Orthodontic Lab Changes Generations and Strategies – Digital Plan Pays Off With Rapid Growth
In 1984, James Wright embarked on the adventure of transforming the basement of his father’s orthodontic clinic in Williamsville, N.Y., into ODL, a national orthodontic lab that delivers premium work.
For most of the years since, business was steady – including the methods and technology used to churn out orthodontic appliances.
However, as the company began transitioning to the next generation, Wright’s children who grew up in the business – Michael, brother, Tom, and his brother-in-law, Brendan Pratt – envisioned a faster-paced digital future using the best software and 3D printing technologies offered.
It has been four years since then. “We are growing by leaps and bounds, and it is because of the digital work,” said President Michael Wright.
And James Wright is shocked at how quickly the change happened.
“Because it was the same process for most of his career,” Michael said. “He is just shocked to see how much of change we have experienced. Ten years ago, we had one computer and monitor to input cases. Now we have 20 computers. The technology has changed immensely in such a short amount of time.”
Today, ODL also owns three 3D printers, including two Vector 3SP machines from EnvisionTEC.
New Digital Adventures
ODL’s adventure into digital manufacturing began simply enough in 2008 – with an effort to streamline the way doctors submitted their cases to the lab.
“We built a piece of software for the lab. We were looking for an internal management system to manage our prescriptions,” Michael explained. “The app we built allowed doctors to send us digital prescriptions, files, and photos.”
The software was branded EasyRX, and it was a great success; it is now used by an estimated 500 doctors and 100 labs to manage their digital prescriptions. ODL has since sold its EasyRX business.
Once ODL was using the software, following the digital workflow to 3D printing was a natural next step, and the company purchased a Stratasys Objet30, which is used primarily to print models on which to create aligners, retainers, fixed appliances. “Anything we could make on a plaster model, we can make on a 3D printed one,” Michael said.
While there was a learning curve, the brothers could see the potential of how 3D printing could transform their workflow and practices, and they began to take advantage.
“It was hard, but we loved it, we embraced it, and we brought on more digital technicians,” he said. “We thought it was simply amazing.”
However, the company had issues with its Objet. Although ODL still uses the machine today, Michael said he has “replaced every single component,” and the machine was not fast enough. “Eight to ten hours for a build was fine in the beginning, but as we scaled up, we needed more throughput.”
His team loved 3D printing and what it was doing for business, but it began looking for another technology provider, eventually landing on EnvisionTEC and its Vector 3SP for model production. Part of the attraction, he confessed, was the price, which was much lower than the next model up from the Objet for another PolyJet machine. “The price jump was huge,” Michael explained.
I’ll Take a Double Vector, Please
Michael and his team examined the Vector for about six months before deciding to buy.
“A colleague bought one, and we spent a lot of time looking at the prints – he loved it – and I just decided to pull the trigger,” Michael said.
Today, ODL is printing about 80-100 models on its Vector alone. “We are pushing that thing to the limit,” he said. “It is a beast. … I can get a build out in two hours.”
The team was so pleased with the performance – Michael estimates that it produces models about four times faster than the Objet – that they have since bought another Vector 3SP.
By going all digital and allowing orthodontists to send in cases all digitally, Michael said the company has nearly doubled its work over the past year. It has grown its number of employees from about 14 to 25.
“We are rapidly increasing our customer base and order volume,” Michael said. “I do not even have enough space in our fridge anymore to accommodate all of our employees’ lunches.”
Also noteworthy is that there is a price premium for the high-quality digital work done by ODL. “The bands on our appliances fit really well because of the custom process we use,” he said.
The Wright brothers are all in their 30s, and Michael believes their age and willingness to try a new way has led to the 3D printing investment and subsequent business growth.
“I see digital being the future for everything. If we did not do this, I did not know how the business was going to grow,” Michael said. “We were at a mature point, very flat.”
Today, however, he sees a world of new opportunities. “We are going to stay in ortho but expand in different ways. I am excited about the E-IDB (indirect bonding tray material). There are many opportunities, and that work is coming our way.”
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