Digital Dental Solution Providers as Partner
Embracing digital workflow solutions is currently on the mind of many dental lab owners. As a solutions provider in the industry I can tell you there is currently a great deal of overlap in product offerings. We are pushing closer and closer to commoditization of equipment and materials. This is a challenging prospect for solutions providers looking to maintain an edge in a highly competitive market, at this early stage of the digital dental evolution.
Manufacturers aren’t shy to hand out distributorships. They simply want to move product, sometimes to the detriment of their distributors. This approach has serious implications for purchasers. While it seems that all things are equal, once a customer takes possession of equipment, the post-purchase landscape is far from uniform. Unless already unbelievably fluent in CAD/CAM, system maintenance and repair, by purchasing equipment customers are in essence partnering themselves with their solutions partner/vendor. Because this is a vital and long term relationship, the selection of equipment provider should hinge on more than just price
There is Very Little Difference
I am not going to address 3D printing in this post because there are still significant performance differences among the different offerings. This is a vastly different situation than what is true for CNC machines or mills. These are long standing, tried and true technologies. Particularly at the low end, where there is very little difference between comparable systems. To make matters more confusing, a significant number of dental technology providers sell exactly the same machine with a different paint job.
Materials/Consumables as Differentiator
Given that the primary use for these mills is zirconia cutting, if there was a “material” material advantage from one supplier to another that may be a factor in the choice of digital partner. The truth is there is a lot of high quality zirconia available today from different vendors and the prices and quality are incredibly similar. In practice, a great deal of zirconia, while presented as different product, is made by the same manufacturer and is actually identical from one supplier to the next.
Service and Support are Difference Maker
A lab acquires new technology to stay competitive. If that new technology interrupts processes and creates confusion and inefficiencies, it isn’t providing the benefit it should. Many current equipment providers only recently evolved into such after recognizing an immediate opportunity. There are a large number of traditional dental consumables companies peddling CAD/CAM solutions, that don’t support these sales with competent machine experience . Their goal is to hook the lab with low cost equipment and then make up for it longer term with the residual annuity of materials and consumables.
The trouble with this approach is that disparate equipment and software doesn’t integrate seamlessly and much of the software is quite complicated. The training a lab will receive from the majority of these larger catalogue-type companies will be quite rudimentary. When the customer is ready to really start taking advantage of the capabilities of the equipment, the more advanced training required may not be available. That is when I often get a call from a distressed user.
CAM software is very complicated, especially if you want to exploit more sophisticated capabilities like milling metal abutments. A lab may want to try different milling strategies as they develop comfort with the equipment and they look to expand offerings. To do this they will need a partner that can help program more sophisticated CAM strategies.
There are obviously many things to consider when purchasing digital solutions. The long term benefit of a partner that can help optimize the capabilities of the equipment and provide strong service and support should dramatically outweigh a small upfront cost savings. This is especially true at this moment, when industrial and economic forces are quickly commoditizing materials and equipment. A true solutions partner will not only sell, but also help identify the most cost effective distribution of workflow between in-house processing with purchased of equipment and outsourced milling work. As a digital solutions manager that is what I strive to provide.