Adopters of dental milling equipment and software have lots of choices. Differentiating between the offerings is difficult. You could probably interchange the majority of comparable but competing products and achieve end results of similar quality. Recognizing the lack of true differentiating characteristics, many distributors resort to other marketing ploys, most notably, creative pricing and bells and whistles. I recommend users weigh the value of such extra features for their specific situation before embracing some of the latest trends.
When dealing with open mills, the main differences are material capabilities and automated features like puck changing. Users are currently fascinated with wet milling and automated material loading. Are these capabilities valuable? In certain situations the answer is yes, but for most smaller, entry level systems, probably not.
With wet milling the primary applications are Lithium Disilicate grinding and Titanium(Ti) milling. While everyone is eager to offer Lithium Disilicate, milling isn’t necessarily the best approach. Traditional pressing techniques of Lithium Disilicate ingots is very accurate, and (most believe) stronger and more cost effective than milling CAD/CAM blocks. The material cost for pressing is around $10/restoration, while a milled CAD/CAM restoration is closer to $30. Given this, you can mill wax patterns dry and press at a significant discount without spending the extra $10k (at least) for a wet mill.
The other current fascination is the automated multi puck loader. This is another feature I hesitate to recommend for a smaller entry level mill. First, like all things robotic and electronic, it is yet another feature that can break down, arresting the milling processes completely. More importantly, I don’t believe it is particularly efficient or cost effective. The price of one of the most common entry level, multi disc capable (8 puck automatic changer) mills, is approximately $60k USD.
The automatic loader doesn’t allow you to mill faster or increase capacity, it is still milling one puck at a time. It merely allows you to go on a short fishing trip before having to add a new disc. Is this really a crucial requirement or even practical? If one can nest 25-30 restorations in one 98mm puck, that translates into 200 restorations in the 8 puck changer. How many small labs have that many designed restorations ready to go at one time that need unattended milling? If we generously figure 25 minutes a restoration, it will take approximately 10 hours per puck; 8 pucks will require 80 hours.
Remember this has not increased production capacity in any way. A lab can still only manufacture roughly 25 restorations in 10 hours. For the same $60k USD you can purchase two 5-axis mills each holding a single puck and be outputting 50 restorations in the same 10 hours, using more than one material simultaneously.
I like the latest and greatest features and technology as much as the next guy, I just advise clients to recognize that those capabilities do not necessarily equal the most efficient or the most cost effective solution for their digital laboratory.