Improve efficiencies with a digital workflow

Solvay Dental 360 spoke with Scott Udell, CDT and CEO of Udell Dental Laboratory, about improving efficiences with a digital workflow.

“The bottom line, says Udell, “We will incorporate new technology, materials or processes — if we can increase lab efficiency and ROI.”

Why did your lab decide to transition towards a digital workflow?

“I guess I would consider our lab to be an early adopter of a digital workflow. A little over 10 years ago, we were forced to make some decisions on how to move forward with the business after a long-time employee announced his retirement. Finding and training the right person could take months and even then it might be years until that person is really productive. Around that same time, we started hearing a lot about the benefits of new technologies. We decided to dig in and do our homework so we could really understand what an investment in digital equipment could mean to our lab.

“We researched how new technologies could improve existing processes and how they might help us reduce costs. After an evaluation process, our lab started evolving toward a digital platform, with scanners, milling machines, printers and other equipment.”

How do you evaluate new equipment and technologies?

“There are many things you need to consider but most importantly you can’t wait for years to see a pay-off. The ROI has to be there — immediately. So keeping that in mind, here are some of the ways we recommend you use to evaluate new technologies.”

  • Calculate how much it would cost to keep the equipment running every year, including the purchase price, but also the maintenance fees, software upgrade fees, and output device fees.
  • Look for ways to eliminate waste — or steps in the process.
  • Evaluate the staff. Will they be on board? Will we need to redeploy existing staff, decrease our staff count, or hire new employees?
  • Analyze the volume of work our lab does — is there enough to make a new purchase or a process worthwhile?
  • Understand the learning curve within our lab as well as well as with the dentists.

“The bottom line is that we will incorporate new technologies, materials or processes if we can determine that we’ll increase lab efficiency and make more money.”

What have you learned as you shifted to a digital workflow?

“Making our lab more digital has given us a competitive advantage.

“With a digital workflow, our lab operates more efficiently. It’s helped eliminate steps in the process, which ultimately has decreased the number of possibilities for mistakes or inaccuracies to occur.

“We’ve also found that it’s often more cost effective to invest in a new technology than it is to keep using old equipment. In one instance, our lab cut workflow and production time nearly in half, from an average of 30 minutes for a scanned design to 15 minutes. More recently, in a switch to a newer technology, the material savings alone made the payments for the $100,000 printer. By the end of the first year, we recouped our costs. I consider that a win.

“In some instances, our material costs have gone up — but we’ve seen labor costs go down dramatically. We’re actually ok with that, as long as we can show more profit at the end of the day.”

What advice would you give to others considering a digital workflow?

“If you’re going to be successful in the years to come, you can’t be an ostrich with your head in the sand. Lab owners need to be aware of the changing digital dentistry market. There are fewer single-doctor practices — the traditional dentist on the corner. To keep up, we have to find ways to reduce costs and provide services more efficiently to the large group practices and dental service organizations — which will also help us compete with the offshore labs. I believe that new technologies will help us stay in the game.

“I encourage everyone to stay educated. Attend conferences, like LAB DAY, to learn more about new technologies, processes and materials, ask questions and develop a network so you can compare notes with other lab owners.”

For digital workflow, what would you like to see next?

“We’d like to simplify our digital workflow even more. We’re interested in learning about new processes or materials that would help us eliminate molds and the potential for inaccuracies. Ideally, we want to see our lab create a digital impression, design it on CAD/CAM, mill or print the finished product, with minimal post-processing.”

Scott Udell, CDT, is the CEO of Udell Dental Laboratory (St. Louis Park, MN), a third generation family-owned and operated lab founded in 1948. Working closely with dentists throughout his life, Scott has a deep appreciation for the role of the laboratory in supplying high quality, safe and reliable products for every patient. Under his guidance, the company has achieved advanced certification in many key technologies, and has kept pace with industry innovations in order to maintain the high standards of a full service dental lab. The company is a leader in incorporating highly accurate 3D computer modeling and printing techniques that are revolutionizing the industry. All of the lab’s products are manufactured in the USA.