Giving “MOUTHAPPINESS” to people, with employees’ well-being in mind.

Wada Precision Dental Laboratories is a major dental laboratory, with a network of branches across Japan. At the CAD/CAM Center of the lab’s Production Division, located in Shin-Osaka in northern Osaka City, Roland interviewed Mr. Shizuo Higuchi, Managing Director, and Mr. Norihiro Yoshitsugu, Assistant Manager, focusing on their visions for the dental lab industry.

“Our company was founded in January 1958 by Hiroki Wada, so we’ll celebrate the 57th anniversary of its establishment early next year. While constantly working to popularize metal bonding, a totally novel technique at the time, we have grown to what we are today; a company that handles a full range of dental prosthesis. We have been engaged in clinical application of CAD/CAM systems for 20 years, introducing these systems in our main production facilities nationwide, as well as in our Crown Center located in Kagawa Prefecture, northeastern Shikoku. This CAD/CAM Center was established in 2011 as a facility specializing in digital dentistry,” said Higuchi.

How do you incorporate CAD/CAM in your work?       

“At our Crown Center, we mainly process zirconia, as well as e.max ceramics, titan and cobalt-chromium alloy (Co-Cr), using large machining centers. At our production facilities equipped with CAD/CAM systems, we process CAD/CAM crowns (of hybrid resin), PMMA resin and wax using the DWX-50. At this CAD/CAM Center, we produce frames for the porcelain-fused-to-metal crown (PFMC) and CAD/CAM crowns, using the laser sintering technique and the DWX-4. We also hold our in-house training here,” said Yoshitsugu.  

Why did you introduce CAD/CAM?

“Dental prosthetics require technicians to concentrate for a long time, which places a great burden on them. Nevertheless, we cannot improve the situation at the cost of having patients wait longer. We were looking into ways to somehow reduce this burden by mechanizing some of our processes while maintaining productivity. Our first eye-opening experience took place in 2009 when we visited a dental laboratory in the United States. In this lab, we saw that they were processing wax using Roland’s processors for jewelry. Back in Osaka, we asked the manufacturer to demonstrate the processor, but we ended up not making use of it at our place at that time since it had not been designed for dental lab applications. Later, in 2011, at a dental show held in Korea we saw the DWX-30, specifically designed for such applications (not released in Japan), and that was when we made our decision,” explained Higuchi.   

“By that time we had introduced 3D scanners in many of our bases, and we were aiming for a production framework with shorter delivery times by introducing additional milling machines. So, we consulted Roland once again and after benchmark testing and so on, we decided to introduce the DWX. In our procedure, an operational workflow is first tried and then standardized in the CAD/CAM Center and subsequently deployed in regional bases. Currently, we have a total of 13 DWX-50 and DWX-4 units running at our branches,” added Yoshitsugu.

What has changed after you introduced the machines?

“Well, at first we introduced the DWX for the purpose of processing wax and PMMA resin. In recent years, however, in response to rapidly increasing demand for CAD/CAM crowns, we have switched the use of practically all of the units to CAD/CAM crown processing. Although we are busy as ever, thanks to the mechanization we’ve embraced our technicians now go home earlier than before. Employees’ health matters in this kind of business,” noted Higuchi.

The number of people who can use CAD/CAM is relatively limited, isn’t it?

“As you know, the dental lab industry is faced with chronic understaffing and aging of the technicians. There are many issues in fostering personnel capable of using CAD/CAM under these circumstances. In our company, we use a division of work system in which basically one person with experience in analog processes is assigned to CAD and to CAM. In most cases, with a 3-week training course in the CAD/CAM Center, trainees are able to master this method of design. After the training, we ensure that they receive support by means of regular meetings and so on,” said Yoshitsugu.

Future Business Outlook

“You cannot expect long-term development by simply trying to stay competitive on the strength of the low cost enabled by mechanization. Our founder has striven to proliferate metal bonding in his desire to improve the industry as a whole. In order to steer our industry to a robust profit structure, it all comes down to enhancing the value of our dental techniques partly by making optimum use of new technology, thereby making the workplace one that is rewarding to all employees at the same time. CAD/CAM must be a useful means in this respect, and we would like to do our share in helping the industry further develop from now on,” concluded Higuchi.

(Interviewed in June 2014)

Wada Precision Dental Laboratories website: http://www.labowada.co.jp/