An Interview with Don Cornell, CDT
Inside Dental Technology (IDT): What is the biggest challenge small laboratories face today?
Don Cornell (DC): Many people in our industry were counting the small labs out because they thought technology would always be out of reach for them. But like all technology, competition and innovation eventually drive costs down and make it accessible to everyone. For this and many other reasons Jensen has always believed in the future of the small lab. For the most part, small labs face the same challenges today that larger labs face. Today’s economic landscape has every business in the world looking for ways to lower costs and improve profitability. The dental laboratory industry is no different. In order to meet this challenge, laboratories of all sizes are transitioning from analog to digital workflows.
IDT: So what are some of the critical factors laboratories need to consider when buying a CAD/CAM system?
DC: Most people think only in terms of learning a new technology, but that’s only the beginning. CAD/CAM workflows are also very different from the traditional analog processes we know. In addition, there are a growing number of new materials and monolithic restoration types that many outside of CAD/CAM are unfamiliar with. When you really look at it critically, you realize it’s a complete change from the way most laboratories run their business today. That’s why the successful implementation of any CAD/CAM strategy is heavily dependent on the quality of the technical training, customer support, continuing education, service, and materials you receive from your supplier.
IDT: Small laboratories have traditionally accessed CAD/CAM generated products by outsourcing, why not continue outsourcing rather than buy a system?
DC: Outsourcing a coping is one thing, but if full-contour, monolithic restorations are a part of your lab’s future, you will want control of critical factors like tooth form, anatomy, and contacts. After all, these are the variables that differentiate one lab’s work from another. Laboratories that outsource should remember that most of the outsource providers they buy from are also selling directly to dentists. Owning CAD/CAM makes it possible for them to produce a zirconia coping for $20 or less. However, the labs that outsource to them will often pay anywhere from $50 to $80 for the same coping. Beyond the disparity in costs, they also get the benefits of streamlined processing, increased output per employee, and higher profit margins. This gives them a very real competitive advantage over the labs that buy from them. With the purchase of CAD/CAM, a small lab could realize all the same benefits for themselves. Furthermore, the dentist customers of small labs tend to be local, usually within 20 to 30 minutes by car. Digital technology would make it possible for them to offer those clients same day delivery of digitally processed, full-contour monolithic products,
further strengthening those relationships.
IDT: Are there CAD/CAM systems in the market today that small laboratories can afford?
DC: As little as five years ago, a decent CAD/CAM system would have cost you $150,000 to $350,000. Obviously, only larger labs were able to afford such systems. Today however, there are systems on the market for less than $30,000, most laboratories would be shocked at just how few crowns they need to make each day for that to make sense. This new economic reality has significantly leveled the playing field for the small laboratory.
IDT: There is a lot of debate about Open verses Selectively Open or Closed systems, what are your thoughts?
DC: Many labs have been convinced they need an open system without really understanding what that means. Unfortunately, CAD/CAM is not as simple as plug and play. Regardless of the system you buy, every component of the process has to be validated in order to get consistently good results. To date, no one has integrated and validated every material, on every machine, from every manufacturer. So when someone says their system is open, what they really mean is that they will not restrict the user from linking various components, connecting to any provider, or using any material they choose. However, the burden of integrating and validating any scanner, software (CAD and CAM), mill, sintering furnace, or material you intend to use is up to you. This can be expensive and time-consuming even for those who are familiar with the process. And if a restoration doesn’t fit, you are on your own. Think of all the reasons why you love your iPod. It gives you access to music in a highly predictable, convenient, and cost-effective manner, seamlessly integrating its hardware, software, music products, and network components. The iPod and iPad are “selectively open,” validated systems. And when you have a problem, Apple is there to take care of it. Selectively open dental CAD/CAM systems perform in the same manner because they are also integrated and validated. Back when you had to spend $250,000 for a system you needed it to be open because it had to do everything. But in reality, no one system will ever be able to do everything. That’s why I believe most laboratories will choose multiple systems for different applications. Today’s lower prices make that possible and systems will only continue to get cheaper. In the end, materials will drive future innovation in CAD/CAM systems. And many of those future materials will require unique equipment and processing parameters that don’t exist on open systems today. For that reason I believe validated, selectively open systems will prove to be the real winners, today and in the future.
Don Cornell, CDT, is the vice president of Jensen Dental in North Haven, Connecticut.