The business environment for the dental lab will not undergo a sudden, dramatic change but the changes will evolve slowly. Consider three factors driving the change:
(1) Decline of the number of “old-school” dentists, and the proportionate increase of “high-tech” dentists who see speed and “right-first-time” as the key to a successful practice, and have the technological desire to take advantage of using technology such as intraoral scanning, CAD/CAM and 3D printing.
(2) Technology is making huge leaps forward in terms of speed, quality, accuracy, and aesthetics. The labs that cannot or will not (for whatever reason) implement the technology will either muddle along with marginal profitability or simply cease to exist. CAD/CAM and 3D printing technologies have existed in many other industries for many years, and it is only within the past 5 years or so that the dental lab industry has seriously adopted the technologies. Both methods have their benefits and limitations, but they both provide a logical way overcome technician availability issues and increase production.
(3) Dental lab business owners have traditionally prided themselves on being a “hands-on” owner; that is 75- 85% of their time is spent on the bench producing product. The business environment of the future demands the owner spend a lot more time managing the business. That includes ensuring a stable, well-trained workforce; understanding technologies; keeping a close eye on financials (costs and margins), leverage his/her relationships with the customers to maintain customer satisfaction; and maintain a long-term strategic plan for the business.
Advice for the future..
Train your people! Senior technicians are leaving the workforce, and the subtle skills or “tribal knowledge” is not being passed to the next generation on formal basis due to lack of rigorous training programs.
Embrace technology! Either get in with technology or get out of the lab business.
Run your lab as a business! Working on the bench and managing your business are mutually exclusive, so get off the bench.