April 2, 2018 | Matt Stratton, Sr. Manager R&D, Zahn Dental | General
It's Matt with Henry Schein R&D again and I would like to talk today about the intersection of Internet of Things and the dental industry! Yes, Internet of Things is actually a term and you may see the acronym IoT floating around out there. This is obviously an extremely broad term, and essentially refers to any device (that isn't a computer) that can connect to the internet in some way.
Have you noticed more and more that lots of new products coming out are like this? Usually with the "smart" prefix in the name of the product, you see all sorts of things like light bulbs, vacuums, security cameras, fitness trackers and even pregnancy tests! They all communicate with some server hosted in the internet, either directly or indirectly (like using your phone or wireless router as a gateway). And the general goal of these things is to leverage the internet to either enable functionality that was previously impossible, or to enhance existing technology with more features or an easier/better interface.
As with any discussion about things connecting to the internet, there are going to be debates of security and other concerns. And there will be many products with frivolous internet connections that are nothing more than a gimmick. But I would like to focus on the optimistic view of these devices, especially how they may make really positive impacts in the dental environments.
In my personal life I already have benefitted from things like Amazon Dash buttons and wireless cameras that I can access from my phone. In the case of the Dash button, I save time by just tapping a button when my paper towel supply gets low. With the cameras, I have a capability that I otherwise wouldn't have had without their internet connectivity. Not to mention it's super cool to be able to see what your pets are doing to your home when you're not there!
Using IoT-enabled web cams, we caught our intruder in action!
In the dental arena, aside from the general-use stuff like above, I would say that we're only beginning to see the potential of products like these. Some recent examples might be the smart toothbrush add-on, or the still-in-research tooth chip that can record what you eat. In the dental lab, some of the CNC machines and 3D printers are starting to send updates over the internet and some larger scale production facilities might be using RFID pan-tracking systems. But we still have a ways to go.
It would not be hard to imagine products similar to Amazon's Dash that would be useful for quick material orders. Need another five 10mm zirconia discs? Tap a button. But the exciting potential comes from possibilities like operating your milling machine or 3D printer from your phone from home. Or having a material management system that knows your inventory and workload and can handle replenish orders automatically. And of course, we want the IBM Watson version of whatever can monitor our key production equipment and predict failures in advance!
It's no doubt that we will start seeing products like these, and if they're made thoughtfully, can really enhance a lab's operations. Since the software services these devices connect to are often being updated regularly, you can benefit from new functionality without purchasing a new device or even having to update it. And for some reason, we as humans in this day and age are expecting more tools to be available online and accessible from anywhere we happen to be. Our IoT products will certainly play into this and be just as common in the dental lab as they are at home.