In June, Whip Mix Corp. held its Lab Advisory Council Meeting, bringing together a group of 10 laboratory owners and managers to brainstorm and debate topics like offshore outsourcing, digital technology, lean manufacturing and more. The consensus? A laboratory that doesn't have a strategy to adjust to quick-pace change will most certainly be left behind; in fact, it became a running joke among participants that the refrain of the meeting was "adapt or die."
The group, including representatives from some of the country's largest laboratories, also discussed their vision of the industry a few years from now:
Increased consolidation and attrition. "We're reaching a pivotal point where there will be lots of shakeout in the form of consolidation and attrition among not only labs, but also dentists and manufacturers," said Richard Harrell, CDT, regional vice president for Dental Services Group.
Proliferation of digital technologies, including more coming in from outside the dental industry. Participants agreed that dentists remain change-resistant, and laboratories will continue to have the onus of getting doctors on board with new processes.
Digital impressions will become more commonplace when digital models become less expensive for the laboratory and the dentist's equipment costs are more reasonable. "When a dentist's lease payments and click fees are less than $500 a month, we'll reach a tipping point that allows the technology to be more cost-effective than impression materials," said Larry Weiss, president, Keller Dental Lab, a National Dentex company.
Outsourcing--both domestic and offshore--will grow even more, and the typical lab will likely use a few different options in order to provide a host of services. "If a lab isn't full service, then it will need to be; luckily there are many outsourcing resources in the U.S., without having to go outside the country," said Gary Iocco, president of 12-person Red Wing Dental Arts, the smallest laboratory in the group.
Due to both offshore outsourcing and chairside milling systems, restorations will increasingly be perceived as a commodity, and savvy laboratories will need to develop strong value propositions. "We have to offer services, not just a product. It's no longer just about making a better crown," says Steve Brown, vice president, Colonial Dental Studio, Davenport, Iowa.
Whip Mix has held a Lab Advisory Council Meeting for the last four years, with the goal of hearing about industry issues directly from their customers and determining how the company can help them compete in an ever-changing marketplace. "Our Lab Advisory Council is just one way we listen to customers to determine the products we will make and how we will meet customer needs in the future," says Anne Steinbock, Whip Mix's vice president of sales & marketing. "We truly appreciate the participants' openness in sharing information with us as well as with other lab owners. The meeting wouldn't be successful without their mutual trust and desire to improve the lab industry."
But it wasn't all business. The Steinbocks--the family behind Whip Mix--lived up to their reputation as gracious hosts: in addition to a comprehensive tour of the company's 250,000-square-foot facility in Louisville, KY, participants enjoyed a festive get-together at Maker's Mark Bourbon House on Fourth Street Live in downtown Louisville and an afternoon of thoroughbred horse racing at historic Churchill Downs.
Whip Mix is also hosting another event, its LEAN Symposium, on September 23-24 in Louisville. Participants will learn about lean manufacturing principles and hear first-hand from laboratories that have applied them. For details, call Whip Mix at 800-626-5651.