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Lean in the Dental Lab: Focus on the Process for More Profits!

Lean_ProcessesA Dental Lab can really help sales and profits by learning and applying the philosophies and tools of Lean Manufacturing. The term “Lean” is used because a Lean business uses less labor to perform tasks. It also uses less manufacturing space, requires less capital investment, reduces materials, and shrinks the time between receipt of the case and the shipment of the finished case.

Lean is a philosophical approach to developing flexible, responsive processes capable of providing your dentist customers with what they want, at the quality levels they expect, exactly when they want it. It is a hands-on business improvement approach that provides industry-leading performance in quality, delivery, price and service to your customers at the lowest possible cost. The Lean approach involves all employees to continuously pursue the elimination (and prevention) of waste from every business process. Traditional approaches in the Dental lab have tended to focus on the individual technicians’ ability to produce.

By focusing on the overall system effectiveness vs. individual efficiency, Lean guides your decisions on improvements to achieve long term sustainable results for the business.

Quite often, we hear comments like “Lean won’t work in our Lab” or “That’s fine for a big Lab, they have lots of volume”. If those thoughts occurred to you, ask yourself the following questions: Do you have defects? Do you have multiple quality inspections? Do you hunt for orders or lost paperwork? Do you have excess work-in-process? Do you have sufficient labor during busy periods? Do you work overtime? Has the company grown without changing practices? If you have answered “yes”, to most or all of these questions, then Lean is an approach to strongly consider. The concepts of Lean are applicable, regardless of size, product, or geographical location because Lean looks at the processes themselves to identify opportunities for eliminating wasteful activities, commonly referred to as Non-Value adding activities. Managing the resources to work on those processes must then be carefully balanced with the reality of meeting production. The Lean approach has a bias for action because it doesn’t look for the perfect solu­tion, but allows for partial solutions. The idea is to get better one step at a time.

Companies that follow a Lean business strategy invariably reap the benefits of dollarized results that hit the “bottom line”, increased customer satisfaction, increased marketing opportunities, and growth opportunities that are the envy of the competition. The results you can reasonably expect include remake/modify reductions of 50%, lead-time reductions of 30%, and Technician Operating Effectiveness (TOE) increases of 25%, all of which translate into profitability.

Look to a strategy using Lean concepts to achieve increased profitability. The tools are applicable to any size business, the learning curve is relatively short, and the benefits are well documented.

Robert Yenkner

Bob Yenkner is the owner of Practical Process Improvements (PPI) with over 30 years of hands-on international experience in a variety of industries and partners with Business Development Associates ( to bring productivity improvements to dental labs. Bob can be reached at 860.638.9874 or