Open v Closed technologies, an update

When dental laboratories were originally offered scanners and full digital systems, they were nearly all ‘closed’. This meant that the dental company you bought from would be getting extra ongoing revenue from your system. The software was locked and certain ‘special’ items could only be purchased from your supplier. You were tied in. Most obvious were strangely shaped blocks for your chosen mill.

We should all know by now that a circular puck of around 98mm in diameter is the standard worldwide and for a good reason: it is an efficient shape for maximising the number of copings/bridges you can nest thus keeping costs to a minimum. It also means that you can shop around for best prices and quality.

When a deal isn’t a deal

Sometimes the ‘deal ’we were offered on a scanner locked us into that supplier (with a large penalty if you wanted to exit) and we were forced to pay higher prices for work. It also meant you could not change to a better quality supplier, that you may have found.

Yes, the actual scanner was a bargain price, but very soon the work you had to send to the supplier made the overall deal a very expensive one. Again, choice was gone, and if you were unsatisfied with the work coming back: tough! And… much needed bottom line gently flowed to your supplier.

Closed tech and sourcing spares

Another more subtle item was milling burs. All shapes and sizes appeared at very high prices, with comments such as ‘you must use genuine tools or your guarantee goes’. Let’s be quite clear: assuming you buy a replacement tool with the correct specification, can your mill identify where it came from? Of course not! So that high price you are paying for tools is yet more money slipping away.

Recently I heard of one poor lab that are paying a huge amount monthly to replace the ‘special’ dustbag on their extractor (supplied with the system). He had never thought to check this sort of detail…

Maybe it is the abutment cylinders for your mill that are a very expensive. So you take a look around for a keener price. You find it…but they do not fit your holder! It has a unique shape. You have to buy from your supplier again.

So when you hear that the system(s) you are considering is ‘open’, it will pay you many times over to stop… and work out all the ongoing costs of materials, consumables and licensing etc. Many of you reading this may well realise that as far as open and closed are concerned, closed systems are alive and well and waiting to trap you into extra and unnecessary costs.

Considerations when setting up your digital dentistry lab

Some things to take into account when choosing to digitise your laboratory:

  • Materials What shape do you need…can I buy from multiple suppliers…is the system barcoded…?
  • Milling tools Can I buy these from my choice of supplier?
  • Sintering Oven Can I get replacement thermocouples and elements at reasonable cost…from where? Is it fully programmable, or fixed for a particular zirconia?
  • Computer Is this powerful enough for updates and any extra modules I may want, or simply the minimum to get you going? Tip: buy the best possible
  • Scanner Is it accurate and fast enough for the work you wish to put through, and is it truly open so you can send industry standard STL files wherever you choose?
  • Licenses/Updates/Servicing/backup These can be serious ongoing costs. Find out as much as you can so you know exactly what to expect. Maybe work out how much it will cost you over 5 and 10 years. This is all extra on top of any finance costs you may sign up to.

Are you prepared when the salesman calls with that ‘wonderful offer’ you cannot refuse? Maybe the question we should ask ourselves is exactly why I am being offered such a deal. Nobody gives money away…without a very good reason. Oh yes, you have been friends for years and he will look after you. Forget the flattery, this is business and your money!

Don’t rush into a purchase unless you check

In the UK today there are many scanners gathering dust, milling machines driving their owners crazy with continual faults, stressed technicians who get literally zero backup (truly zero) despite all those promises, labs who are tied into crazy ongoing costs they cannot get out of.

These are painful and expensive lessons to be learned…I have myself thrown one milling machine into the skip in disgust. That was a £45,000 purchase. In no way did it match the promises given and the suppliers turned their backs on it.

So, it is quite clear we have not fully entered the open era in the UK today. Make sure you are not one of those rushing in without detailing all those hidden costs!

I have also bought two sintering furnaces that unbelievably only had one fixed program on them. Yes, they have been dumped too, as the cost of adding just one more program was £4,000! That is the cost of a new furnace with programmable cycles…

So, it is quite clear we have not fully entered the open era in the UK today. It is certainly better, but probably will never be completely open and transparent of those hidden ongoing costs. Find them before you buy, so you can incorporate them into your costings. The initial cost (bargain deal) can be a bit of a smokescreen… better to work out the true cost over five years, including all maintenance, software, consumables, licensing etc, the list goes on.

The latest hot product in dentistry is of course the intraoral scanner. The same rules apply: check those guarantees, maintenance costs, consumables, licensing and so on.

Finally, and hugely important is support. What support comes with your purchase? This starts with training and install, but what capability does your supplier have to help you further down the road? It is costly for your supplier but crucial for you to get the best from your purchase, and cannot be overestimated.

With all your homework completed, you will now be in a position to join the digital revolution, or avoid earlier mistakes.