Past Experience and Current Technology Equal Future Growth for Thriving Laboratory
Inside Dental Technology speaks with Susan van Kinsbergen, CDT, Vice President of Operations at Dental Arts Laboratories, Inc., about the long history and vibrant culture that have made DAL one of the top laboratories in the industry.
Inside Dental Technology (IDT): What were your initial impressions when you started working at DAL?
Susan van Kinsbergen, CDT: I was struck by how long some of the employees had been there. For some of them, this was the only job they’d ever had. There are two women in the mailroom that have been here for almost 50 years. I had heard that the owners, Terry Knueppel, Bruce Colgin, and Scott Clark were good people and that DAL was a company with a great reputation, but the fact that there is so little turnover here really said a lot to me. They had to be doing something right. The positive things I had heard were more than skin deep. After two and a half years, my initial impression has been more than confirmed. This is a great company run by smart and caring people.
IDT: How has your experience at DAL exceeded your expectations?
van Kinsbergen: I didn’t expect this to be the best job I’d ever had, but that’s what happened! I knew coming in that all my previous experience as a ceramist, manager, and consultant had been the perfect training ground for this position. With 13 locations in the Midwest, all with unique cultures and personalities, I was well equipped to help out in a real way. The trust the owners have put in me to make change has made my job much easier and very rewarding.
IDT: How would you describe the atmosphere both at DAL and in Peoria?
van Kinsbergen: There is an energy at DAL that I thrive on. It’s a real laboratory! Anyone who has experienced it knows what I mean. We can get one thousand cases a day with the same turnaround time as any laboratory. There are case pans everywhere you look, and technicians either busy at the bench or moving those case pans to the next station. No one is idle, and they all have the same goal—get those cases done correctly and on time. There are some days when that goal is a challenge, but these guys are professionals. They always get the job done. I love it!
Peoria was a bit of a culture shock for me, coming from Newport Beach, California. I grew up in Fargo, North Dakota, so I was familiar with the Midwest, but it’s so easy to become acclimated to paradise. Peoria is about 170 miles southwest of Chicago, although we don’t get as cold. About a week after I moved here, I heard some noise outside and there was a parade going right by my building. There were school marching bands and floats and parade watchers. I fell for Peoria at that moment. Since then, I have found out that we have the longest continuously running Santa Parade in the United States. Our City Hall was voted the most beautiful by the American people. Peoria truly is an all-American town built on the Illinois River with beautiful architecture, a very active arts community, and a “hometown” culture that I didn’t find in Newport Beach.
IDT: What has made DAL such a leader in the industry?
van Kinsbergen: In 2019, DAL is celebrating its 85th year in the industry. We’ve just had one of our best years on record, and we’re jumping into 3D printing with both feet. We not only want to make sure we’re current for our customers, but that we’re on the leading edge of the newest products and trends. This is something that DAL has always set out to do. Scott Clark has been one of the top marketing icons in the industry and has helped to put some of the products that are now household names on the map. Bruce Colgin has a knack for acquiring laboratories that continue to thrive under the DAL banner. That’s not an easy thing to do. He respects the unique culture of each laboratory, allowing them to maintain their individuality, and thus keeping the customer relationships intact. They also gain access to all the resources we have as a company.
IDT: What does the future hold for DAL?
van Kinsbergen: Well, we’re definitely moving more and more toward digitizing our processes, particularly in the removables department. DAL started with digital technology in 1999, so we’ve always been heading in this direction. This isn’t about reducing headcount, but about increasing our productivity and growth. We value our technicians. Their skillsets will be very important as we integrate new digital processes and products into our tried-and-true analog workflow. We still need to get a very high quality product out the door, and that would be impossible without their expertise. We’re actually looking to increase our labor force and will be actively recruiting at the national shows this year. We’re looking for talented, motivated, and skilled technicians who are willing to relocate to Peoria. We’ll have applications at our DAL DT booth at Lab Day in Chicago.