Practice makes it powerful

February 28, 2024

millhouse GmbH sits in the quiet town of Hofheim am Taunus, in the mountains outside of Frankfurt, Germany. millhouse, the dental technology center established and run by Sören Hohlbein since 2008, provides manufacturing, design, and software education services to labs and dentists. The company’s Head of CAD and sales, Elisabeth Apel, gave exoBlog a tour of the digital design services department, which is staffed currently by an all-female team, and offered her take on why exocad software is the perfect fit for what they do.   

Q: How did you get your start at millhouse?

A: I've been working here for ten years now. I came here straight after master dental school. millhouse was just the right thing for me, this mixture of dental technology and digital. I work in the CAD department, in education and visit clients externally.

Q: What interests you in digital dentistry and CAD workflows?

A: At the beginning when I started my apprenticeship, it was more about hands-on craftsmanship. I was interested in watchmaking or goldsmithing—something like that. Then I had a great internship that turned me on to becoming a dental technician. That was 20 years ago now when I started my apprenticeship. The field wasn't that digital yet, at least not where I was learning, but straight after my apprenticeship, I started working in digital technology. I liked the balancing act of starting something digitally, and then refining it by hand. That's how I became an “expert” in digital dental technology.

Q: How and why did millhouse start using exocad software?

A: We are absolute exocad fans. We have a technology that we call AllinONE, and it works really well with exocad because it's a combination technology with DentalCAD. We do a lot of the so-called “German crowns” with this. Especially now, with the new DentalCAD 3.2 Elefsina, we have the opportunity to not only do the double crown, primary and secondary with model casting, which a lot of other software can do, but we can also make a classic one-piece cast. In the past, I had individual parts, a crown and a model cast separately and had to join them in the laboratory. You don't have to do that with exocad. With the new update, we have the option of not stopping at the model casting, but now we can also make denture teeth and prosthetic saddles, which have always been done analog. It's still in the making because the update is brand new, but the future simply shows that everything is becoming more digital.

With DentalCAD, I love that you don't have any restrictions. You can jump back and forth to different areas, like in regular analog dental lab work.

Q: What’s your favorite DentalCAD feature?

A: With DentalCAD, I love that you don't have any restrictions. You can jump back and forth to different areas, like in regular analog dental lab work. With a lot of other software, you must follow one workflow that guides you through the design. With exocad, if I have something unusual, which is just daily business, then I have all the options in exocad. So even when I'm finished with a job, I can jump back to a certain point, change it, and nothing is lost.

Q: Do you have a DentalCAD tip?

A: My tip is always the same when I give training courses at our millCADEMY. I say what makes exocad software powerful is practice. Once you understand how exocad software is structured, you can work in any module, because the principle is always the same. The tools and the end result will look different, depending on what you’re working on, but the software is always structured in the same way. 

I always tell them that you don't have to be a nerd to switch from using your hands to using a mouse.  

Q: What do you say to lab techs who are skeptical about moving from analog to digital?

A: I always tell them that you don't have to be a nerd to switch from using your hands to using a mouse.  With a mouse, you can simply get a lot more work done in a day. We have so much work. I can only manage a work-life balance with digital dental technology. If I didn't have that, I'd probably still be one of those people who worked a lot of overtime every day and went to the lab at weekends with other colleagues. That's no longer the case thanks to digital dental technology. You can reach your goal much more quickly and productively, and it's also reproducible. If something gets lost or broken, just press a button and it's back.

Q: Do you see any frequent mistakes people make when starting on exocad software?

A: I always tell people to go step by step. We train our customers on exocad for two days, eight hours a day. I tell them, you've just got your driver's license for your exocad software. Don't start straight away with 150%. Feel your way around so that you enjoy the software and don't lose yourself. I always recommend building it up after four to six weeks when you've gotten to know the software better.

We have a department that provides design services for customers. That department consists only of women. Most of them say if it wasn’t for digital, they wouldn’t be working in dental.

Q: The dental lab field has generally attracted more men than women in the past. Do you find that digital workflows are changing that?

A: Do more women join dental labs because of digital? I think so. We have a department that provides design services for customers. That department consists only of women. Most of them say if it wasn’t for digital, they wouldn’t be working in dental. It’s for lots of different reasons but I know some women work part-time when they become mothers. Digital makes it easier to work in home office mode with a laptop or a computer at home. This flexibility is powerful.

Q: A widespread complaint in the industry is the lack of skilled workers. How do you think the dental lab industry could attract more young people to the field?

A: I also teach CAD in vocational schools. I notice that a lot of students are very enthusiastic about dental technology becoming more digital because they have no fear of using computers. You notice a bit more trepidation with the older lab techs—they know how to do things in analog but have to relearn it with digital. But younger students think it's cool that you can construct teeth with a CAD program, which was unthinkable in the past.

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Elisabeth Apel explains how exocad software and digital workflows help attract the next generation of lab techs.

Q: Do you have a favorite song?

A: I don’t have a favorite song, but I listen to a lot of audiobooks on my commute. I’m listening to the Kangaroo Chronicles now, which is really funny.

Q: What advice would you give to your younger self?

A: I would tell my younger self to do everything the same way because I'm totally happy about where I am now.

Q: One word for exocad?

A: Limitless.

Image Elisabeth Appel

Elisabeth Apel completed her dental technician training in Leverkusen, Germany, in 2007. From 2007 to 2012, she worked as a dental technician in various laboratories with a focus on CAD/CAM, ceramics and combination technology. In 2013, she earned her master dental technician degree in Cologne. Elisabeth has worked at millhouse GmbH as a CAD/CAM specialist and CAD trainer since September 2013. As the Head of CAD and sales, she runs training courses for dental technicians in the laboratory or at the HWK Cologne. 


by Caitlan Reeg
Writer at exocad

Caitlan Reeg spends her days telling the world about the innovations her colleagues create. She’s passionate about healthcare, technology, and the ways the two interact to improve our lives. A former journalist, Caitlan has worked on staff at Dow Jones Newswires in Frankfurt and at the national public radio program Marketplace in Los Angeles.

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