How chemical procurement can impact your lab’s productivity

Dave Haase discusses the key to a steady supply of essential chemicals, and how a reliable chemical procurement process can reduce your lab's turnaround time.

Dave Haase discusses the key to a steady supply of essential chemicals and how a reliable chemical procurement process can reduce your lab’s turnaround time.

Each dental procedure — from mould making to prosthesis fabrication — depends on a steady flow of vital chemicals and materials. Recent shake-ups in the chemical market have spotlighted some weaknesses in traditional procurement approaches. 

How can dental labs best structure their procurement processes to minimise disruptions and reduce turnaround time (TAT)? 

This article spotlights the importance of robust procurement strategies and their role in minimising disruptions, improving workflow efficiency, and ultimately bettering patient service through reduced TAT.

1. Minimising disruptions

The performance of any dental lab is directly affected by disruptions in the availability of essential supplies. From adhesives and cements to impression materials and disinfectants, any delay or disruption in the supply of these materials can cause a significant slowdown in a dental lab’s workflow.

Each stage in a dental lab’s process, from diagnosis to the final restoration, depends on specific supplies. For example, a lack of dental impression materials delays the creation of accurate dental moulds and hampers the production of precise dental prostheses, impacting the patient’s overall treatment plan.

Supply chain disruptions can escalate costs for dental practices. But the cost isn’t the only concern — the more significant issue is the unavailability of essential chemicals which can cause procedural delays, pushing up TAT.

For example, a delay in acquiring a specific dental resin can postpone dental crown production by days. This leads to patient dissatisfaction, extra stress for lab staff, and potential damage to the lab’s reputation.

The Dental Tribune describes this scenario as the ‘bullwhip effect’, where a minor supply chain disruption leads to magnified downstream issues. Increased delays, inflated costs and compromised lab process quality are the direct results. 

2. Enhancing workflow efficiency

Consistent access to necessary chemicals and materials leads to a streamlined lab operation, boosting speed and quality of output, and shortening TAT.

For instance, having a reliable supply of dental alloys can help with workload planning and speed up the production of dental crowns and bridges. With no interruptions and a clear schedule, technicians work continuously and reduce the time to deliver the final product. The result? Shorter TAT and improved overall productivity.

Integration of advanced technology, like the Itero intraoral scanner, along with procurement optimisation, further enhances workflow efficiency. This device has revolutionised impression-taking by reducing process time and improving accuracy, leading to fewer remakes and faster TAT.

Paramount Dental Studio highlighted the importance of refining lab workflows to counter rising post-COVID-19 logistics costs. A solution lies in utilising advanced technologies like 3D printing to slash chair time. However, these innovations depend on the efficient procurement of specific materials.

This once again highlights the importance of reliable material sourcing in minimising stock-outs and delays, facilitating smoother lab operations and higher-quality patient service. 

3. Reducing TAT

The key to a steady supply of essential chemicals in dental labs? Choosing the right vendors, managing your inventory effectively, and predicting demand accurately. These three components, aside from polished internal processes, are crucial to minimising TAT.

Choosing the right vendor goes beyond comparing prices and includes assessing their reliability, regulatory compliance, and delivery punctuality. A reliable vendor forms the backbone of an efficient procurement process, directly reducing TAT.

Next, effective inventory management prevents overstocking and stockouts. Excess stock can lead to waste due to chemical expiration, while stockouts can put essential lab operations on pause, extending TAT. 

Finally, when labs accurately predict future trends, they can fine-tune their procurement strategies, prepare for potential disruptions, optimise inventory levels, and better manage their internal workload.

Tech innovations significantly enhance procurement reliability (and reduce TAT):

  • Automation — systems can automatically reorder must-have dental supplies like gypsum for model making or specific dental alloys for prosthetics, reducing human error and saving admin time in labs
  • Digital inventory management systems — dental labs can use these to get real-time updates on supply levels of vital materials such as dental ceramics or bonding agents
  • Procurement software solutions — insights on supplier performance help dental labs in making decisions about purchasing sensitive items like dental amalgam and negotiating better contract terms with vendors.

These tech advancements are instrumental in boosting procurement reliability and streamlining operations in the dental industry.

Looking forward 

Quick-paced technological evolution, higher patient expectations, and unpredictable global events will underscore the need for dental labs to have streamlined and reliable procurement systems.

The future will probably trigger more reliance on AI-driven systems, refined analytics, and machine learning. These technologies won’t just bolster the precision of demand forecasting and inventory management. They’ll also upgrade how dental labs choose vendors and negotiate terms.

The path to an efficient procurement process isn’t a one-and-done task: it requires continuous improvement. Dental labs will reap maximum benefits when they commit to regular evaluation and improvement of their procurement practices and adopt a flexible mindset.

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