By Danny Chan
As the global financial crisis continues to take its toll on the Australian economy, it is heartening to know that there are still some Aussie companies doing their part to keep it afloat. Dental manufacturer and exporter SDI Limited, is one of them.
Founded in 1972 by Managing Director Jeffery Cheetham, SDI specialises in the production of dental restoratives, tooth whitening products and small equipment. The head office and manufacturing facility is located in Bayswater, Victoria, where it has grown from a small family operated business to a global public company, which was listed on the ASX in 1986.
In 2009, more than 95% of SDI’s production – worth in excess of $50 million – will be sold into more than 100 countries worldwide. SDI employs over 300 staff (including its own sales force) located in over 20 countries across North and South America, Europe and Australasia. SDI has fully owned subsidiaries, sales and marketing offices and inventory warehouses in countries including Brazil, the United Kingdom and Ireland, Germany and the USA.
SDI is also part of a small group of manufacturing companies that are helping to keep the Australian economy in forward motion. And, for all its global achievements, SDI remains strongly engaged in the local business community. Unlike companies that use patriotic slogans or flag-bearing packaging designs to show their support, SDI prefers more tangible means of expression; by creating jobs and business opportunities for the Australian community.
SDI locates all R&D, manufacturing, administration, sales and marketing activities within its 3-acre, 12,000 square metre Bayswater site. Employing over 200 staff at the facility, it is one of the region’s largest employers. From the Victorian headquarters, an Australian executive team oversees all offshore subsidiaries and their activities.
Commenting on the high costs of locating SDI’s manufacturing in Australia, Tom Cheetham, Business Development Manager, claims: “Many of our competitors manufacture their products in China, Korea and Taiwan. While it is more expensive to operate out of Australia, we utilise high speed, automated and efficient machines to compensate for the higher labour costs.
SDI’s policy is to buy Australian-made raw materials and components where possible. In so doing, Jeffery Cheetham estimates that over 600 additional vendor employees are involved with SDI manufacturing, which accounts for around 50% of their work. And, from its early days, SDI has maintained its community focus by employing the disabled, which along with other employee-centered initiatives, was recognized by the Prime Minister's ‘Employer of the Year’ Award.
Since its inception, SDI has produced an enviable range of products. It covers the dental restorative spectrum from alloys to adhesives; etchants to aesthetics; glass ionomers to resin cements. In the field of dental restorative materials, SDI is a pioneer in its own right. Tom Cheetham attests: “We were one of the innovators of fool-proof capsulated amalgams”.
The company’s extensive portfolio includes such familiar names as the “Pola” range of tooth whitening materials; Permite, Lojic+ and GS-80 Amalgams; the “Riva” range of glass ionomer restoratives and cements; Go!, a one component self-etching light cured adhesive; seT, a self etching, self adhesive resin cement; and Ice, an anterior and posterior, radiopaque, light cured nano hybrid composite.
Through SDI’s massive distribution network, many of its proprietary products have found universal acceptance. For example, over 400 million successful Permite restorations have occurred since its worldwide release in 1975.
Dentists using SDI products can be assured of the company’s commitment to quality. Throughout the years, SDI’s management has kept a close eye on its production pipeline, refining the processes along the way. To exercise more control over quality, the ISO 13485 and 9001 approved company began to produce more of its own parts and components – even making their own glass used in composites and cements.
Tom Cheetham reveals: “We found that the glass we had purchased to manufacture the glass ionomers was not suitable because we needed an extremely high-fluoride-releasing glass. As such a product was not available we made our own, to which minerals were added that benefit patients.”
In recent years, SDI has focused much of its marketing effort on rolling out an innovative line of glass ionomer cements, called Riva. These have been released with excellent results and continue to provide both dentist and patient alike with great benefits. Jeffery Cheetham advises: “For more than ten years, we have been developing glass ionomer systems using high purity, small particle reactive glass powders together with stable and innovative reactive liquids. Ongoing research continues with Riva and its associated products”.
Another growth product range is the Pola Tooth Whitening system. Pola has captured the largest slice of the major distribution system in the US and continues to enjoy overwhelming success in most markets where SDI has a presence. Additional facilities for increased Pola production are nearing completion that will expedite SDI’s services to its expanding international market.
In line with SDI’s new product performance, Jeffery Cheetham expresses well-founded optimism about the dental industry in the year ahead, saying: “I doubt the industry would be affected much. I think the high quality aesthetics and equipment market may slow down but the dental industry has always fared pretty well during a recession. Basically, if your tooth hurts, you’ve got to get it fixed”.