Why lab techs prefer digital

May 11, 2022

Many digital dental labs see business thriving despite, or even because of, the global pandemic. Digital workflows make it easy to share cases around the world, physical contact with clients is rarely necessary, and designs can be done more accurately and delivered more rapidly than ever before. But some lab owners say they still face a big challenge: hiring enough lab technicians to keep up.

Ashley Byrnes, the managing director of Byrnes Dental Laboratory, has an answer. He advocates moving away from the traditional way of doing things and doubling down on digitalization to attract young, talented lab techs.

“If you take a young person and put them into a dirty plaster room, you're not going to engage that person,” said Ashley. “They don't want to work in messy, toxic environments. They want to produce nice work in a clean environment, working normal hours. Digital really helps us do that.”

Ashley and his dad Tony opened Byrnes Dental Laboratory in 2006 with the goal of creating a cleaner, more high-tech working environment. When Ashley took over from his dad about a decade ago, he and his wife Alison ramped up the digital side of the business, becoming early users of exocad. The lab quickly expanded its clientele outside the rolling hills of Oxfordshire, where it’s based, and developed a case roster that stretches continents. Ashley said demand has grown so much he’s added 10 new employees just over the last year.

Employee training with DentalCAD

The lab uses exocad’s DentalCAD for many client cases and, somewhat unusually, for employee training too. Ashley said when he first announced their training plans, many were skeptical. “They think to be a dental technician, you have to learn with wax. No, you don't. That's ridiculous,” he said. “With DentalCAD, we can slice the teeth, look at the anatomy, and discuss the occlusion.”

"Before we were using exocad, one technician could do three splints a day, and now they can do 10, 12, 14 splints a day, plus other work as well."

Learning to master digital tools pays off in motivated lab techs who can tackle more cases than if they were relying purely on analog, said Ashley. He estimates with analog processes, hiring one additional person increases output by about 10 percent. By using exocad software, plus milling and printing, the potential is much greater.

“Before we were using exocad, one technician could do three splints a day, and now they can do 10, 12, 14 splints a day, plus other work as well. exocad software really helped us grow the company much faster than just taking new people on.”

Lab techs choose computers over plaster

The chance to develop new skills is what attracted Davide Accetto, a 32-year-old lab tech from Italy, to a job at Byrnes.

Understanding digital workflows took some time, but Davide likes designing restorations on computers, comparing the work to video games. “It's fun. I'm rarely stressed,” Davide said. “It's definitely not like when I was doing metal frames. My fingers were bleeding sometimes. When you have to do 15 or 30 units a day, you keep holding the metal on your finger and the skin is getting very thin. It's definitely another approach. And I like it.”

Maria Do Carmo Palma, a 28-year-old Byrnes lab tech from Portugal, said the cleanliness of working with exocad software appeals to her. “I also really like the fact I can just do whatever I need to do from my computer, I can even work remotely as well. I think it's quite flexible in that way. It's amazing. I love that.”

Engage the young generation now

Ashley believes the dental lab industry won’t solve the skills shortage unless more is done to encourage young people’s interest in the field now. Don’t tell them, “I make false teeth,” he said. “They won’t be interested. If I say we play with 3D printers, CAD software, milling machines—they are all over it.” Ashley thinks the lab industry needs to change the current image of dental technology and show how labs can be fun, modern, and funky places to work.

Asked if he has any final advice for job seekers, Ashley said, if you walk into a lab and there’s not a computer in sight, walk out the door because that lab does not have a long-term future. “It’s the perfect time to become a lab tech,” he said. “And if anyone's struggling, tell them to give me a ring.”


Byrnes Dental Laboratory opened in 2006 and is a cutting-edge, digital dental laboratory that offers a discreet, high-quality denture service with outstanding levels of care. They have become one of Europe’s leading private dental laboratories, investing in the latest technology in digital dentistry, using evidence-based prosthodontic dentistry to provide dentures that are functional, stable and look just like real teeth.

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.