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Inside Dental Technology
February 2020
Volume 11, Issue 2

Family Laboratory Expands Strategically

New CAD/CAM facility helps improve efficiencies

Ottawa Dental Laboratory has experienced double-digit growth for several years in a row, largely because they thrive on embracing change. As new tools become available and price pressures from clients intensify, the laboratory uses those tools to improve efficiencies and keep profit margins steady despite needing to occasionally lower fees.

"A key factor to our success is that we are willing to change with the market," says Jim Caruso, President and CAO.

While the laboratory has a physical presence in four Midwestern communities with plans for continued growth through acquisitions, a commitment was made to expand the footprint of their headquarters in Ottawa, IL. Since opening its doors in 1937, the Ottawa Dental Laboratory has called a handful of addresses home, but in 2019, after 40 years of operating out of a 25,000-square-foot facility, they expanded by opening the doors of their new 16,000-square-foot CAD/CAM facility.

"In today's world, a laboratory of our size operates both as analog and digital production centers. Most labs, like ours, incorporated the digital component among the analog process flow and tried to make it work. We quickly learned that reality fell short of our expectations, so we looked at how to separate the processes, improve efficiencies, and strengthen the workflow."

Scanning, designing, milling, and printing are all done in the CAD/CAM facility, along with finishing posterior zirconia crowns. The anterior crowns are fabricated by more experienced technicians using traditional methods and workflow. The three satellite locations are also served by the new CAD/CAM division's printing and milling output.

"By dividing our manpower and coordinating it with the various fabrication techniques, we have aligned our workforce appropriately with the pricing of our various products."

The process to reaching this point was very deliberate. Caruso and his brother, Luke Caruso, III, President and COO, traveled to other newly built and/or renovated laboratories to see what worked for them and evaluate what they may have done differently.

"One nice thing about our industry is that it is very close-knit, and laboratory owners are willing to help each other," Caruso says.

Next, they turned to Zahn Dental for help with purchasing benches. Zahn brought in three different manufacturers, and the Carusos decided to buy from Lista because of the flexibility afforded by its mobile bench designs.

"It was important for us to find a bench system to accommodate a shift in our workflow or our workforce. The Lista system enables us to act swiftly, with virtually no disruption to our productivity," Caruso says.

Zahn Dental also helped the Ottawa Dental Laboratory purchase additional 3Shape scanners and Roland milling machines. The new facility has 12 Roland mills, each operating approximately 20 hours per day.

"We value our supplier relationships. Zahn, with having deep industry contacts, was able put the right people in the room with us, so we did not need multiple meetings to get things done," Caruso says.

"The Zahn team has also experienced more build-outs than other suppliers we talked with, so their insight and ideas were invaluable to our strategic planning. As our 3Shape support center, they had representatives on-site to assist with our physical move, which definitely gave us peace of mind when relocating machinery."

With the new facility up and running, Ottawa is operating as efficiently as ever and pursuing further strategic expansion. Approximately 95% of the laboratory's cases are picked and delivered by its own fleet of personal pickup and delivery drivers, covering an area of roughly 5,000 miles. The Ottawa Dental Laboratory has identified Illinois, Michigan, Indiana, Iowa, and Wisconsin as the states they plan to build a strong presence in, and Caruso says they will continue to differentiate themselves from other large laboratories around the country based on their personal and professional service.

"Our concept is different from the private equity approach, which is typically more national," he says. "We are a third-generation, family-owned and -operated business. We have grown by being able to pick up our client cases and deliver our own products. That works for us. Our business was built on first-class service and meeting quick turnaround demands, but it is equally important that we shake hands with our customers."

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