How an all-digital workflow can save a lab time and money [VIDEO]

June 19, 2014
Kevin Henry
Issue 6

In the ever-changing world of dental laboratories and technology, D&S Dental Laboratory in Waunakee, Wis., believes it has found the pathway to continued success by incorporating an all-digital strategy.

In the ever-changing world of dental laboratories and technology, D&S Dental Laboratory in Waunakee, Wis., believes it has found the pathway to continued success by incorporating an all-digital strategy.

Gone are the days of waxing in this established lab, which recently celebrated its 42nd anniversary.

I sat down with Travis Zick, president of D&S, and Steve Daggett, C&B and CAD/CAM Manager of D&S, to talk about the lab’s all-digital workflow, some of the lab’s biggest triumphs and challenges, and the importance of their partnership with 3M ESPE.

Kevin Henry: Tell me about your business.

Travis Zick: We’ve been around since 1972. We started as a single-man lab on the east side of Madison, Wis. Now we have five labs in Wisconsin and Illinois with just under 100 employees, including 75 technicians. D&S is a full-service lab that has the capability to produce everything in-house, and we are a Certified Dental Lab in all five specialties.

KH: Talk about your first steps into the digital workflow.

TZ: It’s been about 10 years since we got our first Lava mill. Almost six years ago, we went completely digital and eliminated waxing. That move allowed us to be more efficient. Today, we employ six different milling systems, nine design stations utilizing four types of design software for crowns, implants and partial frameworks, and two rapid prototype printers.

We’ve found digital provides more consistency and accuracy than handcrafted work. Going digital has allowed us to produce a consistent product and keep labor percentages reasonable in order to remain competitive. Doctors are also looking for partners who have the latest technology. As materials evolve, they want to know their laboratory can provide the latest products. We work hard to make sure we are known as that lab.

KH: What has “going digital” been like for your lab? What do you push out as advantages to your customers?

Steve Daggett: Going digital for us has really been an evolution. We started out years ago with Procera, and that was our introduction into CAD/CAM. We show doctors the advantages of going digital in the laboratory, but they want to know the advantages to them and their patients.

We point out accuracy, consistency, turnaround and competitive pricing as the main advantages to them. Digital technology literally makes everything in the lab quantifiable during the production of our products. If we need to adjust the contacts for a specific doctor, or add another coat of die spacer, we can quantify the exact amount to add or remove digitally.

KH: What’s your biggest challenge as a lab owner?

TZ: One of our most difficult challenges has been finding and training quality employees. I think that’s a day-to-day challenge and a common theme across our industry due to the disappearance of formal schooling for technicians.

We feel very fortunate to have an outstanding group of technicians and employees in our laboratory, but it is a challenge when we’re looking to bring someone in. In addition, the proliferation of lower priced products and materials over the past two to three years has changed the way laboratories must operate. These products produce less in revenue, but we are able to produce more of them with the help of technology. Beyond that, it really comes down to how you differentiate yourself as a lab.

Travis Zick (left) and Steve Dagget (right)

KH: What sets your lab apart?

TZ: We position ourselves as a lab that is big enough to offer everything and do it in-house, but small enough to provide our clients with individualized customer service. When our clients call our laboratory, they are not greeted by an automated phone system, and they are able to speak directly to the technician who is working on their case. In addition, we are a resource and partner for our doctors, not just an order-taker.

In today’s rapidly changing world, doctors are depending on labs to provide them with information and advice. We feel it is our responsibility to be experts on materials and technology, so we can provide that support as a service.

SD: We always have to remember that the customer is the key. We tell our lab techs that ultimately everything they touch is geared toward making the patient and the dentist happy. We emphasize this isn’t just a thing you’re working on-you’re making that restoration for a person. That is somebody you are working on, not just a number.

KH: Talk about using the 3M™ True Definition Scanner and what that has meant for your customers and your lab.

