The current economic turmoil--which many predict will affect our growth through 2010--has created a ravine through an otherwise positive trend line in our well-regarded industry.
While the economy is affecting the entire industry, it's having the greatest impact on cosmetic, want-based dentistry which, until recently, had been in great demand.
Likewise, since innovation and adoption require a strong economic backdrop, the rate at which new technologies are adopted will likely slow over the next couple of years. That said, technology and manufacturers' stream of ideas and product launches will ultimately prevail, creating new opportunities for dental laboratories.
In the 1980s, many people speculated that fax machines and e-mail would have meant the end for FedEx. But, in fact, the Internet and online shopping have created a boom for the company that once relied heavily on shipping the overnight letter. Today, much of dental laboratory technology is in the same position. You can speculate on the industry's future based on the role we serve today or glimpse a wider view of the role we may serve in the future.
Within the next 10 years, I think we'll see the technician acting as a knowledge czar more than ever before. Laboratories will be the information clearinghouses that help doctors find the best solutions to restorative challenges. Unlike the past, where solutions focused on mixing stones, powders and waxes, new solutions involve a more complex understanding of the material choices and relationships with third-party outsourcers who manufacture restorations or their parts on the lab's behalf.
Consider the nature of the lab owner's relationships today compared with a decade ago. In the 90s, the lab owner only needed a relationship with one or two supply companies to fabricate all the products he needed for his customers. Today, he needs strong relationships with many large medical device companies--such as implant companies, software and scanner companies and outsourcing laboratories--to manufacture a comprehensive line of products. The extent of these relationships is likely to grow significantly over the next 10 years and lab owners will need to technically discern among the many options to determine the best fit for their businesses and to meet their customers' needs.
Technology, however, is not for its own sake and lab owners will see the distinction between technologies that manufacture new products and those that offer an improved, more efficient process of manufacturing existing products; the latter offers opportunity to create restorations with more appealing turnaround time, price, consistency and quality. New technologies can offer laboratories the ability to produce restorations of higher quality at a lower cost without the critical mass required in the past to achieve economies of scale.
Since most new technologies are usually more productive than individuals, we'll likely see a reduced need for technicians, especially as the productivity gains of technology outpace the demand for our products in the near future. I speculate that the reduced need for technicians will peacefully coincide with the aging of our industry.
For more about Digital Dentistry visit:
Digital Dentistry: Just In Its Infancy
Down is the New Up
At $11 Billion By 2014, C&B Reigns
You Can't Hug the Past
A New World of Dental Materials
Think in Terms of Two-to-Three Year ROI