Luke Caruso III did not make the obvious career choice after college—returning home to work for his family’s dental laboratory business. Instead, wanting to experience another aspect of the dental industry,he moved to San Francisco. That proved to be an invaluable decision for his family’s Midwest-based laboratory.
Caruso spent approximately 5 years working as a technical representative for Degussa-Ney Dental, supporting the launch of the first zirconia milling system in the US. So when his father needed an experienced person to manage Illinois-based Ottawa Dental Laboratory’s transition to CAD/CAM, he did not need to look far.
“I had spoken extensively to dental laboratories making the digital transition and had the opportunity to hear their success stories as well as the challenges and obstacles that laboratory owners faced,” the younger Caruso says.
Now, 10 years after returning, Caruso is President and COO of the family’s thriving laboratory, which is on the cutting edge of dental technology.
“We have been able to produce consistent quality through digital dentistry,” Caruso says. “We finally were able to increase our capacity with our existing workforce. We have faster turnaround times for our clients. And now with 3D printing, we have created new revenue streams.”
Forward thinking always has been a point of emphasis for Ottawa Dental Laboratory, which was started by Caruso’s grandfather, Lucien “Tony” Caruso, in 1937, and eventually passed on to Caruso’s father. The elder Luke Caruso, now 72, no longer works on the bench but still serves as CEO. The younger Caruso has taken over the business alongside his brother, Jim, who serves as President and CAO.
“My father always thought strategically,” Caruso, 36, says. “He always embraced change. His famous line is: ‘Could I make a suggestion?’ You always have to be developing and challenging yourself.
“So we have a culture of change here. When it came time for CAD/CAM, we were eager and ready.”
Caruso’s experience growing up around the laboratory, combined with the technical acumen he had gained while away, made him the perfect person to lead the family business into the digital age.
“My father was picking my brain for technical knowledge, and eventually the decision to come back was because technology was coming on quickly, and there was a need in Ottawa for somebody with my skills,” Caruso says. “When you go from entertaining customers and traveling to working the long hours that are the reality for dental laboratory owners, and you are in the same space 5 to 6 days a week, that was a bit of a change. But I really love the work. I’m fortunate to be a part of an outstanding team at Ottawa Dental Laboratory. They’re a very dedicated group of talented people who strive to provide a great experience for our customers.”
Caruso says along with the obvious need for a capital investment, the first step toward integrating CAD/CAM into a dental laboratory is getting every employee on board with the plan.
“As a laboratory owner, you need to show your employees how a potential change is going to have a positive impact on them, by allowing them to work more efficiently and allowing the laboratory to remain sustainable,” he says.
The next step is choosing the right equipment. When preparing to purchase a 3D printer, Caruso went to great lengths, attending tradeshows, visiting laboratories that used various printers, and conducting online research.
“You need to have clearly defined goals for how you will utilize the equipment in order to achieve a healthy return on investment,” he says. “From there, which printer is going to help you accomplish those goals? We had lunch with representatives from Stratasys, and they really suggested innovative ideas in a larger scope than what we imagined. They opened our eyes to 3D printing’s potential to get into new markets with specialists.”
The Objet Eden260V 3D printer has been everything Caruso hoped it would be. With it, Ottawa Dental Laboratory prints not only models for its own cases but also surgical guides, flexi partials, and orthodontic models. Using the printer has enabled Caruso to build business relationships with orthodontists, oral surgeons, and periodontists. He also utilizes the 3D printer to create models for other laboratories.
Digital dentistry, Caruso says, allows laboratories to be more efficient, have lower remake rates, and produce better products for the dentist and patient. He says approximately 80%of his laboratory’s crowns are fabricated digitally.
“Trend-wise, technology is going to continue to expand,” Caruso says. “I see growth in the number of intraoral scanning cases that we encounter. I anticipate more digital denture cases in the future. Implants and fully edentulous implant-supported cases will continue to grow, and 3D printing obviously will be a component.”
One of the aspects that impressed Caruso most about Stratasys was the company’s dedication to continuous improvement. “With the innovative thinking at Stratasys, they really are committed to finding new applications for their printer, as well as developing new materials for it,” he says.
Caruso cited splints and sleep appliances as two things he hopes to be able to 3D print.
“We are going to continue to embrace the changes that occur in our industry, and continue to challenge ourselves to improve in all areas of our business,” Caruso says. “We are definitely seeking to utilize technology to expand into new markets. We plan to grow our business as much as possible, and a partner such as Stratasys helps facilitate that growth.”