Interview: “Digital technologies are fundamentally changing the dynamics of our industry”
Stephan Kreimer is a master dental technician who runs a dental laboratory in Warendorf in Germany. Since he developed an interest in technology early on, Kreimer was always eager to integrate dental technologies into his workflow. Now, more than a decade later, innovative technologies such as CAD/CAM, CNC milling and 3D printing are shaping his work and offer increased efficiency. In this interview with Dental Tribune International, Kreimer shares his journey from a conventional to a digital laboratory and weighs up the advantages of investing in an in-house 3D printer.
Mr Kreimer, when did you first start working in the dental field, and what led you to a career in dentistry?
Technology has always been an interest of mine. Since 2009, I have been able to combine this interest in technology with dentistry through my education in dental technology. At the time, my parents were operating a conventional dental laboratory in Germany that made little use of digital technologies such as CAD/CAM.
After completing my master’s in dental technology, I took over as managing director of our family laboratory. I was betting strongly on innovative technologies such as CNC milling and 3D printing and closed collaborations with leading manufacturers, including 3Shape and Formlabs. Smartly combining the passion for aesthetics and craftsmanship, which is inherent to our industry, with the enormous potential of digital technologies is definitely the way forward.
Your dental laboratory has eagerly adopted digital technologies into its workflow. Could you tell us more about it and discuss some of the digital solutions you are using?
It has been a journey. We started as a conventional dental laboratory and have been operating with traditional workflows for over 30 years. In 2009, we adopted our first CAD software but outsourced all of our digital production to service providers. Things changed quickly when we invested in our first 3D printer, a Formlabs Form 2, in 2016. At the time, the system was not optimised for dentistry, but it was clear that it had great potential. Within the less than five years since then, most of our customer base has adopted intra-oral scanners and we scaled our digital production capabilities significantly. Today, we use an imes-icore milling machine and multiple 3D printers that run almost 24/7 and work with both 3Shape and exocad. Around 70% of our customers send us digital impressions.
How did you integrate digital technologies, including 3D printing and CAD/CAM, into your laboratory?
It was definitely through trial and error. Especially in the early days, which was just a few years back, 3D printing was not well optimised for a dental workflow. Interfaces to materials, software and other workflow requirements have not been coordinated well between different manufacturers. This has led to the formation of a highly active international community of dental technicians who exchange through social media what they have learned. Personally, I’ve learned a lot from my peers around the world, and I’m equally giving back to the community and the manufacturers. Dentistry is at the intersection of multiple disciplines, and we need to have good communication to make progress.
The rate of innovation in digital dentistry is extremely high. We now see manufacturers coordinating much better and creating more accessible ecosystems that are much easier to use. At the same time, most of the potential is still untapped and will become apparent as we undergo significant transformations within our industry.
Having worked with digital technology for over a decade now, what benefits do you see of using dental technology, especially 3D printing, in a dental laboratory?
To me, dental technology is about combining the best of two worlds: analogue and digital. We still need and will continue to need traditional craftsmanship to meet the high requirements for individualised aesthetics in complex cases. At the same time, the holistic digital workflow works well in an increasing number of areas, enabling significant increases in efficiency while maintaining or improving overall quality. Digital fabrication in particular enhances production speed and reproducibility.
Dentistry is constantly evolving. What lies ahead for dentistry, and what dental technology is most likely to shape its future?
In my view, we are now at a point where most of the industry understands and embraces the vast potential of digital technologies. At the same time, we are just about to move from an early adopter stage to the early majority stage when it comes to the adoption of digital technologies. In Germany, for example, only 15% of dental practices are using intra-oral scanners, much less than in the US. However, the trend towards digital impressions is accelerating fast!
We are undergoing a paradigm shift in dentistry because digital technologies are fundamentally changing the dynamics of our industry. We will see entirely new business models, and together we will establish new standards of care. It is an exciting time, and for those who embrace this change, there will be many opportunities.