In this special edition of the Laboratory of the Month, LMT kicks off a new series, FutureLAB, that takes a look at the trends that will shape the laboratory of the future. For this month's coverage, we surveyed U.S. laboratory owner/managers who employ more than 50 technicians and asked them: What are the top three digital technologies that will have the greatest impact on dental laboratories in the next five years and why? Click here for chart. Our surveys frequently target different segments of the market and, in this case, we selected the larger labs because they are more likely to be involved in high-ticket digital technology.
CAD/CAM technology in the laboratory is the "way our industry is headed," according to 64% of respondents to LMT's FutureLAB survey. It's the digital technology our survey respondents believe will have the greatest impact on their laboratories in the next five years. In fact, although they currently fabricate an average of 22% of their total caseload using CAD/CAM, they predict that percentage will increase 40%--up to 62% of their total caseload--by 2011.
They're excited by the technology because of its accuracy and precision, positive impact on production flow and turnaround time, and the esthetic advantages of zirconium. In addition, many feel it will offer a viable solution to their chronic need for technicians, enable their best technicians to focus on higher-skill work and attract a whole new breed of newcomers to the industry. "CAD/CAM could relieve the shortage of fixed dental technicians since there is a greater labor pool of people who have the computer skills required for the CAD/CAM manufacturing process," says Dell Dine, vice president of research and development, National Dentex Corp.
Given that poor impressions are such a source of contention for laboratory owners, it's no surprise that 48% of our respondents rank digital impression-taking systems as the number two digital technology that will impact laboratories. These systems will enable the dentist to scan the patient's teeth using a hand-held scanner, eliminating the conventional impression; the digital data will then be used to design the coping.
In addition to giving the laboratory a more reliable foundation with which to work, our survey respondents expect these systems to improve accuracy and consistency, speed up production time, lessen the margin of human error and thus reduce remakes. "Digital impressions will give dentists another tool that will help them become more proficient at taking impressions. Their need to take multiple impressions or retaking an impression at a second appointment will be decreased," says Greg Thayer, owner, Thayer Dental Laboratory, Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania.
The third technology that will have the greatest impact is chairside CAD/CAM and, needless to say, there is less excitement about this technology. Laboratory owners feel the equipment will continue to hurt their businesses and force them to focus on a different product mix. "Chairside CAD/CAM systems will reduce the number of standard PVCs being produced; in other words, our bread and butter is ebbing, making it more difficult to run a laboratory," says David Zanon, Nu-Art Dental Laboratory, Inc., Wauwatosa, Wisconsin. To combat these concerns, some proactive laboratory owners with in-house CAD/CAM systems are partnering with their dentist-clients who use a chairside system and augmenting their clients' CAD/CAM-fabricated restorative options click here for Sirona's CEREC 20th Anniversary Experience touts dentist-lab partnership for more information.
FutureLAB Survey respondents sound off on how digital technologies will shape the laboratory of the future:
"Anything that can be digitized, will be. Future leaders will be those technicians and dentists who use technology to provide patients a better, faster and easier dental experience." --Michael Kulwiec, president, Dental Masters Laboratory, Santa Rosa, California
"CAD/CAM could relieve the shortage of fixed dental technicians since there is a greater labor pool of people who have the computer skills required for the CAD/CAM manufacturing process." --Dell Dine, vice president of research and development, National Dentex Corp.
"Digital impressions will help the laboratory immensely. Accurate impressions result in accurate margins, and it will cut our turnaround by two days." --Luis de Yturbe, president & CEO, Tristar Dental Laboratory Houston, Texas
"Digital impressions will give dentists another tool that will help them become more proficient at taking impressions. Their need to take multiple impressions or retake an impression at a second appointment will be decreased." --Greg Thayer, owner, Thayer Dental Laboratory, Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania
"Chairside CAD/CAM will result in fewer cases going to the lab, forcing labs to focus on a different product mix, like doing more implants and CAD/CAM esthetic cases." --Anonymous