FullContour CEO Rob Laizure Jr discusses the benefits of outsourcing digital design and how artificial intelligence is key to the future of digital dentistry.
Q: We’d love to hear a little bit about FullContour: how you got started and what you do for dental labs.
RL: My father, brothers, and I started FullContour in January of 2011. We had a vision that one day every dental prosthetic would be designed and manufactured digitally. We saw dentistry transitioning, so we started the company. All we do is design; we don’t manufacture anything. This year we’ll design more than 2 million prosthetics. Our partners are the dental labs that deliver the finished products to dentists.
Q: What impact has the FullContour design center made on the way labs can operate?
RL:We started by outsourcing the design part. One of the unintended consequences, which was kind of cool, was that it stimulated domestic production. Many labs leveraged us and rekindled the “Made in the USA” spirit. Labs can outsource just the design and then do the milling—or printing—and the finishing locally. We’re really excited to be part of that.
Q: Does FullContour best fit certain types of labs?
RL:Today we help labs of all sizes. When we started, it was larger labs that were buying milling machines. What they had was a design bottleneck. These days a scanner and a mill or a scanner and a printer are not that expensive. Now we support every type of lab, from a one-man operation to a 500-man operation. Maybe our client is a small lab that doesn’t have denture software but wants to get started with digital dentures. Or the client may be a large lab that wants to outsource its single-unit posteriors and focus in-house talent on high-end items. So we design a wide array of products: crowns, bridges, implants, removables, surgical guides, and aligners.
Q: Is there a typical workflow that you see?
RL:At the end of the business day, a lot of labs are choosing to send the balance of their work to us, knowing that when they start the next morning, it’s all going to be ready. Labs are always managing the variable costs of labor, which depend on the number of units a dental technician can produce per day. But with FullContour, when they send us a case for design, the cost is fixed. They can send us 5 or 25 orders in a day, and the cost per unit will be the same.
Q: Can you tell me about FullContour’s relationship with 3Shape?
RL:We started as a small, family-owned business, but in July of 2017 3Shape made a strategic investment in FullContour. Then in February of 2021, 3Shape and FullContour announced the completion of the acquisition. So we are now a 3Shape company. It’s been a fantastic partnership. In 2017, we started looking at artificial intelligence (AI) and different integrations within Dental System and at how we could make our service more accessible and easier to use.
Look at 3Shape Automate. This is really our crowning moment. With the 3Shape relationship we codeveloped a pure AI technology. We’ve created more than 300,000 designs and enjoy an acceptance rate of 91%. What that means is that as a dental lab, when you upload a scan to 3Shape Automate for a crown, you’re not interacting with people; 3Shape Automate is purely an AI platform. It’s very consistent and very scalable. You can drop 100 orders on 3Shape Automate, and they will all be completed at the same time. The system can create a design in 5 minutes, but most labs prefer the 30-minute option because that’s at $2.99 for a 30-minute crown design at scale. Labs are really interested in scanning the designs and starting the milling process on the same day.
The 91% acceptance rate is amazing, but it means that if you upload 100 orders, on average you will like 91 of them. There will be 9 out of 100 that you’ll probably need to do something with because Automate didn’t get it right. Still, the beauty is that you got 91 orders back in 30 minutes, and they’re good to go. They are less expensive—and made more quickly—than before.
Q: How does the 3Shape Automate AI design custom restorations so quickly and effectively?
RL:3Shape has been in digital dentistry for 20 years, and FullContour has been in it for 10 years. So 3Shape is a powerhouse of dental design and scanning/designing R&D, and FullContour is the world’s largest design center. We’ve made more designs than any other company on earth. I think our AI technology is superior. There will be copycats, but they won’t be as good.
Q: Is 3Shape Automate a new tool for labs or is it an AI that might eventually replace a technician?
RL:If you’re a lab owner excited about efficiency and cost reduction and you employ a technician at a good salary, and you say, “I’m going to use 3Shape Automate and let go of my CAD technician,” I would say, “What are you going to do about the other 9%?” When you compress into to 2 or 3 hours what the technician used to do in 8 hours, he or she has time to do R&D, solve new problems, develop new products. 3Shape Automate creates opportunities for labs that want to innovate.
Q: Are there risks when sending a case to Automate?
RL: One of the beauties of 3Shape Automate is that you don’t pay when you upload the scans, so you can see how Automate does. If you think Automate can design it, just upload it and look at the preview screenshots for free. With 3Shape Automate, you pay only after you decide you like the design, which is another awesome feature.
Q: What’s next for FullContour by 3Shape?
RL:In the past 2 years, we’ve launched a high-end interior esthetic design called Lucid, a high-end all-on-X hybrid design, and an all-on-X prepped design. We’ve invested in and focused our talent, and we have some amazing designers who’ve been with us for a decade. Some of them have probably designed more cases than anybody in the world. All our designers know that we will continue exploring AI. But technology is not going to do everything correctly, so we’re going to mature it slowly, and we’ll see where it takes us.
Q: What do you say to labs that resist changing?
RL:If you’re curious about 3Shape Automate but procrastinating, know that your competition is not procrastinating. To those who are very dismissive and say that it doesn’t work, I would say that I don’t think they’ve given it enough of a chance. We’re only now beginning to scratch the surface. So I would encourage people to give it a try and see how it fits into their laboratory.