Computerized impressions

Last year I had a chance to go to the main headquarters of 3M in Minnesota for the Espertise conference.

For more on this topic, go to www.dentaleconomics.com and search using the following key words: 3M, 3M ESPE, Mark Farmer, Micah Rosenbloom, Dr. Paul Feuerstein.

Last year I had a chance to go to the main headquarters of 3M in Minnesota for the Espertise conference. This was an international meeting of dentists who shared information on the latest advances in dentistry. Of course, the focus was on 3M ESPE products, and there was much buzz on the LAVA COS digital impression system, the LAVA lab system, and the Imtec ConeBeam and implant division.

One of the impressive things about this company was not only the array of products that 3M covers, but the interaction among the divisions. Keeping in mind that the company is not only in medical, it was interesting how products and processes can cross the line.

For example, someone in the automotive division may have an idea for something that someone in medical bandages could use. 3M has an innovation center that showcases products from all divisions. A researcher could literally stroll around and look at a variety of products while asking questions of a person from that division.

There are frequent meetings where all division representatives sit around a table and discuss the products and processes on which they are working. There are also brainstorm sessions when reps are asked to “think outside the box” to see how one process might have relevance in another area.

There are six major business segments, and 3M Health Care is one. The dental division is actually 3M ESPE. As a result of this resource, it has developed some 45 innovations annually. Not all of these appear in the marketplace, but the coordination and cooperation of the divisions constantly advance the product line.

One of the interesting company decisions deals with the digital impression system, LAVA COS (Chairside Oral Scanner). This product actually came from the acquisition of a Massachusetts–based company, Brontes Technologies. While much has been written about this arena, what is interesting is that 3M let this division stay in Massachusetts.

In fact, many people from 3M ESPE had to move from Minnesota or Germany to the Boston area. My assumption is that there is a “brain bank” here in Massachusetts with experts from MIT (the alma mater of the company founders) and an array of high–tech experts who might not want to make the cultural and weather exchange with Minneapolis–St. Paul.

I was interested in the naming of the product “LAVA,” which is the brand name. This has led to some confusion among dentists who wonder if the scanner only creates LAVA restorations.

To clarify, the COS creates a digital and physical model that can be used with any dental lab process — the model can be used for gold and PFM just like any stone model and die. (The other digital systems now also have the capability of exporting files to a lab). With respect to LAVA, however, the digital impression can be sent directly to the LAVA lab machine and a coping can be made. In test trials, these copings were accurate. At press time, a model is still necessary to build the rest of the restoration. 3M is also committed to providing a direct link of the digital impression data from the LAVA COS into other leading CAD/CAM systems.

3M ESPE has reorganized and formed the 3M Digital Oral Care Department. It has called on Mark Farmer, global marketing and business director, to lead this business unit.

According to Farmer, “Everything begins and ends with the customer. We get customer feedback throughout our entire product development process. Without the appropriate amount of user input and involvement, a product won't make it out the door .... I expect the synergy of having CAD/CAM equipment and digital materials, digital impressions, CBCT imaging, and other related digital solutions all part of a dedicated group will make us one of the most customer–focused and dynamic digital product development organizations in the industry.”

3M is moving the parts around to serve dentistry better.

Micah Rosenbloom, general manager of the COS product, said, “This allows 3M to focus all of its digital assets together to deliver one unified digital face to our customers. It also allows us to cross–develop products in a more integrated fashion by combining our expertise in software, printing, materials, and hardware. Lastly, I think it shows 3M's commitment to this business.”

If you ever have a chance to get to this area located on the Mississippi River, call ahead for a tour. It is impressive.

Dr. Paul Feuerstein installed one of dentistry's first computers in 1978. For more than 20 years, he has taught technology courses. He has been named 2010 “Clinician of the Year” at Yankee Dental Congress. A general practitioner in North Billerica, Mass., since 1973, Dr. Feuerstein maintains a Web site (www.computersindentistry.com) and can be reached by e–mail at drpaul@toothfairy.com.

More in Science & Tech