Don’t fight technology

March 21, 2012

I am always amused by the fact that we call ourselves Dental Technicians, our field Dental Technology and yet in some ways many of us are reluctant to use newer technologies to improve the productivity of our dental laboratories. Perhaps an even larger problem is under using technologies.

I am always amused by the fact that we call ourselves Dental Technicians, our field Dental Technology and yet in some ways many of us are reluctant to use newer technologies to improve the productivity of our dental laboratories. Perhaps an even larger problem is under using technologies.

Any of you who read my columns or have heard me speak know I’m a big proponent of improving productivity in the dental laboratory. In my opinion it’s the path to surviving and prospering in the decades ahead. Improved productivity allows U.S. labs to compete effectively, not only against other domestic labs but against worldwide competition. Improved productivity allows labs to pay better wages and attract bright, hardworking people to the profession. Perhaps most importantly it can improve profitability of dental lab businesses.

It saves time and money

The big potential benefit of technology in the dental lab world is its ability to eliminate or reduce some of the time consuming, labor intensive activities in the dental lab. I’m speaking not only of the products and tools directly involved in producing crowns and dentures, such as milling machines, but also things like the Internet, communications tools, and software for operating the business.

Many labs have technologies partially installed but under-used. Simple things like sending statements by e-mail instead of mailing them can save time, paper and postage. Having the lab operating software communicate with the lab financial software can save time entering data and reduce administrative expenses. Pressing ceramic substructures or milling monolithic all-ceramic crowns can replace labor hours with machine time. Things that reduce labor and speed the process allow a lab to produce more units and thus sell more units with the same labor resources. (That’s increasing productivity!)

Focus on the positive

The key to evaluating and using technology is focusing on what it can do as opposed to what it can’t. The comments I frequently hear about new technology revolve around how esthetic results aren’t as good or the time involved in getting it working is too long. Sometimes that’s the case and that particular system/product may not be the right one to buy, but don’t make the mistake of writing off the whole idea because one approach isn’t successful. Automobiles as a concept didn’t fail, but steam-powered cars did. No new technology comes to market performing as well as it will down the road as it matures.

Using new technology in the lab comes down to a few basics:

1. Understanding what it currently costs to perform a task or function. Where are the bottlenecks and excess costs in your lab? Does your ceramic department produce a below average number of units per technician? How many administrative staff members do you have? Is it the right number for the size of your lab?

2. Understanding the potential impact of the technology. How much time could it save or how much could it increase capacity? If you purchase and implement technology without reducing costs (labor or materials), increasing sales, or reducing staff you are NOT increasing productivity.

3. Understanding the costs of implementation, and that means both time and money. Technology generally costs money, so you need to balance the upfront, one-time cost of the technology plus the ongoing maintenance against the current costs and quality. 

Better, faster, cheaper

The bottom line is, purchase and implement technology into your lab if it will help you do things better (improved quality allows you to sell more or increase prices), faster (allows more production, potentially increasing sales), or cheaper (reduces overall costs).

Don’t fight technology. Learn about it and figure out how to make it benefit your lab.