SD: When using the 3M True Definition Scanner, we know we are going to get accurate digital data. There are no bad batches of impression materials, no bite-throughs or questions of whether enough material was used, and no dies to trim. We know that 85 percent of all remakes happen in the beginning of the process, between the impression and the model.

This machine significantly reduces the opportunity for human error. Plus, a half-hour after the scan has been taken, we have the file and can start designing. Most laboratories now are digital even if the doctors are not. So, if we can eliminate the impression, shipping, model work and scanning of the models by receiving a scan from the doctor, we can save significant time in the production process.

It also makes communicating with the doctor much easier. We can send a screen capture in an email and the doctor can look at the same thing we are seeing. In addition, the truly open architecture of the 3M True Definition Scanner provides for an easier digital workflow without having to worry about dongles to ensure an open file transfer-this system is 100 percent open. That is very important in today’s laboratories where we use multiple pieces of equipment and multiple software programs to make our restorations. We can do everything with the data provided and can make any kind of restoration the doctor prescribes.

D&S Dental Laboratories This lab near Madison, Wis., has made the digital leap with the help of their partners at 3M ESPE.

KH: Some labs are purchasing scanners for their customers as a way to drive business. How do you feel about that?

TZ: We haven’t purchased scanners for our clients. We believe the doctor has to make the investment so that he or she has truly been made a part of the process. Sure, there is a learning curve with any technology and there are times that people will give up on something if they haven’t made an investment into it. When you get something for free, it’s a lot easier to go back to the old way of doing things.

We want to show our doctors that, with a minimal investment, there are a lot of savings they will immediately see, and the return on investment for the scanner is very quick. We want to give them that incentive to purchase the scanner, use it properly, and send us their scans.

KH: Is there a certain type of dentist who is more excited about the digital workflow than others?

SD: We’re finding that the younger doctors are used to getting data through their cell phones so they are very comfortable with the digital side of things. They like technology and are comfortable with it. However, that being said, there isn’t just one demographic that we see as the ideal fit for this technology.

Any doctor, no matter the age or gender, can see the advantages to going digital if he or she has a busy practice. Dentists don’t have time for remakes or mistakes. They want to know that when they get a crown back from their lab, it will fit.

KH: I know your lab uses Lava™ Plus High Translucency Zirconia from 3M ESPE. What do you like about it?

SD: We like its colorization and predictability. With some of the other materials on the market, you never knew what you were going to get. That’s not the case with Lava Plus zirconia.

I think that is its greatest advantage, and it also looks really good. It’s a very esthetic full-contour zirconia that we also are able to use for our copings and products with minimal cutbacks. It helps us with the entire gamut of final restorations. Its strength is superior and it provides the customer with excellent esthetics.

TZ: From a business perspective, the flexibility of the material is extremely beneficial. As Steve said, we use Lava Plus zirconia for copings, partial cutbacks and full-contour crowns. We can even do multi-unit bridges with different finishes on each tooth depending on the indication. It has given us the ability to offer more options, but only incur the holding cost to stock one material. There really isn’t a downside to using this product.

KH: We’ve talked about the 3M True Definiton Scanner and Lava Plus zirconia. How important is your lab’s relationship with 3M ESPE?

TZ: We use our relationship with 3M ESPE as a marketing tool. We tell our clients that zirconia is not the same across the board, and they should always find out what type of material their lab is using. The properties can differ dramatically depending on how it is processed by the manufacturer and the laboratory.

We believe it’s very important to work with a trusted partner who produces trusted materials and is willing to stand by those materials. We also know the amount of research that 3M ESPE puts into a product before it goes to market, which makes it easy for our lab to feel comfortable introducing a new product or material to our clients.

Additionally, education is very important to our laboratory and our clients, and 3M ESPE always provides excellent support in terms of doctor and lab education. We couldn’t be happier with our relationship.

Featured Products

3M™ True Definition Scanner

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3M™ ESPE™ Lava™ Plus High Translucency Zirconia

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