At LMT's LAB DAY 2012--the largest international gathering of the dental laboratory community in North America--about 1,140 manufacturer and supplier representatives greeted over 3,100 attendees from 47 states and 49 countries.
LAB DAY has become the place for product launches and breaking news. On the following pages, LMT Editors bring you the full scoop straight from the show floor and various industry events around Chicago. But first, here's an overview of the hot topics that inspired dialogue and debate during our profession's biggest weekend of the year:
BUSINESS GETTING BETTER.
If the mood among laboratory owners and managers could be summed up in two words, it would be "cautiously optimistic." Some, encouraged by a recent upswing in business--however slight--were hopeful we had turned an economic corner.
In fact, during live polling at a Vident/Nobel Biocare panel discussion, 73% of attendees expected sales to be "up markedly" or "up slightly" in 2012: there's the optimism. For the "cautious" part of the equation, laboratory owners are wary of rising gas and metal prices, as well as how the economy will respond to this election year.
DIGITAL DENTISTRY DOMINATES.
This year, nearly one third of Lab Day exhibits and more than 50 clinics were dedicated to digital dentistry, including scanners, milling machines, software, rapid prototyping systems, wax printers and services. Laboratory owners relished the chance to hear about new capabilities, meet new players in the market and research just-right solutions for staying on top of this trend.
In addition to the opportunity to use new materials, the need to increase efficiency continues to be the driving force behind the digital trend; in fact, some laboratory owners say the more they can automate, the better. "Over the next several years, we will probably see a shift in many of our manufacturing processes to automated processes," said Richard Harrell, Vice President, Dental Services Group, at the Vident/Nobel Biocare program. "We need a solution to the evolving shortage of skilled technicians--which I promise you will continue to become more pronounced as experienced technicians age out of the workforce."
FULL CONTOUR AT FULL SPEED.
"Full Z" was discussed at nearly every major event in Chicago, from Lab Day clinics to Jensen Education Day and Cal-Lab's Annual Meeting. "Full contour is growing at a faster rate than any other product in dentistry," Don Cornell told attendees at Jensen's program. He pointed out that it appeals to dentists because it's a low-cost solution patients are looking for; plus, it's relatively "bullet proof," the esthetics are sufficient for posteriors, and the digital process ensures better fits and fewer remakes.
Are removables more recession-proof than fixed? That idea has found plenty of supporters over the last few years and the word in Chicago was no different: removables are the go-to treatment for many patients in this price-pressured market. One LAB DAY attendee told LMT, "I've owned a denture-only lab for over six years and gross sales have grown every year so far. Luckily, the recession hasn't impacted me," said David Reed, Cirrus Prosthetics, Shawnee, KS.
Growth also continues to be driven by both demographics and the popularity of implants. "For the next 20 years, 10,000 people will reach the age of 65 on a daily basis," said Max Sturm, President of Candulor, during a press conference at LAB DAY. "In addition, 12% of all dentures are now implant supported and we expect to see 6.5% growth in this area next year."
More good news for this specialty: digital solutions continue to come its way, like the new 3Shape Dental System™ 2013 software--which allows users to digitally design, print or mill gingiva, and then place traditional denture teeth--and Valplast's Precise-Fit™ for digitally designed trial baseplates.
IMPLANTS ARE UBIQUITOUS.
Because they have become the standard of care in many cases, implants are holding their own in this market too. "Even in uncertain times, implants remain a growth area," Chris Clark, Dentsply's President and COO, told members of the Cal-Lab Group. Clark pointed out that, historically, even just a slight improvement in unemployment rates has coincided with noted growth in implants.
Especially strong areas include custom abutments--nearly three-quarters of laboratories now offer this service--and small-diameter implants, which Dr. Gordon Christensen reported (at the Lab Summit) to be "booming."
GET OVER OVERSPECIALIZING.
Another common theme in Chicago was diversification; presenters at several different programs warned laboratories of the danger of having too narrow a focus when it comes to product offerings. "There was a time when we could be very specific about the types of products we wanted to specialize in, but I'm not sure in this economic environment we can afford to be that selective," said Cornell.
That sentiment was echoed at the Vident/Nobel Biocare program, where panelists advised attendees to look for alternative revenue streams. "Within your market, there are alternative markets you can serve--there's an awful lot you don't do that someone else does," said Harrell. "This may require that you outsource the product, but outsourcing can be the solution to capture more of the available dollars."