Inside Dental Technology
Increasing Production Output
Whip Mix furnaces help laboratories embrace automated production processes
Like so many other second-generation laboratory professionals, Zach Pittman grew up surrounded by the business of dental technology as he watched his father run the family laboratory. Over nearly three decades Pittman’s father aggressively grew the Gainesville, Georgia business from a one-person operation in 1974 to a highly successful 100-employee full-service laboratory by 2003. There was no question growing up that Pittman held the key to the future of the business and would eventually take over management reins of the family operation, but running such a large laboratory and positioning it for the future would require business acumen. After graduating high school, Pittman enrolled in the University of South Carolina and by 2003 had acquired a business management degree. To gain a deeper understanding of the technical aspects of dental technology, he immediately moved to Provo, Utah, where he enrolled in a PTC hands-on program.
Moving back to Gainesville, Pittman joined his father in the business and continues to take advanced courses from such higher-learning institutes as Dawson Academy and LVI to keep his technical knowledge and skill sets fresh and up-to-date. “The timing was right for me to join the company,” says Pittman. “The industry was undergoing major changes and it was critical that our business keep abreast of those changes.”
In the mid-2000s, when Pittman joined his father in the laboratory, production of their core fixed products was still steeped in analog processes. However, Pittman could see this was an unsustainable business model, and soon the demand for newer all-ceramic restorations increased, gold prices skyrocketed, and the proliferation of new automated processes to increase output came onto the market. Making the investment in a complete CAD/CAM system made sense to the business-minded Pittman. “We are primarily a fixed laboratory,” explains Pittman. “Five years ago our fixed product line was a 50/50 mix PFM to all-ceramic. But today that product mix ratio is 30% PFM to 70% all-ceramic.” A large majority of the laboratory’s all-ceramic products are now milled restorations with the remainder pressed.
Pittman admits their technicians and managers were skeptical and unsettled by the dramatic shift to automated production processes, fearful the machinery would take jobs away from themselves or valued colleagues. However, Pittman was committed to keeping employees by increasing production output. Today, on average, the laboratory manufactures 200 units a day of fixed work; and contrary to the employees’ early trepidations, the higher volume is keeping all the conventional departments and employees busy layering, opaquing, stain and glazing, and finishing.
So busy in fact that Pittman has had to add additional porcelain firing furnaces to his stable to keep up with the increased production volume. “We have more than 25 Whip Mix furnaces working each day and every day,” says Pittman. “They are the workhorses of the laboratory. With the volume of crowns and bridges we are putting through them each day, firing accuracy is paramount and the fact that we don’t have problems or breakdowns that would disrupt production is extremely important to us.” About half the all-ceramic restorations the laboratory manufactures are milled full contour with the remaining 50% split between IPS e.max® and layered zirconia. Most all are put through one or more firing processes during production.
The majority of the furnaces used by the laboratory’s technicians are from Whip Mix’s Pro 100 Series, bought nearly 13 years ago and still in service. The additional furnaces Pittman added were the newer Pro 200s. “The ability customize programs and settings for a wide range of heat options allows us to use them in any department and with a wide range of production materials,” says Pittman. “We have them in our casting room, opaque department as well as ceramic and stain and glaze departments.” In addition, by using the furnaces’ transfer port, technicians can easily duplicate and transfer firing programs from one furnace to another.
If an issue with one of the units is detected, technicians can run a self-diagnostic program, identify the problem and fix it without the need to send the furnace for repair. If the problem is more serious, Pittman appreciates the quick service response Whip Mix personnel give him. The company either flies a technical repair representative to the laboratory to service the unit or ships a loaner while the furnace is at their Kentucky headquarters for repairs. “Whip Mix is truly a wonderful company with excellent products and customer service,” says Pittman. “We have been highly satisfied with our partnership and look forward to working with them for many years to come.”
The preceding material was provided by the manufacturer. The statements and opinions contained therein are solely those of the manufacturer and not of the editors, publisher, or the Editorial Board of Inside Dental Technology.
Pro 200 Series Furnaces
Whip Mix’s Pro 200 and the Pro Press 200 porcelain furnaces are affordable yet intelligently designed with cutting edge technology. They have advanced cycles for ceramics, sintered alloys, and advanced porcelain products, and offer a 200-program memory that allows users to process all of these different materials with ease. Pro 200 Series furnaces also feature an improved muffle—rated to 2200° F—that offers more insulation than previous Pro Series models, saving the laboratory energy and reducing production costs.
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