As the calendar year comes to a close, so does the fiscal year for many small businesses. This is the time when small business owners assess the business year to identify strengths and weaknesses. Upon review, known certainties of the industry are now a glaring reality in the profit and loss statement. For small dental labs who have resisted the demand to incorporate a scanner into their workflow there is a high probability they are not only losing profits but also diminishing their ability to efficiently service their dentists. The industry has evolved to the point where it is costing even the smallest labs more money not to have a scanner, than to become scanner equipped. With the majority of dentists navigating to digital design-based restorations it is unrealistic to expect business sustainability without embracing the benefits of a lab scanner.
A scanner-less lab that is outsourcing as few as twenty restorations a month for Zirconia, eMax etc. is most likely losing money and time. Calculating a simple cost-benefit analysis quickly demonstrates the direct savings. The average savings of scanning and designing a restoration is $20 per unit. When adding the variable costs of shipping and handling the model to a scan, design and milling center a conservative estimate would be a savings of an additional $3.00 per unit. The average lease payment with a standard lease-to-own program is around $400. In most cases this $400 payment is considerably lower than the than the savings provided by owning a scanner. Below is an actual illustration of a customer analysis where the savings were substantially larger than their lease payment. A smaller, low volume lab would also realize substantial savings. If we use a 25 model a month figure, at a $23.00 per model savings, the result would be $575.00 per month in lowered expenses. The lab owner is still realizing a $175.00 per month savings with a $400.00 payment.
It’s no secret that the dental market is demanding quicker turnaround times. Scanner equipped labs cut two day average shipping times down to a 30 second file upload. Unpacking models, scanning and designing are also eliminated from the work flow resulting in the lab receiving the restoration and delivering it to their dentists significantly faster. This process also eliminates the possibility of the model being lost or damaged during shipping to the mill. Busy shipping seasons like Christmas can cause shipping companies to get back logged, struggle to stay on schedule, and deliver packages with a higher ratio of damaged items. These factors are not a concern with scanner equipped labs that operate with a seamless work flow.
Becoming a scanner equipped lab with an open file accepting system like Exocad, will allow you to expand your services beyond a quicker turnaround time. As dental practices respond to market demands, they are improving their work flow and saving money with the benefits of intraoral scanners. More dentists are expecting labs to accept their scanner files and produce a restoration from the file type they send you. No scanner system accepts all files, but open scanner systems accept the majority of them. AmericaSmiles accepts files for scanner equipped labs that are unable to design an intraoral file types and converts them to file that that can designed in nearly any software system. Our IT staff has assisted hundreds of labs with file conversion and IT support in a number of capacities.
With a digital scanner, many daily operational challenges are now gone. Labor time and shipping materials when packaging models to be sent are eliminated and waste disposal costs are drastically reduced. The absence of these obstacles are time savers that allow you to concentrate on the important things that strengthen your business. Reduced work flow times are often difficult to calculate to a specific dollar amount but are apparent in the bottom line. Increased efficiency in your work flow equips you to better serve doctors who send late day rush jobs, allows quicker recovery when a case goes bad and a redo is required, and allows you to work outside of standard carrier hours. These benefits are difficult to apply a direct dollar savings but ultimately make your business run more smoothly and efficiently.
Measuring lost business can be difficult. Dentists don’t appreciate being forced to search for a new restoration supplier because their current lab cannot meet their service needs and lacks today’s technological abilities. Becoming scanner equipped increases your service capabilities making your lab more appealing to a broader market. Simply informing a dental practice that you have digital capabilities provides a strong sense of industry knowledge and awareness. Your dentists want confidence in your ability to provide them with a quality product and efficient service times. They need to believe that your lab is equipped and is capable of providing what’s needed as industry trends become a sure reality. In 2018 it will become increasingly difficult for scanner-less labs to maintain an efficiency level high enough to remain relevant in today’s dental industry.
Fortunately, dental lab scanners have leveled off at a price where any lab can afford them. As is the case with most technological advances, prices come down as the market evolves. Financial obstacles are no longer a barrier for 98% of dental labs that understand the urgency of becoming scanner equipped in today’s dental market.
Primary reasons lab owners resist the move to the digital side of dental industry.
Not sure I have the business to afford it. This concern is easily responded to with the reasons stated above. After illustrating the financial benefits, the concern is resolved and the evaluation process moves on.
2. Fear of the technology
“I’m not that technological and I don’t know if I can design on a computer. My craft is one that has always been done manually”. This is an understandable apprehension. Change of this nature can be hard to visualize. The founder of AmericaSmiles, Keith Crittenden, was an early participant in digital design. He often tells the story of his journey into digital dentistry. As business grew and he needed to expand the design department, he felt his best opportunity would be to find young people that are comfortable with a computer and teach them to design teeth. He quickly discovered that a 60 year old dental technician adapts much quicker to learning how to design crowns and bridges on a computer than a young tech savvy person who doesn’t understand the anatomy of the human mouth or dental restoration. We have since taught and supported many technicians at all levels of technical understanding how to produce quality restoration designs. With computers becoming more intuitive it is far more important to understand dental restoration than to be a computer wiz.
3. I’m waiting for the price to come down.
As insightful as it seems, the reality is that scanner prices will not drop fast enough or low enough for waiting to be financially advantageous. They are currently at a level where significant drops are not possible to sustain manufacturer profitability and technological advancement. Here’s what the number tells us. On the low end, the monthly savings for labs equipped with scanners, after the monthly lease payment, is $250.00 per month. This would mean that scanner prices would have to drop $3000.00 per year before waiting to purchase a scanner would be actually save money. A $15,000 scanner would have to drop all of the way down to $12,000. The chances of a price drop of that size within a one year period are very. By waiting one year in hopes of a drastic price decrease, a lab can lose a minimum of $3,000 in savings alone. The intangible benefits of becoming scanner equipped lab discussed earlier aren’t even factored into this loss.
Things to insist on when purchasing a dental scanner.
1. Purchase a scanner that incorporates the top design software systems.
Exocad and 3Shape are the top two major design software systems in the market. An open system is also preferred. No system accepts all files, but Exocad accepts STL files and most major file formats from intraoral scanners. 3Shape is much more restrictive. 3Shape has the ability to receive STL and a variety of other intraoral scanner files but not without the purchase of an extra module. Designing in an STL file is also an extra module.
2. Purchase from a company that can provide proper training and support.
Companies like to sell scanners, provide a crash course and send you on your way. A couple of important questions to ask is:
1. Is the scanner you’re selling, part of your day to day operations?
If your supplier isn’t knowledgeable with the equipment they are selling, the training they provide isn’t from first-hand experience. At AmericaSmiles we sell nothing we don’t incorporate into our own work flow and have experience using.
2. How extensive is the training and design support after my initial training session?
Learning the operations of the scanner, how to scan and how to upload files takes less than a single day of training. This is an important first step. It is important that this is learned before design instruction takes place. Design fundamentals and tools can also be taught the first day. Although it isn’t realistic to become a complete digital designer in one day, training and support with AmericaSmiles is a structured progression that equips the user to begin using your scanner immediately. Continued design support and coaching is provided via team viewer until you’re completely comfortable and confident with your design ability.
3. Will the design training be done by an experienced digital design dental technician?
It is not uncommon to receive training from an instructor that understands the functions of the software but is not a dental technician themselves. AmericaSmiles design instructors have years of dental and digital experience. When they are not coaching or training, they are designing restorations on a daily basis in our scan and design centers.
The time to become scanner equipped is now obtainable and practical for all dental labs. Enjoy the Ride.