Automation and Robotics in the Dental Industry and at Design Ergonomics

In mid-2022, dental students at NYU College of Dentistry became the first in the U.S. to perform dental implant surgery using robotic technology. The robot-assisted dental implant surgery was performed under the supervision of Dr. Huzefa Talib, clinical associate professor and clinical director in the Department of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery at NYU Dentistry.

Placing dental implants requires a high degree of accuracy and precision. Yomi, developed by Miami-based health care start-up Neocis, is the only robotic device cleared by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for dental implant surgery. The system uses software to preoperatively plan dental implant procedures and provides real-time visual and physical intraoperative guidance to implement the plan. 

“Why should people have to do jobs that machines can do?” asks Dr. David Ahearn, DDS, founder and President of Design Ergonomics and Ergonomic Products. “Many people haven’t been given enough chance to think creatively, but that is what humans excel at. We have a choice to either teach people to do jobs which are replaceable or to become better thinkers, which has tremendous potential value in increasing the quality of their lives. When given the choice I’ll always pursue the latter!” 

From Dr. Ahearn’s earliest days in practice, he installed computers to automate business functions, and this was before there were PCs (Yes, he’s been at this for a long time!). He’s always said: “Let people do what they are best at, creative thinking.” 

Dr. Ahearn runs the Ergonomic Products factory using automation, but with the mantra of smart employees doing smart things with smart machines. The factory includes a half dozen computer numerical control (CNC) machines, an array of 3D printers of various configurations, automated edgebanding and doweling machines, and even automated tubing cutters. All this automation is coordinated with sophisticated routing software.

“I knew that in order to compete with billion-dollar companies, I was going to have to be leaner, faster, and smarter in everything that we did,” Dr. Ahearn says. “But I also felt that there was a bigger issue at hand, which was that if we were going to create jobs in our community, I wanted to do everything I could to make them be the best jobs possible.”

Axis AXR2 10000 Universal Robot Arm at the Ergonomic Products factory in Fall River, MA

This mindset has certainly worked for Ergonomic Products and its team members. But when the COVID pandemic hit, it was obvious that some new decisions would need to be made and probably without enough information at hand.

“It seemed obvious to us that supply chains were going to be disrupted by the global pandemic,” Dr. Ahearn says. “We didn’t know exactly how, but we did know that in the past some of the companies in dentistry had tried to put us out of business by crimping our supply access. Since we control all of our mission-critical materials to keep the dealers from threatening us like they had in the past, we added to that and spent a million dollars on excess for critical high-tech components in inventory just as the government was shutting us – and all of the country’s dental practices – down.”

Dr. Ahearn also worried about the possibility of factory employee shortages. “In mid-2020, the lack of employees seemed like a strange worry given that the Massachusetts State police were prowling our highways to make sure nobody was showing up,” Dr. Ahearn says. “We appealed to the government to give us emergency authorization to reopen, but knew this might take months. The next day, we placed an order for two of the highest tech robots available for our factory, just as chip shortages were beginning.”

“All the preparation, the investment in automation and robotics, and the extra supply has helped us to deliver products to customers immediately, at a time when other companies need 20 weeks or more to deliver. As dentistry reawakened during the pandemic, our demand continued to climb,” Dr. Ahearn says. “Fortunately, our fantastic work force returned, and our investments in automation and robotics paid off nicely. We’re super busy with both our existing work for our dental office customers as well as providing additional COVID safety devices to existing and new customers.”

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About Design Ergonomics

Our founder, Dr. David Ahearn, DDS, has dedicated his career to making it easier for practitioners to provide great dental care. He founded Design Ergonomics, and Ergonomic Products, to Design, Equip, and Train the best dental offices across North America. At our design center and factory in Fall River, Massachusetts, we focus on every element of dental office design and productivity, and manufacture the dental industry’s best dental workstations, lighting, delivery systems, and in-wall cabinets. Our Research and Development team holds numerous patents for their innovations and is constantly monitoring, and forecasting, the needs of the dental industry.

If you have any questions or if you need help with your dental office design, please contact the Design Ergonomics team.