The Employee Factor
The introduction of new technology into a dental laboratory invariably stirs employees’ worries about joblessness. With the exception of one laboratory that did lay off a worker, those companies interviewed for this article have thus far focused on retraining their employees.
Jay Collins, owner of Cornerstone Dental Labs in Ivyland, Pennsylvania, says company employees displaced by technology have been retrained to operate new equipment. “The technology has enabled me to take my best technicians to partner with average technicians to produce great results,” he says. “For example, one of my best-trained workers manages two other people on the scanners. This team now designs more than 60 units a day, and each product is perfected to the manager’s specs. So my top-quality work is now multiplied by three.”
DON ALBENSI, owner of Albensi Laboratories in Irwin, Pennsylvania, says CAD/CAM technology introduced there 2 years ago for producing monolithic restorations has reduced the labor needed for making crowns by about 70%. At the same time, a big marketing push has “created enough work to keep our employees busy,” he reports, adding that his workforce has increased by about 35% since 2010. Nevertheless, Albensi is quick to point out that keeping pace with the evolving dental laboratory industry is a cultural staple in his business. “We currently have 80 employees, and they realize that change is part of our philosophy,” he says. “So they know not to get too comfortable, because things will inevitably change.”
Dave Nakanishi, CDT and owner of Nakanishi Dental Lab in Bellevue, Washington, recently boosted the CAD/CAM technology in his laboratory while also adding laser sintering, wax milling, and 3-D printing. “We told our people this is a whole new business plan,” he says. “We’re expecting them to do what it takes to learn a new language, the language of manufacturing. They know that if we continued going straight ahead, we’d go over a cliff. So we’re making a right-hand turn. We tell them this is a big ship and it does take time to turn—and some people adjust quickly while others are slower—but we are going to make the turn. We have patience but we don’t have forever.”