAM systems. However, you find that what you read is distributor or manufacturer information that is geared towards you purchasing. This information may be biased and is intended to persuade you to make an uninformed decision.

Contacting your peers is good to do as well, but did your peer make the right decision? Does your peer have the same needs and aspirations as you? Is your peer an expert in CAD/CAM systems? Has your peer made an educated decision? You may like and respect your peer but placing a large purchase solely on his or her word may be a risk you are not willing to take. This also extends to your “online friends” in forums.   

Salespeople seem to know a lot, but do they? Not all sales reps are created equal. I had been a salesperson for a majority of my career so fellow sales reps please don’t take offense to this. 

Not all sales reps have the same experience or knowledge to adequately guide someone objectively to purchase a CAD/CAM system. Company goals, lack of experience and miss-education can cause a salesperson to unintentionally guide the customer to purchase something that doesn’t fit the customer’s needs. 

So who should you look to help when purchasing a system? It is simple, yourself.  The best person to make decisions for you is yourself so lets give you some tools to help. Following these steps you will make the right decision for “yourself”. 

  1. What Equipment do you own already? Before you speak to a salesperson or consultant it’s important to take inventory of what you have already.To complete a CAD/CAM system you will need a Scanner (Intraoral or Desktop), Design Software, CAM Software, Printing Software, Milling Machine, Printer,  Zirconia Furnace and Porcelain Furnace. You may not need all of these components but you will be asked what you have already.  So be prepared and put the salesperson on the defensive. This will help you weed out people who do not have intimate knowledge of CAD/CAM.
  2. What are your needs? Make a list of materials you would like to produce. Your options are E.max, Ceramic Block Restorations, Zirconia, Wax, PMMA (Provisionals), Dentures, Hybrid Zirconia-Titanium Abutments, Titanium Abutments, All on X, Bars, Bite Splints, Surgical Guides and Ortho Appliances.  Include if you want single units, full arch and same-day capabilities. Identifying your material needs and bridge span wish list will help you narrow down what equipment you need. Otherwise you may be at the mercy of the opinion of another person. Such as your friend or salesperson. 
  3. What are the capabilities of your business? Identifying the ability of your staff to learn new technology is key. Every business is different and there is no “One size fits all” solution to finding the right person to use the technology you are purchasing. If your solution is that you are going to operate the system, then great! If not, find someone on your staff that is willing and able to assume the responsibilities or make a commitment to hire someone. The distribution company you buy from “should” have the ability to train you and your staff.
  4. Equipment Versatility is Key!  Make sure that the equipment you purchase has the capabilities that fit your needs and is robust enough to handle the daily grind of production. Companies on the clinical side have introduced mills that are inferior to laboratory equipment capabilities, ease of use, durability and value. If you’re a Dentist you should be looking at lab equipment and not believe the propaganda of clinical companies  who know less about production than laboratory companies. Plus you will get a bigger bang for your buck as laboratory equipment is more cost effective with more capabilities. If you don’t use all the capabilities you will at least have the option if you choose to.  Laboratories need to make sure that the equipment can do everything as advertised and the distribution company can support your mill if it needs servicing. Not all equipment performs as advertised by the people who advertise it. Companies with a track record of honesty and salespeople with hands-on experience will help guide you in the right direction. This is a big decision, go with the people who are transparent and knowledgeable.  
  5. Is the equipment open? To have an “Open” system means that you can communicate with other equipment in a STL format. If the answer is no then do not buy it. Technology is moving quicker than ever and your equipment needs to have the ability to communicate with others. The STL file has become the standard in CAD/CAM communication and gives you the ability to mix the best scanner manufacturer with the best mill manufacturer and so on. Open also applies to materials so make sure the system has a universal mandril for Block materials and a 98mm holder for blank materials.  This is very important when selecting a system because if you choose a closed system you are limiting yourself to the original manufacturers capabilities, materials and R & D.    
  6. ROI is not everything. Everyone wants to make money and get the best “Return on Investment”. On surface level you can calculate an ROI for a milling machine. A zirconia crown milled in house cost around $12 per crown not including your equipment payment. For a full system you will be paying between $1,700 to $2,500 on a five year term.However, “Control” and “Peace of Mind” will give you the biggest ROI and it cannot be quantified in a simple mathematical equation. The freedom and predictability of an in-house milling system will help you better plan your schedule, limit patient appointments, limit redos/corrections and give you the keys to drive the car. You will have complete freedom to produce what you want,when you want.     
  7. Look to the future.  Will your system be able to adapt to the future? The CAD/CAM industry is changing on a daily basis so your system will need to adapt. How do you look for this? Look for the track record of the manufacture you purchase from. Has the manufacturer made improvements on their existing equipment every year? Or do they simply come out with a new model every year and charge huge upgrade fees? If you’re investing $100,000 you should have the security of knowing that the equipment will be in full operation with updates in five years. Ask your salesperson for a history of the manufacturer and see what they say. 

Hopefully this has helped you. If you have any questions please feel free to contact me at

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