Digital-worldCFMany of you recently attended LMT Lab Day and/or the Cal-Lab exhibition in Chicago. Five(?) years ago the number of manufacturers who hawked a digital system of scanning or milling could be counted on one hand. What struck me most at the recent show was not only the number of companies now in business but also the variety of models offered by each one. How many years did it take to go from very few, to way too many to consider? Three years ago the was no systems capable of milling a denture, yet, there in living color was a number of production units waiting to be given a good home. The pace of technology will continue to increase as the “techies” solve each of the challenges on the rapidly increasing journey of transition from the traditional lab to all digital manufacturing.

One piece of information that was voiced repeatedly was somewhere between 25 and 33% of the labs that exist today will not be here in 3-5 years. Whether they consolidate, close the doors or become part of the DSO family, the number of labs needed will likely decline as productivity is driven by the high yields of the newer technology.

From a job skills perspective, we are witnessing the movement from the “black art” knowledge base that has long been the property of the Ceramist to the creative skills of the Designer. One lab I recently spoke with had lost a key employee because they did not want to be part of the digital world, and that employee chose to go to another traditional lab. Needless to say, it took about 6 months before the new employer announced the plans to begin converting to a digital process. Labs also are required to shift from a Quality Control mentality were a focus on detection of errors is the mission, to one of Quality Audit where prevention of errors is the goal. And finally, the digital lab of the future will require owners to manage the business, and not so much the process.

Finally, you cannot stop the coming changes. You may postpone it, but they will continue to come, fast and furious. To steal a quote from the “Terminator”,  “ Judgment day (read digital dental lab) is inevitable..”. Change is a difficult process; it is uncomfortable, it takes a lot of work, but mostly there is the fear of the unknown and potential for failure that may cause you to lose what you already have. There have been many recent articles and presentations about the transition to the digital world; read them and reduce the fear.

The first supervisor I had was a gruff individual, who believed that change was the lifeblood of any company. While he constantly spouted phrases of inspiration, the one that is most appropriate here is:

This train is leavin’ the station. Either get on or get off, cause either way this train is gonna haul ass!”

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