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Embracing Change Leads to Resounding Success
Laboratory thrives by adapting to new developments, including the latest in milling
Change is a daily occurrence at Albensi Laboratories, says owner Don Albensi Sr., CDT.Actually, if you ask his employees, they say it’s more like hourly.
Adaptability and independence have helped Albensi build his business in Irwin, Pennsylvania, from a one-man laboratory in 1979 to a 22-person operation two decades later to a 150-employee powerhouse today.
“Many people in our industry are rooted in their seat and do not accept change,” Albensi says. “At our laboratory, change is our culture. It keeps us nimble.”
That attitude has helped Albensi repeatedly turn negatives into positives for his business. Whether it has been offshoring or the onset of digital dentistry, Albensi and his team have embraced what some others have tried to fight, figuring out ways to work with those forces instead of against them.
“Some of the developments that we thought might destroy our business are now some of our foundations,” says Albensi’s son, Don Jr.
The first major threat to the business, Albensi Sr. says, came in the early 2000s when offshoring to Asia became a popular method of cutting costs. Some of Albensi’s larger clients, who were already getting the best prices, began requesting even more discounts.
“We were forced to try offshoring,” Albensi Sr. says. “Dentists were flocking to that option.”
Albensi created a new business, Innovative Dental Arts, to bring in additional revenue via dentists who preferred lower prices than were possible in a US laboratory. Don Jr., who had just joined his father’s business, took the lead and used a direct-mail marketing campaign to reach parts of the country that Albensi Laboratories had rarely served previously. They picked up 65 new accounts in the first three months. Having Albensi Laboratories as a resource for rush cases gave Innovative Dental Arts an advantage over other offshoring companies, and Albensi benefited from that extra business as well.
The success of that venture helped Albensi adapt to another new development that many laboratories considered a threat: digital dentistry. The profits from Innovative Dental Arts eventually became the capital that was used to start a CAD/CAM department at Albensi Laboratories.
“We did not have a master plan for Innovative Dental Arts to provide the funds for Albensi Laboratories to build one of the top CAD/CAM departments in the country,” Albensi Sr. says, “but in reality that is what happened. We had to offshore temporarily in order to ‘reshore.’”
Offshoring is now a small part of Albensi’s business. Whereas up until approximately 2010 Innovative Dental Arts was sending five crowns to Asia for every one crown being fabricated in Albensi Laboratories, now the ratio is eight-to-one in the other direction.
“Very quickly, once the digital workflow came into existence at Albensi Laboratories, we started to see a paradigm shift in the workflow,” Don Jr. says.
Albensi entered digital dentistry with a scanner and a 3D printer, using the print-and-press technique for lithium disilicate. Later, when zirconia became a viable option for in-house milling, Albensi entered that realm. The laboratory now has 11 Roland milling machines.
“When Roland’s DWX-50 hit the market, it was approximately half the price of most comparable 5-axis machines,” says Chris Halke, Albensi’s CAD/CAM Supervisor. “It fit our business model in that it allowed us to produce a more affordable unit without sacrificing any quality.”
The new DWX-51D has taken it to another level, say Halke and Assistant CAD/CAM Supervisor Luke Smart.
“The drive mechanism on the DWX-51D is clearly superior to anything else in its class that we have encountered,” Halke says.
Smart cites the fact that laboratories can perform their own maintenance on the DWX-51D rather than sending the machine away. The consumption of air versus the volume of restorations milled is another factor that sets the mills apart, Smart adds.
“Roland listened to their users’ feedback and overhauled the machine design to help with maintenance and cleaning, and to keep it functioning really well at all times,” Smart says.
Despite the volume of work Albensi handles, they decided against purchasing a larger milling machine.
“Strategically, we see several benefits to the redundancy of using more machines,” Smart says. “With fewer units being milled per machine, we see more predictable outcomes. We also can evaluate the performance of each machine against the others. And if a problem occurs, we do not lose out on as much profit as we would if we were milling a puck full of 20 units.”
Albensi Sr. says they plan to purchase more DWX-51Ds this year as the laboratory continues to grow and thrive. He says when he told an audience at this year’s Cal-Lab Association meeting in February that Albensi Laboratories has experienced 390% growth since 2010, there was a collective gasp from the crowd.
“We have experienced rapid growth because we have an open mind,” Albensi says.
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