Written By: Matt Stratton, Sr. Manager R&D, CAP / Zahn Dental
Some of you may have heard the term “Moore’s Law” over the years. This was a prediction (not an actual scientific law) by Intel’s Gordon Moore back in 1965 that the number of components you can fit into an integrated circuit will roughly double every year. In 1975 he adjusted his prediction to more conservatively double the components every two years instead of one year.
Gordon Moore really only was willing to forecast 10-year increments, but his prediction has held relatively strong until around 2012, and the industry has seen exponentially shrinking circuits over this entire timespan. To this day, circuits are still shrinking but the rate at which they are shrinking has slowed slightly. This is truly because things are getting so small that transistors in these circuits are approaching the size of a single atom.
Despite this physical barrier of size that we are approaching, there exist many research projects which could open a new wave of miniaturization and productive computing increases. Quantum computing or Spintronics for example, might be ways to continue (or accelerate) the trend as research continues.
Consider this “portable” computer from 1982 had a 4MHz CPU, compared to the 2007 iPhone which had a 412MHz CPU. The phone is also massively smaller, costs 10X less than the computer, and is 100X faster.
What Does This Mean to Dental Labs?
Every single consumer of technology has benefitted from this consistent improvement in processing power and reduction in size. In the dental industry, no one can deny the technical revolution over the past 20 years or so that has yielded desktop CNC machines, intra-oral scanners, 3D printers and a wide array of other technologies. Many of these, especially the intra-oral scanners and 3D printers, are only possible because of our ability to fit complex circuitry into very small spaces. With every major dental organization embracing technology, and with new entrants every day, we can expect to see continued enhancements and new products coming at a relatively quick pace.
No doubt there are benefits to all this, but for the dental lab owner I see this spurring on one major question:
With technology constantly improving – getting faster and smaller – when is the best time to buy?
Much like most of us when facing the decision of whether to upgrade our smart phone, the dental lab must choose when it’s appropriate to invest in new equipment or software. It is true that there will always be a “better model” coming out next year and may promise new capabilities that might seem worth waiting for. But the fact is that the technology on the market today is mature and, in many cases, a tried and tested strategy for reducing costs and improving output. While the future undoubtedly holds exciting possibilities, there are already options today that can allow labs to stay competitive and relevant for years to come. The decision on whether to buy merely comes down to the lab’s current situation and whether they are missing out on any indications that rely on these recent technologies. For labs already invested in digital equipment, the decision becomes more about scale and having the right amount of these tools available to meet growth requirements. In this rapidly evolving space, there is a lot of value in investing and learning existing tools, so that you are able to grow with the industry and not constantly be “catching up”.
The results of Mr. Moore’s prediction have all but guaranteed that future improvements will keep coming and that labs will continue to enjoy the new and enhanced products coming out that are focused on improving and scaling their operations.