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Embracing the digital workflow revolution

Friday, November 14, 2014

It is a tough time to work in the dental laboratory industry. The recession has hit us all hard and we face increasing pressure from clients to produce high quality work more quickly and competitively than ever before. However, the outlook isn’t all doom and gloom. Digital technology has begun to revolutionise the industry in recent years and presents a fantastic opportunity for dental laboratories to improve turnaround times and make significant savings in terms of efficiency and material costs.

Taking our own laboratory as an example, at Allport & Vincent we have purposely followed the development of the digital workflow and have embraced it wherever we can. Not only does it solve difficulties in relation to expansion and continued growth, but it also reduces the amount of labour and material-intensive techniques we use in the laboratory.

Essentially, it helps us achieve the ‘impossible’ with quicker turnarounds at lower prices, while also maintaining the same high quality of work.

A flexible option

Of course, the great thing about the digital workflow is that you can select those elements of the process which best suit your requirements. For example, software systems such as 3Shape and 3M ESPE are now available to translate a patient’s intraoral digital impressions into actual printed SLA models. Once you have received the digital file from your client, the printed model can be manufactured using this data, negating the need for a physical impression and eliminating the inaccuracy associated with them.

From there on in, you could opt to continue this case in the traditional way, or, if you wished to proceed further down the digital route, your next step would be to adopt design software. At Allport & Vincent we have chosen Renishaw incise and NobelProcera as systems to design anything from single-unit crowns and partial-implant bridges to full-arch implant bar restorations.

Once you have a finalised design, you are then able to digitally transfer the design direct to your chosen milling machine. There is the flexibility to mill on-site with your own milling equipment (Renishaw incise) or off-site at a dedicated production facility as offered by Nobel Biocare. Work on restorations requiring porcelain or other finishing techniques can then be resumed in the laboratory as necessary. While digital technology is certainly not cheap, it is not as expensive as you may think and a complete digital switchover does not have to take place overnight. Upon analysis of your clients’ demands, you may opt to introduce the appropriate elements piecemeal, as your finances allow. Whether you choose to make the transition slowly, or all in one go, investing in digital technology now will only save you money in the future.

Embrace the change The efficiency and quality made possible by digital workflow are difficult to overstate. In addition to reducing inventory and labour costs, it also reduces lost time associated with rejected impressions and can eliminate numerous chemical-based processes in the laboratory. Furthermore, improved quality in everything from the initial impression received to the overall restoration means we have fewer remakes and returns. This increases our profitability and improves our reputation and relationship with our clients, and thus has an extremely positive impact on our business.

The laboratory industry has always been thought of as a ‘cottage industry’, and in many respects it is. However in the last few years, with the digital revolution, laboratories are now moving into a far more sophisticated world. In order to remain competitive and keep up with those dentists who are pushing the boundaries on the clinical side, the onus is on us as dental laboratories to keep up with the latest developments. We cannot afford to sit back and wait for change to be pushed upon us – rather we should embrace the change, and use it to help our businesses grow.

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