LMT Managing Editor Kim Calabro visits Precision Craft Dental Laboratory for a firsthand look at its new $3.4 million laboratory and education center.
Four hundred and thirty feet of granite countertops. Undermounted stainless steel sinks. Hydraulic cabinet doors and drawers that close without a sound. No, this isn't a description of the latest high-end kitchen from the pages of Architectural Digest, these are just some of the unique features of Precision Craft Laboratory's new $3.4 million facility in Smithfield, Rhode Island.
In 2005, the laboratory was ready to grow, but couldn't--literally. After 30 years in the same 3,500-sq.-ft. location, a building that could comfortably fit 15 employees was now accommodating a staff of 32. "We'd gotten to the point that we were growing vertically rather than horizontally, things were stacked on people's benches and we were bursting at the seams," says Ryan Napolitano, vice president of operations. "We also had the workload to justify hiring new technicians, but not the space to accommodate them."
Now, the laboratory has room to grow in a new, custom-built, 14,000-sq.-ft. building, and it's already reaping the benefits of its new environment. Since moving in April, production has increased 10% due to the more spacious, streamlined floor plan and new equipment. For instance, one of the biggest bottlenecks in the old facility was the fact that it only had two sinks; the new lab has 17! Also, each Zeising workstation now has everything technicians need right at their fingertips, including new NSK Z500 electric handpieces, Renfert IS2 sandblasters and BEGO Triton steamers.
Another upgrade is the knee-activated KaVo vacuum unit at each set of three workstations. Previously, the lab had just one central vacuum that ran constantly, generating a lot of noise and costly electric bills. "This lab is four times larger than our old lab, but we're still using the same amount of electricity as before thanks to the new individual units that only run when they're needed," says laboratory Owner Richard Napolitano, CDT.
The Napolitanos worked with Zeising Gnathologie of Leinburg, Germany to design the facility and went through 15 revisions in the floor plan before it was finalized. "You only have one shot to build it right and the planning stage is the best time to make revisions--it's a lot cheaper to make changes on paper than in bricks and mortar," says Ryan.
That lesson was learned the hard way when, during site development, the Napolitanos decided to reorient the lab's production area so it faced north to receive neutral light at all times. The cost? A whopping $24,000 for additional blasting and grading and redrawing the plans. "It was an expensive change, but light is everything to a laboratory," says Richard.
Focus on education
Since the Napolitanos plan to double their workforce over the next six to eight years and train all new employees in-house, the facility also includes a separate training room where the lab's managers can provide intensive, hands-on instruction in a non-production environment. Flooded with natural daylight, the room features the same state-of-the art benches and lighting as in the main production area.
A grant from the state of Rhode Island will help keep the training room full. In 2005, the laboratory was accepted into the Workforce Partnership Program, in which the state matches up applicants in its employment pool with a specific job posted by a participating business, then pays half of the trainee's wages for the first six months. To date, the lab has hired three new technicians through this process, all of whom had no industry-related experience. "This program is a big relief to me financially because I'm not paying a full salary to a technician who's not yet producing," says Richard, who is also focusing on recruiting local vocational and high school students.
Education for the lab's dentist-clients is also a priority and the new facility includes a 50-person lecture room with an overhead audio visual display, ceiling-mounted projector and wet bar. An adjacent in-house operatory for live-patient courses features an overhead video unit with a macro lens so procedures can be broadcast into the lecture room; a full wall of glass separates the two rooms to maximize viewing by the dentist participants. So far, the laboratory has held several manufacturer-sponsored courses for clients, and area study clubs are booking the room for its meetings.
Creating such a facility was no small feat and several manufacturers and suppliers stepped up to support the lab's efforts: Biomet 3i provided the operatory chair, Henry Schein donated an autoclave unit and Zimmer Dental helped sponsor the lab's April open house. And Precision Craft may soon be getting even more financial help. This fall, the laboratory finds out if it receives a second grant from the state: an annual $50,000 award for cross training its staff.
Precision Craft Dental Laboratory [Smithfield, RI]
At age 14, Richard Napolitano decided he wanted to be a dentist. To get experience in the field, he got a job in a denture lab where he worked after school and on vacations until he could apply to dental school. But when he was waitlisted, Napolitano made a decision: to stick with dental technology, a field he had grown to love.
Napolitano opened Precision Craft Dental Laboratory with a partner, Joseph Luponi, in 1972, and eventually the lab grew to 12 employees. After Luponi died in 1992, Napolitano decided to expand the lab even further to its current staff of 36.
In 2003, Napolitano's son, Ryan--who grew up doing odd jobs around the laboratory--came aboard to handle marketing, ultimately taking on the role of vice president of operations.
Today, the laboratory serves 700 dentist-clients and 60% of the Rhode Island market and the father-son team just put the finishing touches on a $3.4 million laboratory and education center. "We complement each other," says Richard of his son. "I bring my 30 years of technical knowledge and he brings his business skills and computer savvy. It's not often that your son is also your best friend, and I wouldn't have built this lab if it wasn't for him."
The new facility and the jobs it will create have put the laboratory in the local media spotlight. Precision Craft has been featured in several newspaper articles including the Providence Business News and The Providence Journal and, this year, received the Entrepreneurial Success Award from the SBA.