When Tom Jacobs says he offers personal service, he means it. In addition to his home-based laboratory in Hendersonville, NC, Jacobs brings his services right to his clients' doorsteps via his mobile laboratory—a completely self-contained lab in a 2007 Dodge 2500 Sprinter van.
Through MobileLab Technologies, Jacobs offers one-hour porcelain veneers and full-contour crowns fabricated using the Sirona inLab® CAD/CAM system. "I can take the van anywhere and within one hour of handing me the impression, my dentist-client and his patient have a finished, stained and glazed restoration," says Jacobs.
Here's how the service works: during a patient's consultation, the dentist calls Jacobs to schedule an appointment—typically within two to three days. At the appointment, Jacobs has the opportunity to consult with the dentist and patient and then takes the impression back to the van while the patient waits inside the office. "From the moment I get the impression, I'm off and running," says Jacobs. "The less time the patient spends in the chair, the better it is for everyone."
Back in the mobile unit, he pours up the model, scans it, designs the restoration, mills and stains it, and returns to the office for a try in; he then goes back to the van for adjustments and a final glaze. "The patient doesn't need a temporary which saves time and money for both the dentist and the patient," says Jacobs.
To minimize chairtime, Jacobs has implemented a number of ways to shave minutes off his fabrication time. For instance, since the muffle of a porcelain furnace has to cool before it can be reprogrammed, Jacobs has two furnaces. He also has four different high-speed handpieces each with its own type of chucked bur so he can switch from one to another without changing burs. "It takes me about 22 seconds to change a bur, so this is an easy way for me to save precious seconds without compromising quality," he says.
Since Jacobs launched his mobile service three years ago, about six of his 10 clients use it, mostly for rush cases. He's on the road at least one day a week and charges a premium for the one-hour restorations. For instance, his fee is $280 per unit for a one-hour crown versus $225 for a crown with his usual 24- to 48-hour turnaround time. Clients within a 50-mile radius aren't charged for travel time; those beyond that area pay a $70 travel fee.
Offering on-site services has given Jacobs a whole new perspective. "In the past, I just boxed up the case and sent it off," he says. "Now I'm working one-on-one with the dentist, patient and assistant, and the four of us are communicating every step of the way. And when the case is actually seated, the patient is so thankful. It's a blessing for me to be able to see firsthand exactly what our industry can do for the patient.
Building the Mobile Laboratory
Jacobs invested over $200,000 in the mobile van, including the van itself, the equipment and the interior design. To transform it into a laboratory, he worked with a company that makes mobile dog grooming vans. In about three months, the company measured, designed and created the laboratory—with the help of Jacobs' father, 94-year-old CDT Earl Jacobs.
The result is a completely self-contained, streamlined laboratory with about 60 square feet of workspace. The lab is equipped with a Sirona inLab® CAD/CAM system, air compressor, lathe and model trimmer, Comco dual-tank microblasting unit, suction system, four handpieces, two porcelain furnaces, sink with a water supply, one workstation and a chair. "The layout is ergonomically designed, makes use of every square inch of space and facilitates workflow to the highest level of production. It's so streamlined that it's easier to work in here than in my home laboratory!" says Jacobs, who holds patents on the van's design.
Since Jacobs runs multiple pieces of equipment simultaneously, the biggest challenge was making sure the van had enough power. The lab is powered by a bank of six marine-grade batteries weighing 100 pounds each and two industrial inverters that keep the batteries charged