A year ago, Whip Mix Corp. promoted its Vice President of Manufacturing, Jim Myers, to President of the company, succeeding Allen Steinbock, the grandson of Whip Mix Founder Edmund Steinbock, Sr. This promotion makes Myers the first non-family member President in the company's history. LMT travelled to Louisville, KY, to talk with Myers about his new position and where the company is headed.
LMT: As President, how has your role changed?
Myers: For 11 years, my priority was our manufacturing processes; now, it's more focused on customer needs and opportunities. I have much more interaction with our sales team and Whip Mix customers.
LMT: What stands out to you regarding your customers?
Myers: The most striking thing about our laboratory customers is their level of energy, dedication and desire to improve their businesses. Rather than hoping digital technology won't affect them, they're rolling up their sleeves, re-inventing themselves and embracing new technology.
LMT: Tell us more about Whip Mix's Dental Technology Solutions products and services.
Myers: Our Dental Technology Solutions (DTS) team provides milling services to assist labs beginning the transition into the digital realm of dentistry. Kent Kohli, CDT, as Manager of Dental Technology Solutions, oversees the quality control and helps customers apply digital technologies to enhance the outcome of their work. Our team also includes CNC mill operators experienced in CAM programming strategies. Basically, we accept .stl files from any scanner and use the Roland DWX-50 mills for milling zirconia substructures, full contour zirconia crowns and wax patterns.
Our milling services provide customers with a cost-effective way to start the digital journey, requiring only the purchase of a scanner. We help labs make the transition by milling difficult or test cases for them as they master their skills. In addition, our milling center is a backup resource for our laboratory customers.
We also sell the CAD/CAM equipment and materials we use in our milling center. This includes 3Shape scanners, Roland DWX-50 mills, Sum3D software and Vericore zirconia, PMMA and wax milling discs.
We don't bundle material requirements with equipment purchases as some resellers do; we're more of an open source to give our customers more flexibility and options. We also help laboratory customers with ROI advice and weigh the pros and cons of outsourcing vs. purchasing equipment. For example, if you're outsourcing six units or more per day, it probably makes sense to purchase a milling machine.
LMT: What support services do you offer for the CAD/CAM equipment you sell?
Myers: Customer service has always been the cornerstone of the Whip Mix philosophy and in the digital world; well-versed, ongoing technical support is even more important than ever before. First, we include the fundamental training as part of the 3Shape scanner and Roland mill purchase; we also offer advanced design and milling training sessions on more complex case design and workflow. Secondly, our support team includes dental technicians trained to troubleshoot customers' problems as well as Information Technology Support technicians to assist customers with connectivity and computer interface needs.
We also provide additional support through social media and other online education venues such as webinars and blogs. These venues give us more immediate ways to enhance our customer service and inform and educate our customers.
LMT: You were instrumental in implementing Lean Manufacturing at Whip Mix, drawing on your background from the automotive industry, and won the Kentucky Association of Manufacturing's Employee of the Year in 2011 for your efforts. What's new on that front?
Myers: Lean Manufacturing is an ongoing process. After revamping most of our processes, we're now focusing on smaller areas to tweak and improve. Our WIN—Whip Mix Improvement Network—encourages employees to continuously provide recommendations on how to improve productivity, customer service, quality and safety. Any staff member can participate by identifying a problem and suggesting solutions for fixing it. With this program, striving for continuous improvement has become a company-wide effort and not just a manufacturing initiative.
Last year, we received ISO 13485 certification, which is a quality system standard preferred around the world for medical device manufacturing; we see it as an integral part of our strategy to compete successfully in global markets. Maintaining this certification requires a periodic third-party check of our quality system and this added scrutiny provides another way to continually improve our processes and organization.
We've also hired John Waters as our Regulatory Compliance Officer, which is a new position at the company. We are using his special training as a Black Belt in Innovation Engineering to bring innovative ideas for new products and services to fruition faster and more effectively.
LMT: What new products have you introduced lately?
Myers: At LMT LAB DAY West in May, we showed a new sintering furnace, Infinity ZR, and it will start shipping in September. It has four-stage capability for optimized firing programs and capacity to hold three sagger trays. The Infinity ZR has similar programming to Jelrus ovens, so it's easy and familiar to customers and can be used for all zirconia.
LMT: What do you see for the future of Whip Mix?
Myers: During the past 15 years, we've acquired several companies and product lines—including IntraTech Dental Products, Ardent, Hanau, Denar and Jelrus—and used our expertise to improve the profitability, quality and efficiency of those operations. Therefore, acquisition is still part of our growth strategy along with organic growth.
This is an exciting time in terms of the changes occurring in the industry. With the impact technology is having on Whip Mix and traditional products, we're strategically looking at different horizons. Of course our history is in materials and manufacturing and we'll continue that focus by funneling resources into R&D for CAD/CAM fabrication materials and digital equipment.
Whip Mix's future plans also include expanding the Dental Technology Solutions product offerings and services to more than a milling center. We're committed to using the products we sell so that we can support laboratories from our practical experience. What won't change is Whip Mix's dedication to and support of the dental laboratory community.
What questions do you have for Whip Mix? Visit the company's Vendor Page on our website.