Embracing 3D printing has taken a bite out of Giorgio Dental's operating costs, yet the new technology is only part of an ongoing digital transformation which is generating new business and helping the Australian dental laboratory tackle international markets.

Melbourne-based Giorgio Dental Laboratories makes crowns, bridges, implants, castings and prosthetics, specialising in restorative work. With the help of Sustainability Victoria's Materials Efficiency Program, Giorgio Dental purchased a 3D printer to help eliminate waste associated with creating traditional plaster moulds, as well as reduce production times and costs while improving accuracy.

The move has already reduced water usage and saved the business six tonnes of dental plaster – saving on both the cost of purchasing the plaster and the cost to dispose of the unrecyclable waste.

New digital technologies are also allowing Giorgio Dental to receive work electronically. Rather than dentists taking a traditional mould of a patient's mouth and shipping it to Giorgio Dental's laboratory, dentists can now create a 3D digital model of a patient's mouth – using an intraoral scanner – and send the file to Giorgio Dental over the internet. Not only does 3D scanning make the process less uncomfortable for patients, it also improves accuracy, saves on courier fees and speeds up turnaround times.

Speed of the essence

While parts of the Australian dental industry have been slow to embrace these kinds of new technologies and practices, Giorgio Dental has looked to trends in Europe and the United States to stay on the cutting edge, says its director of innovation, Sam Thalassinos.

The adoption of 3D printing and scanning, plus computer-aided design tools and digital workflows, now allows Giorgio Dental to offer same-day turnaround on jobs which previously took several days. In a single day, the laboratory can now receive an intraoral scan from a dentist, print a 3D model of the patient's mouth, mill a ceramic dental crown to fit and then hand-finish the crown.

Beyond 3D printing plaster models and casts, the laboratory is also further developing 3D printing for temporary crowns – which were previously made by hand as a stop-gap measure until a patient's ceramic crown was ready. Giorgio Dental is also developing the capabilities to print directly with ceramics.

Digital transformation driving expansion

These advancements have helped the business remain competitive against local rivals, plus have seen Giorgio Dental win over customers from laboratories not equipped to meet new challenges and handle digital workflows. The advancements have also helped Giorgio Dental fend off competition from offshore providers looking to undercut Australian laboratories.

Plus, despite the growing competition, the business has created 20 new jobs thanks to its advanced manufacturing program, and has reskilled and upskilled existing technician jobs.

All of this adds up to provide a competitive advantage that doesn't simply come from owning 3D printers but also from investment in people and processes to improve every aspect of the business, Thalassinos says. While 3D printing is a powerful tool it's only "one piece of the digital transformation puzzle" which has delivered improvements and efficiencies across the business.

"Those efficiencies help us keep down prices, to stay competitive with Asian providers looking to win business in Australia, but our significantly improved turnaround time also means that we can deliver to our customers much faster than if they were sending that work offshore," he says.

"The ability to receive work digitally also opens up export opportunities for us, targeting the growing middle-class in Asian countries and competing on price while leveraging Australia's reputation for quality."

Investment in people underlies tech story

Giorgio Dental's reputation in Australia as an industry leader doesn’t just hinge on the hardware it has purchased; it's also at the forefront of industry training. Giorgio runs a holistic apprenticeship training program and has partnered with the University of Melbourne’s postgraduate program and dental clinic.

"One problem we have in Australia is that our dental curriculums haven't always kept up with the pace of change," Thalassinos says. "So what we're finding is that we've had to train people ourselves, plus we've sent some staff overseas to be trained and they've brought back those new skillsets and trained other staff."

"We also train our apprentices in new technologies, even if it's not being taught in their university classes, so they'll be more well-rounded when they graduate."

The future is as much about people as it is about technology, Thalassinos says, and helping train the workforce of the future will ensure that Giorgio Dental is well-placed to succeed.

"Technology alone is never the complete solution to your challenges, it's about knowing how to put that technology to good use and integrate it into your business to help you work smarter," he says.

"Preparing your people and your processes to cope with digital workflows puts you in the best position to cope with whatever challenges lie ahead."

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