By Danny Chan
For better or worse, the dental lab business has undergone sweeping changes. Over the last decade or so, cost-sensitivity and increased competition have driven prices so low that many labs are forced to adapt or outsource. Some Australian labs, already struggling with increasing overheads, are offloading their work to overseas counterparts – which employ hundreds of technicans in large-scale assembly line operations. Against this backdrop, there appears to be an inevitable shift towards business models that favour volume over quality – whether or not outsourcing is involved.
On the one hand, clinicians may welcome a competitive market in which more options are available at lower rates. Other dentists, perhaps more acutely aware of the risks of cost-cutting measures – often by-products of price competition – eschew the mass-production facilities.
For the latter group, Gold & Ceramics Dental Laboratory is a full-service Brisbane outfit that promises to deliver unstinting quality and personalised customer service. Formed in 1980 as Brisbane Gold and Ceramics, G&C prides itself as an established player that can rise to the more sophisticated demands of the profession.
Says Simon Donaldson, General Manager, Gold & Ceramics Dental Laboratory:
“Obviously the main client we service is the clinician who requires a high quality restoration and although conscious of pricing is not willing to sacrifice that quality. Some of our clients are those that have come to realise that the close contact we offer translates into a job with less chance of problems at issue.”
Throughout its 36 years, G&C has stoically avoided the “low-priced, high volume” strategems, even when it meant bucking market trends. Its brand-driven marketing campaigns are unabashedly aimed at the premium end of the clientele. Behind the glossy advertising, Simon maintains, is simply a lab grounded in its relentless pursuit of quality craftsmanship.
No problems; Only solutions
Although G&C recognises the challenge of having to maintain high standards in a competitive marketplace, they do so through the adoption of new systems and technology, in addition to the ability to “think outside the box”.
“When we first established the lab, we saw the need to embrace technology to enable us to create consistently high quality dental products. This has ranged from being one of the first Labs in Australia with a computer-controlled casting machine, to embracing CAD-CAM technologies ranging from Nobel Procera in the early 2000s to today with 3Shape for CAD design and our Weiland Milling machine for CAM.
“We also employ state of the art external milling facilities for those cases that can’t be milled ‘in-house’. We continue to use high quality materials such as Vita Ceramics and Ivoclar Ivocap system for accuracy in our removable prosthetics.”
Simon says their ability to “think outside the square” partly comes from employing a highly experienced technical team – apart from one, all the dental technicians boast six years or more experience , while a few have over 40 years of individual experience. It also helps that the lab’s service-oriented environment does not blindly subscribe to text-book solutions.
“In our quest to provide customer-centred solutions, we often have to repurpose standard components for non-standard applications – and they have worked tremendously well as a testimony to our ability to develop work-arounds in unique situations.
“To quote one of our senior techs’ mantra: “We don’t have problems; only solutions””
Just as you would expect high calibre chefs to deliver haute cuisine at a Michelin-starred restaurant, Simon believes G&C’s approximation of Fine Dentistry is inseparable from the passion and expertise of his technical team.
“Fine Dentistry refers to putting everything possible into a case using the best materials, to whatever time is required to get the job right. This comes from our team being dedicated to the standards we aim for.
“You can’t make a champion runner from someone who doesn’t like running and it’s the same with dental technology, you have to enjoy what you do, to do the best you can. It helps too that the materials we use are the best quality and are used according to the manufacturers’ instructions.”
Of course, there is always a price when insisting on quality. Comparing alternative processes in Zirconia sintering, Simon relates the time costs of delivering higher aesthetic value:
“Zirconia can be sintered on a fast cycle in only 2-3 hours. Although you can deliver the job faster, you end up losing the translucency and natural aesthetics in the final restoration, even though it remains structurally as strong.
“There are more creative ways of improving turnaround speeds, like managing internal workflows, but the priority should always be the quality of our output, not just the speed.”
In the end, the overall “turnaround speed” also needs to be viewed as a whole package – which should include time savings at the dental office as well.
“I think the biggest benefit is the clinician being able to insert a case with minimal or no adjustment required at the issue apointment. We take care to check margins and interproximal contacts to minimise adjustments.
“We also maintain close contact with clients and always take the initiative to clarify if and when the prescription card does not contain sufficient detail.”
G&C’s attention to the smallest details and commitment to customer satisfaction has earned a loyal following – some customers have stayed for over 30 years, and to this day maintain almost daily contact with the lab.
It makes you wonder, given the relentless pace of competition, how many labs that continue to insist on quality craftsmanship and earning customer loyalty – the hard way – will still be around in 30 years.