By Danny Chan
When setting up a new surgery, it is not uncommon for dentists to focus on renovation details that lend towards its visual enhancement. When it comes to allocating space for the equipment and furniture, more attention would normally be lavished on conspicuous objects that highlight the beauty and sophistication of the practice – be it slimline dental chair, designer cabinetry or the latest OPG unit.
Even though they play a pivotal role in the daily running of the surgery, modest-looking equipment like air compressors and suction systems are seldom a priority in the renovation process.
While over the past few years, there has been a marked increase in the number of clinics that are giving time and thought to their plant-equipment and installation – with positive results as a consequence – these issues often emerge as an afterthought.
“Dentists are naturally more aware of instruments, equipment and furniture that they come into regular contact with, as opposed to the backend equipment – it can sometimes be a case of ‘out of sight, out of mind’,” explains Jason Borg, Technical Coordinator, Cattani Australia Pty. Ltd.
In giving due attention, Jason emphasises the need to provide plant equipment with “a well-ventilated/cooled environment that is both accessible and secure”.
Cooling vs Ventilation
Ventilation or cooling of the plant room is not to be confused with simply providing an “airy” accommodation for the equipment, but entails a deliberate effort to prevent it from overheating.
As heat is the biggest enemy of plant equipment – the lifespan of an oil-free compressor is proportional to the temperature at which it operates – therefore the cooler they are kept, the longer they last. Adequate temperature control can be achieved by two ways: ventilating the plant area with fans or by air-conditioning a sealed enclosure or room.
Although most of his customers consider air-conditioning the costlier alternative, Jason explains why it is still the preferred (and cost-effective) choice:
“An adequate air ventilation system may cost less – although certain makes may even be more expensive – than installing an air-conditioning unit, but the latter is at least twice as efficient and overall much more effective. With air-conditioning, you don’t have to contend with issues of air movement that a ventilation fan has, which immediately is less problematic. “Furthermore, fans require vents, which let noise out and dust in; a sealed and air-conditioned plant-area has no such problems”.
Jason also warns against redirecting the building’s existing air-conditioning via a duct into the plant area.
“The thermostat of the air-conditioning system responds only to the clinic’s ambient temperature, and does not compensate for the heat being generated in the plant room. A second climate zone specific to the plant room itself must be set up for its proper cooling.”
Location, location, location
Consequently, many surgery fitouts do not reflect the importance of such equipment as seen by the inadequate location of the plant room that houses them.
“The plant room design – which include such factors as location, ventilation and access – plays an important role in the equipment’s long-term operability.”
Equipment accessibility is another factor that ranks high on Jason’s agenda.
“You need to be able to easily access the unit in order to maintain or repair it. When you plan your access points and ensure that they are unobstructed at all times, while allowing enough space for the nurse or technician to carry out their work, you are in fact saving yourself undue stress.
“By planning ahead, you will minimise down time in the event of a breakdown as your technician will be able to access your equipment easily and quickly, for both diagnosis and any work that needs to be carried out. Your nurse or assistant can also carry out regular maintenance work, such as cleaning filters or replacing amalgam canisters, in a hassle-free environment.”
Indoor vs Outdoor
To ensure a smooth operation, Jason recommends a dedicated plant room or enclosure that may be located inside or outside of the practice. When deciding between indoor and outdoor locations, considering the amount of available space takes precedence.
“There are obvious benefits to housing the units indoors, as the environment is typically clean and dry, and offers better security and accessibility. In terms of regular maintenance, surgery staff generally prefer locating the equipment within the clinic.”
If floor-space poses a limitation, outdoor plant room options include a metal plant box, garden-shed style enclosure, brick housing or existing enclosed space (i.e. underground car park/ store room).
Further, customisable outdoor solutions are available through Cattani Australia’s innovative CAPS (Controlled Atmosphere Protection System) unit.
CAPS is a fully enclosed, weatherproof, air-conditioned plant room specially designed by Cattani Australia for outdoors usage. This self-contained enclosure houses a Cattani compressor and Turbo Smart suction unit, for either 2 surgeries or up to 4 surgeries. It features a Mitsubishi air-conditioner, acoustic insulation, a light, key-locked doors and left/right handed plumbing connections. Bi-fold doors allow easy access to plant equipment while the acoustic foam that lines the inside of the enclosure reduces noise levels.
As another practical solution to address the space constraint, Cattani Australia provides a ‘split’ suction or compressed air system, whereby the unit components may be stored separately; for example, some of the parts may be located indoors, with other components on the roof.
“With CAPS, we’ve basically combined the cabinet and equipment into a single product, so that our customers don’t have to arrange tradesman or builders to manufacture the housing enclosure. It’s all been taken care of”, Jason attests.
“What we want is not simply to sell products but practical concepts that deliver actual solutions, in line with the current demands of the industry.
“You can take that concept and run with it, because what we’re trying to do is generate awareness by informing the industry about the possibilities and setting the standards that they should be aiming for.”
The Air Technology Specialists
Important as it is to plan and design a plant room, it is of little use if the equipment in question does not hold up to scrutiny. The air compressor is among the most important pieces of equipment in any dental surgery. While ‘robustness’ and ‘reliability’ remain key attributes, it is ultimately the quality of air it supplies that rightfully distinguishes one product from another.
Well-known for their suction systems and oil-free compressors, Italian company Cattani is one of few international brand names in this specialist field. For good reason, the Cattani name has long stood for performance and outstanding back-up support. As specialists in air technology, the range of Cattani compressors, from a single chair practice system to one that caters for hundreds of surgeries, meet a broad spectrum of dental needs.
Its proprietary oil-free design eliminates all the maintenance issues and associated costs that come with checking, draining and topping up oil reservoirs required in conventional systems. The fact that it is oil-free and boasts a drying system that removes moisture from the air before it gets stored in the tank also ensures a constant and uninterrupted supply of dry, clean air.
Although Cattani products available in Australia are largely manufactured and imported from Parma, Italy, it doesn’t mean that the folks at the local office simply twiddle their thumbs and wait for the goods to arrive. Rather, they wear the ‘specialist’ label as comfortably as do their European counterparts.
“Because we’re focused on just those two things (compressors and suctions), we have the time and energy to commit to seeing a project through to its fruition.”
“Our specialised knowledge allows us to handle complex installations including pipeline designs, and work around unique situations – some of which are peculiar to Australian customers – to suit individual application and needs.”
The goal, however, is not to prove their technical credentials. As with the CAPS innovation, the company hopes to simplify the processes and eliminate any guesswork involved in maintaining the longevity of plant room equipment.
Central to this commitment is their continued efforts in communicating this message to Australian practice owners: Both your equipment supplier and you have a part to play in the wellbeing and performance of your plant equipment.
Jason stresses: “Instead of as an afterthought, plant room design can be one of the first things that practice owners think about.
“If you fail to properly assess and plan the location, design and construction of the plant room in the initial stages, it can become difficult and costly to rectify the problem later – when things start to go wrong.”