An Interview with Marco Ratz
Inside Dental Technology (IDT): As the CEO of a leading international manufacturer of precision equipment and digital technologies, what is your perspective on the business environment laboratory owners are facing?
Marco Ratz (MR): Digital technologies will continue to shape and reshape the future of dentistry and dental technology. We find ourselves on the cusp of a generational shift in the dental industry where those dental students graduating from school not only expect, but also demand, the integration of digital solutions in their practices and laboratory partners with like digital capabilities. In the near future, laboratories will have to be digitally ready to receive files from multiple sources.
IDT: For those laboratory owners still sitting on the fence waiting to invest in one or more digital solutions, do you believe we will see further major changes in CAD/CAM scanning, milling, and design software technologies?
MR: First, we will see improvements to current digital components and then move on to connect what has been a wide range of independent technologies into a single integrated network. Communication among these digital platforms is key and, thus, there is a strong trend toward open-system architecture rather than multiple, isolated "closed islands" of independent digital technologies.
Second, dental laboratory fabrication processes still require major production steps that have not yet been digitized. Ongoing development and innovations in computer-based hardware and software as well as new materials are opening many doors for further innovations within the digital workflow.
Third, the last year and half has witnessed a very strong trend toward digital in-house fabrication in laboratories based in Europe and Asia. A state-of-the-art in-house CAD/CAM system such as Amann Girrbach’s Ceramill system is no longer a capital investment that is out of the financial reach of most laboratory businesses. The combination of low cost per produced coping, low investment cost, fast turnaround time, and retaining control of the entire process in the lab is a compelling argument for even small and midsize labs to become invested in the technology. Therefore, the market for full in-house CAD/CAM systems has expanded dramatically due to a compelling ROI. Our premise is that this irreversible trend will reach the United States soon.
IDT: For those laboratory owners trying to find an entry point into CAD/CAM technology or for those wanting to upgrade from their current system, what advice do you have for them?
MR: I think it’s important when you are making an investment, such as in CAD/CAM equipment, that lab owners research the company behind the equipment. It’s not enough today to just sell equipment components. Hardware, software, and materials must be perfectly matched to ensure trouble-free daily operation in the laboratory. You want to ask the right questions to ensure that the company you are thinking of partnering with is committed long-term to the digital future, has the resources to back that commitment, and provides the support and services for training, education, and technical support. We are completely dedicated to the dental laboratory industry and, as such, are fully committed to ensuring the success of the laboratories with which we work. Our product developers and research team are dental technicians with engineering degrees and a minimum of 5 years of practical experience in a dental lab. They understand the bench side of the business and are developing innovations for the industry from the dental technician’s point of view. That’s why, as a company, our focus and mission is to develop product lines that improve the efficiency, accuracy, predictability, and consistency of cases moving through the laboratory production process from start to finish.
IDT: This year at the IDS, Amann Girrbach introduced 18 new technologies or upgrades for the Ceramill CAD/CAM system and it has more in the pipeline. Can you give us some highlights on the innovations coming soon to the Ceramill system?
MR: We believe that open-architecture technology is the wave of the future. It presents no roadblocks to final production processes and offers labs complete flexibility in receiving and processing files. We are also committed to developing materials and processes that can bring that production process in-house. To that end, we introduced an innovative, chrome cobalt milling blank that allows labs to mill frameworks in the metallic green state, which presents as a soft, wax-like consistency, and then sinter the frameworks in an argon gas furnace for final production. Using our new Ceramill Neox milling blank, labs can mill these frameworks in-house for less cost and bring production with added value onshore.
To help labs offer their clients a fixed-cost restoration and one not dependent on the vagaries of the metals market, we introduced our Ceramill Zolid full-contour zirconia material. Ceramill Artex, our virtual articulator, gives us the ability to produce these crowns extremely accurately and without the risk of hyperocclusion. We added a new tooth library developed by Knut Miller, an internationally recognized technician, and upgraded our design software to allow technicians to manufacture custom implant bars. We also announced the ability of the Ceramill Mind software to import seamless intraoral scanning data from the Cadent iTero intraoral scanner. The pipeline for our R&D department is packed full of other new technologies that will connect CT data with lab production processes and bring precision dental care to the patient. The digital future is the future of Amann Girrbach, and it is a future we are committed to bringing to the laboratory industry.
About the Interviewee
Marco Ratz is the CEO of Amann Girrbach AG.