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Are you ready to take the plunge and invest in your own digital equipment?
Going digital was the name of the game at NADL Vision 21 in Las Vegas in January
where speakers offered tips on how to incorporate new technology
into the laboratory.
1. Review Your Expectations: Before investing in new equipment, do an internal needs analysis. “Ask yourself: What are you trying to do or improve? What do you expect from the technology? Can the technology be multi-purposed? Does it look like a technology that might be around for a while?” advised Chris Waldrop, Burdette Dental Laboratory, Birmingham, AL.
2. Evaluate the Technology: Assess the accuracy, detail and appearance of the end product. For instance, if you’re buying a 3D printer for partial frames, evaluate the margin lines and whether the clasps fit. Also, what is the cycle time and yield of the unit? Is it better to buy one large machine or two smaller ones?
3. Price it Out: As with any equipment purchase, the unit, material, training and labor costs all have to be factored into the equation. “Look at production costs to determine your cost recovery period and make sure your volume is enough to justify the investment,” said Waldrop. “Annual maintenance programs, uncovered parts and downtime are all important costs to keep in mind. The machine is going to break at some point, so what will you do in the interim and how much will it cost? If feasible, you may want to look at purchasing two machines so you have a backup if one goes down.”
4. Research the Vendor: Your vendor should be experienced in the lab industry and have customer service contacts who know the technology. Ask about all of the vendor’s customer services; for instance, will it overnight a replacement unit if yours goes down? How quickly does it do repairs? Does the company offer fabrication services you can use as a backup if your business suddenly spikes?
5. Prepare Your Personnel: Once you have in-house equipment, who will run it? Take into account the time and cost of training existing employees or hiring new ones. You may also need an IT person on staff or consultant to handle the increase in data and troubleshoot hardware and software issues.
6. Know Your Physical Requirements: Consider how the technology fits into your facility as far as space and infrastructure. For instance, when Keller Laboratories purchased a new mill, it created a new space for it then ran into a problem upon delivery. “We ordered the mill thinking we knew what size the machine was, but when we got it in, the unit was .5" wider than the door!” admitted Larry Weiss, President of Keller Laboratories, St. Louis. Also find out if your electrical service, suction or HVAC needs to be upgraded based on the requirements of the machine or if you need a higher-capacity IT server to handle the increase in digital data.
7. Ease the Integration: As you bring in new technology, it’s key to keep the lines of communication open with your team in order to get them on board. “Have a tactical plan in place,” advised Weiss. “When the first mill showed up at Keller, we didn’t think about peoples’ reactions; waxers and ceramists all went into panic mode. As your lab evolves, it’s very important to involve the team in the decision-making process, explain the reasons for the change, communicate the threat of not changing, minimize uncertainty and celebrate successes.”
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