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The Future of Dental Labs

Heading the transition from manual to digital

In our previous article, we shed light on how moving from manual to digital methods can help lab owners take a major step towards securing the future of their business. However, the transition from manual to digital can be difficult. To ensure a successful transition, labs need to know what to look for in a new system and they must consider both short-term and long-term perspectives.

Select the Right CAD System

Workflow integration

Greatly increased productivity is one of the most important advantages that contribute to business success with the introduction of CAD/CAM. Your system’s overall performance will depend on how well the individual workflow steps are connected. Your system should include efficient workflow management that enables easy control and seamless execution of all steps - starting with order management, through scanning, design and ending with sending of orders for manufacturing.  A well-integrated system with strong workflow management features will enable you to access and exploit information from any stage within the case - making the lab’s job much faster and easier.

Available indications and design tools

An important long-term consideration is the range of dental indications and design tools available. Since its dawn, CAD/CAM technology has moved far beyond the earlier stages of “digital coping systems,” and today there are solutions that can digitally handle a wide range of dental indications and service functions. Such systems will not only cover and improve a lab’s current business models, but their additional indications and services can open new business opportunities. The range of advanced tools available is also important. Many labs find that they soon “grow out” of their CAD system because it only supports basic tools. Obtaining an indication-rich system with a wide range of advanced tools, or alternatively, starting with a basic system that includes easily obtainable expansion and upgrading options, will increase a lab’s potential for growth and its ability to compete – not only for today but also in the future.

Input and output options

A lab’s CAD/CAM system will seldom function as an isolated entity. It gets its original input from intraoral scanners in clinics, desktop scanners, or potentially other external systems, and afterward, its output is fed into all types of manufacturing machines. A lab should consider their future system’s openness to different input and output sources and its ability to cover all steps in dental workflows digitally. The future in dental clinics is also digital and therefore interacting with major digital impression systems in clinics is increasingly important. Interfacing flexibility will allow the lab to work with a wider range of dentists, select the best manufacturing machines and materials for the specific case, models and restoration. Some CAD/CAM systems include dedicated and optimized interfaces to commonly used 3rd party equipment.      

Exploit the Full Potential of Your CAD System

Push for digital changes

Still, too many labs purchase a CAD system and use it sporadically or for very specific indications.   Labs should go “all-in” with their digital investment - bring as many indications and services as possible into new digital workflows.  This is the only way the lab can ensure they will remain competitive and be prepared for future industries in which full-digital labs have the upper hand. Going from all-manual to all-digital may often require a mental shift -  however going only halfway will simply fail to add enough value in relation to any CAD/CAM investment.

Support and training - exploit your system’s full potential

Adapting digital methods can be a challenge without expert help. The more a lab’s technicians know about their new CAD system, the more value that the system will return. This becomes increasingly important as digital dentistry encompasses more and more indications. Therefore, labs should ensure that their system is solidly backed by extensive learning channels, such as training packages, user guides, local language support, online webinars, etc. Without these, a lab can risk investing in a full-featured system that runs at half its potential because too many profit-bringing workflow options remain hidden and unexploited. Continuous uptime is also important. Any CAD/CAM investment should include a reliable and straightforward support arrangement with accessible services during local business hours - and preferably in your local language. 

Select a Partner for the Future

The dental industry and CAD/CAM technologies are evolving at a rapid pace and not all existing technology providers are expected to survive in such a highly competitive and innovation-demanding market. In recent years, the industry has witnessed a decreasing amount of CAD technology providers and some industry leaders predict that soon only 3-5 key players will exist in the CAD market. However, what does this mean for labs that are choosing their new CAD system? The last thing a lab needs is to be left with a CAD software system that is no longer backed by support or upgrades. Labs need a provider that will still be around in the future to improve and support its products. Labs should invest in a system from a provider that is strong on innovation and continuously stays at the forefront of the industry. The lab should also take a close look at version upgrade agreements and feature expansion possibilities.

Your checklist - 6 things to remember when going digital

  1. Select a CAD system with a high degree of workflow integration and workflow management
  2. Look for a system with a wide range of indications and design tools
  3. Remember the importance of the system’s openness to input and output options such as digital impression systems, manufacturing machines, and materials
  4. Push for digital changes in your lab
  5. Ensure you get continuous support, training, learning materials, and documentation
  6. Invest in a system from a solid and future secure provider

Don’t miss the first article in “The Future of Dental Labs”, series: "Countering Business Threats with CAD/CAM"