The recent acquisition of WaterPik's laboratory- and occlusion-product lines and the launch of a milling center are just two of the many strategic changes made by Whip Mix Corp. in the past decade. LMT Associate Publishers Kelly Carr and Laurie Freddino traveled to Louisville, Kentucky for some Southern hospitality and to learn how third- and fourth-generation members of the Steinbock family—including siblings Anne, David, Andy and Allen plus his son, Stuart—are fulfilling their family legacy.
Whip Mix was born in 1919 with a modified egg beater and a metal bowl: a mechanical spatulator that whipped and mixed better than anything else on the market. The brainchild of Edmund Steinbock Sr., the spatulator took the market by storm. Now, 89 years later, Whip Mix is a 30-million-dollar company with an extensive product range marketed in 88 countries. Still headquartered in Louisville, Kentucky, the company also has facilities in Ft. Collins, Colorado and Dortmund, Germany and is operated by third- and fourth-generation members of the Steinbock family.
Being family owned, Whip Mix faces many of the same challenges as a family-operated laboratory; most notably, continuing the family legacy. "You can't just sit back and rest on your laurels. You have to continue to be relevant and vibrant. We've continued to change and sharpen our business to ensure success for the next generation as well as all of our 200 team members," says Anne Steinbock, vice president, sales.
One strategy has been growth through acquisition. In the past decade, Whip Mix has acquired IntraTech Dental Products (porcelain furnaces), Ardent (articulating paper, film and accessories) and most recently, the laboratory- and occlusion-product lines of WaterPik Inc. "The WaterPik acquisition includes the Hanau™ and Denar® brands of articulators, facebows, alcohol torches, burners and flasks and further strengthens our role in the occlusion diagnosis and education markets. It gives us a 90% share of the dental school articulator market," says Allen Steinbock, president.
Another part of Whip Mix's roadmap for success has been a comprehensive shift in management philosophies to focus on a company-wide teamwork approach. In 1998, the company achieved ISO 9001-certification during which all team members were—and continue to be—trained in quality management processes with an eye toward continuous improvement in their jobs, eliminating waste and maximizing value for Whip Mix customers, all key ISO principles. "Weekly, monthly and bimonthly metrics looking at sales figures, customer feedback and customer satisfaction are shared with all team members," explains Brian Knopf, senior vice president, technical services. "Everyone needs to know where we're at and how we're doing so they share in the process of achieving our goals."
As part of its continuous improvement efforts, the company also adopted Lean Manufacturing principles. Like ISO, this management philosophy emphasizes a teamwork approach and focuses on eliminating waste from all processes within an organization. Each employee participates in Lean/TQM team training led by Whip Mix's management team and the result has been a dramatic streamlining of the facility and methods of operation. (Click here to see Lean Manufacturing: the Key to Streamlining Operations.)
"Our Lean Manufacturing process is a self-directed, grass-roots effort. Every staff member is considered an industrial engineer and has input into changing the way we operate," says Jim Myers, vice president, manufacturing. "In the past seven years, 80 continuous improvement teams have identified areas of waste reduction or productivity improvements, saving more than $750,000 and freeing up 19,000 square feet of space in our facility."
In addition to increased efficiency, these space-saving efforts have allowed them to accommodate valuable new services. For instance, the staff in the wax department reorganized and consolidated its packaging and storage needs so efficiently that it freed up nearly 4,000 square feet of space, making room for the company's new division, Whip Mix Laboratory Services. This division offers CAD/CAM-fabricated zirconia copings and bridges designed with the 3Shape scanner and milled with the Vericore System. "This system can mill a finished margin and mill to a bevel so there's no need for a shoulder or chamfer. Also, we can go through the milling process digitally to check the process before actually milling the restoration," says Joe Jennings, general manager, Laboratory Services Division.
Laboratory customers can access Vericore services in two ways:
Send the model to Whip Mix for scanning and design.
Purchase the 3Shape scanner, scan and design the restoration at the laboratory, and then transmit the data to Whip Mix for milling.
"We took 10 years to find the right technology for our market. We firmly believe that an outsourced milling center is the best option for most U.S. labs. This has been validated by the number of labs who have had a system in house and are now choosing Vericore because of the simplicity of use, the improved accuracy and the marginal integrity we consistently deliver," says Stuart Steinbock, president, Lab Services Division.
Changing with the times
As kids, the Steinbock's after-school hours and summer vacations were spent packaging gypsum and die stone, hauling boxes and helping out in the plant in any way that was needed. All totaled, Allen, Anne, Andy, David and Stuart Steinbock have more than 125 years of experience in the dental laboratory profession. They know their company; they understand their market.
"Times are changing, and companies have to change with them. For instance, there is plenty of evidence that we're nearing the end of the 100-year legacy of the lost wax technique. Metal-free is what consumers want," says Allen Steinbock. "Our goals are to stay abreast of the rapidly changing marketplace and provide our customers with the tools and services they need to compete."