Precision isn't a buzzword, it's a promise

Dental Products Report, Dental Products Report August 2020, Volume 54, Issue 8

How focusing on technical excellence made Bien-Air’s EVO.15 electric handpiece a safety standout.

Bien-Air Dental is a company with exceptional engineering in its very DNA. It was started in Switzerland’s “Watch Valley” by precision mechanic David Mosimann, who was motivated to bring his talents to dentistry after hearing a dentist complain about unreliable turbines in his office. More than 60 years after Mosimann founded Bien-Air Dental, the company is still listening to the needs of the dental professional and responding with quality.

Edgar Schönbächler is the CEO of Bien-Air Dental, but he is an engineer at heart, with a

Ph.D. in semiconductor technology. That kind of technical background is very common in Bien-Air’s senior leadership. Appreciation for technical excellence comes from the very top.

“‘Watch Valley’ is all about micromechanics, and the engineering schools in the area are dedicated to this, much to the benefit of watchmakers and, increasingly, medical device companies,” Schönbächler says. “What this means is that when we look for an operator for our assembly department, we don’t need to explain what it means to be precise, accurate, and rigorous. They know because this is the field they’ve trained for and often [they] have friends or family involved in some way. When you combine that skill with the values of listening to our clients to try to understand and anticipate their needs, that is special. These are the values we promote and try to live every day.”

Committing to that level of quality in process and product doesn’t come without great investment.

“We have a conscience about what our product should cost and, of course, we are in a competitive market where we have to make our case against other companies who are making good products,” Schönbächler says. “When it comes to engineering a new product, it is a process that not only involves materials or design, but is also very often an industrial process. It is easy to make a prototype that works perfectly well, down to the micrometer. It is difficult to bring that level of perfection and quality to 10,000 units, 20,000 units. This is where those initial choices on materials and design, the smallest details, end up making the difference.”

For dental handpieces, those details have a significant impact. Schönbächler uses the rotor, which rotates up to 200,000 rpm, as an example. If the rotor is even slightly unbalanced, it can create vibrations that not only wear out the instrument, but also can lead to discomfort for both the dentist and the patient, he says.

“We balance every single rotor individually, which takes an awful lot of time, but we do it because that individualized adjustment meets the standard we want to be known for,” Schönbächler says. “If a dentist is taking an approach where he or she wants to save money, this level of quality may seem like too much. But when you compare what happens when you don’t have that level of precision and what it can mean in terms of reliability, the true value of a Bien-Air handpiece is hard to estimate. There’s no secret to what we do; it is hard work and dedication every single day.”

This summer, many dental professionals found themselves assessing quality in a new way, eager to make choices that convey safety and build trust with both the team and patients. Technological advancements such as the sterilizable anti-retraction valve in a Bien-Air EVO.15 are more than a cool feature. Some electric handpieces on the market have anti-retraction valves, but they are located in the coupling, which isn’t sterilizable. Alternatively, Bien-Air locates the anti-retraction valve in the body of the handpiece so that it can be sterilized. Why doesn’t every manufacture do that? Simply put, it is technically a challenge.

“As a Swiss company, we are usually more expensive than some of our competitors, which means that when we do something, we have to do it better—we have no other choice. Sometimes we overoptimize our engineering, but in this particular case, with the sterilizable anti-retraction valve, it’s been entirely positive,” Schönbächler says. “We have a number of features related to maintenance and sterilization that have been ‘rediscovered.’ We’ve always seen the importance of those features, but now the dentists are seeing it with a new sense of importance. This crisis has made more people—patients and dentists alike—aware of the potential for cross-contamination in the dental practice. If a doctor can point out the sterilizable anti-retraction valve as a way of building trust, that is awareness and a good clinical practice that will benefit us all long after worries about [coronavirus disease 2019] have lessened.”

For Schönbächler, “innovation is something that also belongs in the industrialization process.”

“Imagine a guy who works on a milling machine and he comes up with an idea to make the process maybe 2 minutes faster—that’s innovation!” Schönbächler says. “It’s not just the anti-heat features, the push button, or the anti-retraction valve. Those are the things most visible, but they’re not always the most important. We’re a company that will always value the technical details. They make the big advancements possible.”