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It was like a movie: The upstart son passionately fights with his father over the family business needing to take the technological leap. And true to the script, the son’s vision and hardheadedness eventually earns the grudging respect and admiration of the father. And in this real-life case, it’s a happy ending as the move alters the fortunes of the family business.
Schmidt Dental Lab in Horsens, Denmark, adapted CAD/CAM technology about 10 years ago. Ejner Schmidt, the father, has always wanted to stay ahead of the game and embraced new technology. However, when his son, Sune, came to him with the radical idea of model-free crowns, trouble erupted.
The family lab was already renowned for its craftsmanship and high-tech service. However, the idea of creating model-free crowns-in essence, giving up control of their artistry, and even worse, creating a product for half the price-was abhorrent to Ejner.
But Sune was insistent. He felt the family’s lab was not taking full advantage of what their CAD/CAM system could do. The machines were just producing the same product they always did.
What motivated your lab to go model-free?
A customer approached me regarding model-free crowns. He wanted to know if I could create crowns faster and, perhaps, even cheaper. Over the years, I had seen our lab’s molar and pre-molar business disappear to low-cost labs abroad. Danish labs just couldn’t compete on pricing. That adversity lead to inspiration.
I spent eight months testing systems, specifically milling machines, from November 2012 through August 2013. We had previously outsourced our milling. However, to realize our vision of producing inexpensive model-free crowns, then milling needed to be done in-house. That required testing to learn how to control milling parameters.
What made model-free crowns possible for you?
First, we needed to find an open CAD system. That way we could select whatever milling machine we needed.
Having the freedom to choose was very important to us. We did not want to be locked to a specific provider. Our goal was to buy the best milling machine on the market, not to buy one because it had to be compatible with our software.
Secondly, we needed to be sure we could rely on the accuracy of the digital impressions from the dentist. We needed to be able to work with the scans easily in our design software.
Of all the systems I tested, 3Shape’s openness and workflow were the most attractive. You have TRIOS® and the Dental System™ CAD/CAM software made by the same company. You don’t need two different partners. You know the support is there if something doesn’t work, one office to call if you have any questions.
In theory, because of its openness, we knew we could accept files from dentists with other scanners. However, after completing the testing, we ended up working only with TRIOS® scans. We felt that they produced the best impressions and have since based our business model on dentists using TRIOS®.
Designing the model-free crown in 3Shape’s Dental System™.
Is it a question of trust with model-free crowns?
As a lab, you earn the trust of your customers over time. We did not want to risk that trust. Likewise, with modelless restorations, we had to be confident that the crowns we produced were correct despite being unable to control them with a model.
Most labs consider the gypsum model as insurance when checking if the restoration is correct. After making hundreds of model-free crowns over the past year, I found that in reality, the model is the weakest link.
A model-free solution is very reliable. In fact, more so than the designs with models. Our customers tell us that the fit and accuracy is often better than with models. I hate to admit it, but most of the time it’s the hands of the technician that make the errors and not the machines.
When I make a model-free crown now, and at times create a model to check it with, it’s usually the contact points that need changing. This is because of inaccuracies inherent in the model and not the crown. The models are where the errors come in. Machines only do what they are told.
What is the success rate with model-free crowns?
From August to May of this year, we produced 989 model-free crowns. So far, we have had approximately 1 percent remakes. Most of them from when we first began. That is a much better percentage than we experienced before.
As technicians, we see with our hands and evaluate by touch and feel, which is fantastic. You cannot underestimate the value of handcraftsmanship-but you also cannot be blind to what a digital system can do. Model-free means precision.
Use Dental System™’s virtual articulators for designing with optimal dynamic occlusion.
As a lab, how has going model-free benefited your business?
The biggest advantage is of course the growing interest for model-free crowns. Like most labs, we saw our business disappearing to low-cost labs abroad. Model-free crowns have given us a chance to not only compete with, but also to beat the competition.
Model-free crowns have benefited our business by making our workflow more effective, cutting down on labor hours, speeding up turnaround time and importantly, increasing our market share. Before we began with modelless restorations, our milling machines produced the same thing as our competitors. They weren’t providing any big benefit.
Model-free crowns save us half the price in production. It’s not the lack of having a model that we save money on. It’s labor and time-although there is, of course, a savings on models and storage. But by going model-free, we now see the money invested in those machines coming back to us. They add value to our business.
Has providing modelless restorations become an incentive for dentists to work with you?
Model-free crowns are definitely an incentive for dentists to choose us. It has opened up a completely new market. Before, our growth was typically one or two new customers per year. Since August of last year, we have added 25 new customers-so it has been a very big increase. In fact, I have never seen so big and fast a raise from any of our products than with model-free crowns.
We have a story to tell now. Customers see and hear from their peers that it actually works. Being model-free has managed to separate us from the pack. It is basically the first time in history that you are able to produce a crown this fast and this cheap in Denmark.
The accuracy, low price and speed of delivery have become our lab’s strongest selling points.
We will never forget the good old handiwork of the technicians, but this is definitely the big market of the future.
Final design of the model-free crown.
How do you feel model-free crowns benefit dentists?
The biggest advantage for dentists is the low price and the fast delivery. Customers are amazed at how easy it is. The fit and accuracy is also outstanding.
We are talking about a 72-hour turnaround time. If it’s not model-free, it’s five-to-eight days. The speed of delivery makes model-free crowns very attractive to dentists.
In a dentist’s mind, once they have made the preparation it needs to go quickly. So the speed in which we deliver the crown is definitely attractive. Of course, the price matters, but being able to deliver a crown quickly to their patient is an advantage. And importantly, it is a crown that fits.
This article originally appeared in the November 2014 Dental Lab Products Buyer's Guide as a special advertising section. For articles on other great lab products in action, click here to subscribe to DLP's newsletter: bit.ly/dentallabenews.