Technology in our industry is advancing at warp speed, and a new generation of tech-savvy technicians is embracing the change. Unlike baby boomer lab owners to whom the digital movement isn't second nature, these technicians grew up in the digital age where computers are a way of life. They're excited about how new technologies are changing the process—making fabrication faster, and the results more precise and esthetic—and reshaping the role of the technician.
Here, members of this new e-generation—all of whom are second generation technicians—share how they think new technology will continue to shape the industry and why they want to be on the forefront.
Eric Nunnally What's really exciting is that our industry is going through a period of rapid change that it hasn't seen before. For years, we went through a stagnant period where you'd occasionally see the launch of a new porcelain, but now new cutting-edge technologies are shaping our processes and allowing us to create new business models. It's fascinating to go to various industry events—like LMT®> Lab Day® or the IDS in Germany—to learn how other labs are adapting. With all this change, I see opportunity and the labs that embrace change and adopt new processes will be the ones that rise to the top. —Eric Nunnally, executive vice president, Derby Dental Lab, Louisville, Kentucky; he joined the lab in 2003.
Ryan Napolitano Rapid prototyping has been gaining a lot of momentum and it's very interesting because some of the systems bridge the gap between old and new techniques. For instance, the wax printing systems allow you to design the restoration on screen, output it in wax, then cast it using traditional techniques. It's ideal because computers are foreign to some veteran technicians, but when they get to the wax prototype, they know how to take it from there. This kind of system is easier to integrate into our production. —Ryan Napolitano, vice president of operations, Precision Craft Dental Laboratory, Smithfield, Rhode Island; he joined the lab in 2003.
Ryan Okon The technology that's coming into our industry is the reason I'm here. Traditional crown and bridge work doesn't really interest me so I never thought I'd join my father's laboratory, but after I graduated college he told me about zirconia and his idea of starting a milling center and I was intrigued. CAD/CAM automation makes our jobs easier; it provides better quality and much higher productivity.
Even since I came aboard four years ago, the technology has progressed quite a bit. For instance, to determine the cement gap or fit, we used to measure every single case by hand before it was scanned using a digital caliper and then enter the measurements into the system. Often, if two people measured the same die, we'd get two different measurements. Today it's all 3-D and digital—we determine the fit on screen after it's been scanned—and it's much easier and more consistent. The technology is also more exacting so it's better for patients in terms of quality and esthetics. Looking ahead, using this evolving technology is not only going to be beneficial, but essential. —Ryan Okon, operations manager, Stanley Okon Milling Center, Laguna Woods, California; he joined the lab in 2004.
Nick Ragle The biggest advance for our laboratory right now is the digital impression-taking systems because they have the ability to eliminate bad impressions altogether. One of our biggest clients has had a system for over a year and although his remake percentage was always low—between 1.5-2%—it's now down to 0%. However, one thing we need to remember is that the technology won't make a bad dentist better. For example, if a client can't figure out how to keep the mouth dry when taking a traditional impression, he'll have the same problem taking a digital one. But for those who have a good technique, it will make the impression that much better and more accurate.
As more and more dentists adopt the technology, technicians' lives will get a lot easier. And, for us, this is only the beginning; our goal is to become an all-digital lab. —Nick Ragle, laboratory manager, Ragle Dental Lab, Champaign, Illinois; he joined the lab in 2004
Owen Thayer I'm really excited by digital technology and the way it's progressing so rapidly—the more digital we can go, the better! Digital impressions will be the wave of the future. They will be more accurate, simpler for the dentist to take and may attract more patients to having crown and bridge procedures—which is good for our business.
Automated technologies are also really going to help with production and alleviate the problem of too much work in too little time. For example, if the lab has a huge number of single units to fabricate, a milling or rapid prototyping system can get the work done faster and technicians can focus on the larger, more extensive cases. It seems like the sky is the limit with what we can do. I'm not sure where it's all going to go, but it's going to be fun getting there. —Owen Thayer, CAD/CAM manager, Thayer Dental Lab, Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania; he joined the lab in 2003.