5 ways to go digital the RIGHT way

September 27, 2013

When I talk to labs around the country about making the leap to a digital workflow, I see a divide; many have no idea where to start, while others jump in headfirst.  A third group is slow and steady-at first they bounce back and forth between loving the digital workflow and cursing it, eventually realizing that finding the right digital partner makes sense. 

When I talk to labs around the country about making the leap to a digital workflow, I see a divide; many have no idea where to start, while others jump in headfirst.  A third group is slow and steady-at first they bounce back and forth between loving the digital workflow and cursing it, eventually realizing that finding the right digital partner makes sense. 

But for anyone thinking about making the jump to the digital realm, it’s important to know the road ahead. What do you need to know, no matter what level of digital expertise or investment you have? What are the pitfalls you can avoid? And what is the standard progression of integrating a digital workflow into your dental laboratory? Here are the five things you need to know as you think about crossing the digital divide. 

1. Understand the systems on the market. Not all systems are made equal and doing some research goes a long way. Get referrals from the distributors you trust and take the time to call and discuss their experiences before you invest. A little bit of time and effort up front can go a long way toward identifying the systems that will best work for you and your needs.

2. Think about your current services and what you would like to add going forward. Here’s an example: Right now, you are only looking to mill zirconia restorations, but you would like to build your implant and All-on-Four business. Not all laboratory scanners will be able to scan for bars, so it might behoove you to spend a bit more at first so you don’t have to start from scratch with a new scanner down the road.

3. Understand your business. Are you a one- or two-man lab with clients that only do XYZ implants? If so, then maybe going with a closed XYZ System from beginning to end will serve you best. If you are not solely a one-system laboratory, or if you want to go after new clients by offering additional services, you may want to look at “open” systems. Know up front that once you bring in the machine, there is more to it then you might think. Each system has CAM software with different amounts of “openness” that creates more responsibility on the user. Working with an outsourcing partner who can provide you with a validated workflow can give you the freedom you want, without the added responsibilities you don’t need.

4. Find a distributor who has an interest in not just selling you a system but, more importantly, making sure you know how to use the system. Like any advance in technology, there is a learning curve when you invest in a digital workflow. Whoever you choose to purchase your equipment from, you will need hands-on training along with quick and reliable access to professionals who can help you when problems arise. Don’t get wrapped up in geography or perceived convenience. Just because you go with a company that is local or with a company where you see a sales rep every week, that rep won’t be the person you talk to when you have a technical problem. For the most part, when you call to get help, someone in some part of the world is going to login to your system and remotely walk though steps to see what is going wrong and work to resolve the issue remotely. The most important thing is to find someone that understands your business and how you will use the system from beginning to end.

5. Decide what business you want to be in. In talking to some of the largest labs around the world, I have had the opportunity to understand issues that plagued many of the early adopters of the digital laboratory workflow. The common thread among all of them was they got to a point where they asked, “what business do I want to be in?” They saw that laboratory scanning and CAD-restorative design was emerging as a necessary new skill that every dental laboratory was going to need to adopt to stay competitive. However, the revelation they all had was that as soon as you take the next step-which is milling-you are in an absolutely new business and a very expensive business. 

I’m not saying don’t go buy a C/B Mill and hire someone to run it, because there might be a ROI that justifies doing so; but understand this is now an engineering process. So: decide what business you want to be in. Do you want to focus on the esthetics, artistry and anatomy, while working to cultivate clients? Or do you want to take it all on, from design to manufacturing followed up by finishing? You make the call. 

Daniel Allemeier is Territory Sales and Marketing Manager for the United States for Core3dcentres, an offsite solution for dental laboratories. He lives in Pennsylvania with his family. 

Photo: Westend61 / Getty IMages