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Ahead of the Pack: Clear Vision Paying off
Anton Woolf and Argen Corporation foresaw the rise of CAD/CAM and are confident in the future of laboratories.
Anton Woolf took over as CEO of the world’s largest precious metal alloy company in 2008 and laid out a clear vision for the company that his parents, Bertie and Jackie, had successfully built over the previous 45 years. Argen Corporation would become more diversified with a focus on digital dentistry, and it would stand behind dental laboratories. Both were bold propositions; at the time, CAD/CAM was still very new, and offshoring and chairside were threatening the future of laboratories. Woolf says it was a significant challenge to shift the vision and culture of the company during very uncertain times. But he persevered.
“It seemed so clear to me,” Woolf says. “The first laser-melting machine we purchased did not produce a single salable part for more than 2 years, and some people were skeptical, but I remember looking at that machine and saying, ‘Everyone, this is the future of Argen.’ I was so convinced that I just charged forward.”
Today, Argen uses more than 100 machines to produce thousands and thousands of parts per day. The company recently opened a new, 80,000-square-foot headquarters in San Diego, California, which will house the corporate headquarters and digital outsource center, while material manufacturing will remain in the existing 40,000-square-foot building.
“We are probably one of the largest producers of CAD designed custom devices across all industries,” Woolf says.
100% Commitment to Laboratories
The company’s commitment to laboratories remains as strong as ever. While many of its competitors sell to dentists as well, Argen steadfastly sells exclusively to laboratories.
“I believe so much in the laboratory that I am putting the entire future of our company behind it,” Woolf says. “I want laboratories to feel that optimism that I feel.”
Argen aims to be a one-stop shop for laboratories, offering both premium outsourcing services and top-of-the-line materials, including the popular ArgenZ Anterior zirconia.
“We just want the laboratory to be successful, whether you outsource or buy materials from us,” Woolf says. “That is a partnership that I do not see any other company offering to the laboratory on the scale that we offer it.”
As much as Argen has transformed itself in the past 8 years, that metamorphasis was based on sticking to its core values: the highest quality, best customer service, and best technical support, all at a competitive price.
“When I decided to pursue our new direction, I evaluated the competitive advantages we had,” Woolf says. “We had an incredible distribution channel to the dental laboratory, high-quality products, and a brand that people trusted. We were known as a family-run, customer-centric business.
“No matter how large we get, we will never lose that family spirit.”
With that attitude in mind, Argen has developed every one of its offerings based on customer feedback. One trend Woolf observed was that, as popular as zirconia became when it burst on the scene a few years ago, other materials were still necessary in certain cases. A plethora of materials options existed, but it was unrealistic for any laboratory to carry them all in their inventory.
“Our strategy was to enable the laboratory to offer any product,” Woolf says. A laboratory cannot carry 30 different alloys, but with the click of a button you can have a restoration made with any of 30 different alloys from Argen in 2 days.”
Investing in Innovation
To facilitate partnerships as much as possible, the company will have invested more than $1 million in its website.
“Our file upload system for our digital outsource center is by far the best in class,” Woolf says.
For in-house milling, zirconia remains popular, and Argen is determined to be a leader in that realm as well. With more than 40 zirconia milling machines operating 24 hours per day, 6 days per week, the company’s technicians, engineers, and scientists have built a breadth of knowledge about the material. This knowledge enables Argen to really support laboratories with their in-house milling.
“We mill so many zirconia units on a daily basis that we can provide unprecedented, hands-on technical support on our ArgenZ discs,” Woolf says. “I believe we will become one of the largest zirconia companies in the world. People are just blown away by our new ArgenZ Anterior zirconia, and we are already working on more zirconia innovations.”
Those innovations, as well as the ones taking place in the digital outsource center, are a result of aggressive investment.
“We have invested a lot in technology, equipment, and most importantly, people,” Woolf says. “We have hired experts who, frankly, know more than us. We hired the best people for IT, infrastructure, engineering, and lean workflow operations. We have invested heavily over the years in very, very good people.”
The strategy is working. Production at Argen’s digital outsource center has increased at a pace of 7% per month over the past 4 years, going from five people and three machines to 120 people and more than 100 machines. The company expects those numbers to double over the next 3 years.
“Despite our vision, it was not easy getting where we are today,” Woolf says. “Theodore Roosevelt once said, ‘The best thing is to do the right thing. The second-best thing is to do the wrong thing. The worst thing is to do nothing.’ I hope our path inspires laboratories to change their business models with an eye toward the future. This is an incredibly exciting opportunity for dental laboratories.
“Laboratories who position themselves correctly by embracing technology and embracing the versatility that outsource centers such as Argen offer have a great opportunity to increase their value to the dentist.”
4 Key Take Aways
Argen sells exclusively to dental laboratories, despite many of its competitors selling to both laboratories and dentists.
The company’s core values are the highest quality, best customer service, and best technical support, all at a competitive price.
Digital outsource center helps laboratories offer a wide variety of materials and services without having to keep a large inventory.
Argen’s experience with milling zirconia has led to the development of ArgenZ Anterior, with more innovations expected to arrive soon.
2016: 35 3D printers, 60 mills, 135+ employees
2012: 7 3D printers, 10 mills, 20 employees
2008: 1 3D printer, 1 Mill, 1 Employee