Interview: “We are in the forefront of CAD/CAM software development”
For ten years now, exocad’s dedicated team of engineers and researchers has consistently delivered state-of-the-art innovations to the dental industry. At the exocad press conference in Darmstadt, Germany, on 12 March, Dental Tribune International met with the company’s CEO, Tillmann Steinbrecher, to discuss the partnership with Align Technology, evaluate what impact the collaboration could have and consider the future of digital dentistry.
Mr Steinbrecher, what prompted exocad to sell to Align Technology?
It is the second time that the company has sold shares. The first time was in 2016 when a private equity investor of the Carlyle Group came on board and became the majority shareholder, acquiring all of Fraunhofer’s shares. [exocad was originally founded in 2010 as a spin-off of the world-renowned Fraunhofer Institute.] During that investment period, we basically transformed exocad from a startup to a well-structured global company. I think the two companies complement each other, because there is very little overlap in the customer base and the technologies, which creates potential synergies. We are at the forefront of CAD/CAM software development, and in implantology, we have the best-in-class products. Align Technology offers best-in-class digital solutions—so it is an ideal fit. We will work together to further enable digital transformation in the dental industry and for our customers.
The deal is set to close in the second quarter of 2020. What are your expectations for the near future?
We will continue to operate as we exist today to maintain our open approach and support a broad ecosystem of partners and users and continue to deliver hardware-independent software solutions.
“We will continue to support all the partnerships we have throughout the industry”
How has the announcement of the acquisition been received by the industry so far, and how will it affect your business?
Overall, we have received a great deal of positive feedback from our customers and from the users as well. However, there have also been some mixed reactions. The thing that people wondered about most was whether they would be able to continue to purchase our products and whether we would remain as open as we are today. We would like to give everyone who has similar concerns full assurance that we will continue to support all the partnerships we have throughout the industry and that we will still have independence within the Align collaboration to do that.
Market research forecasts that the global CAD/CAM market is expected to grow continuously. Do you hope that this will give your company preferential development?
In past years, exocad grew faster than the market, and I expect that to continue in the future. There are some parts of the world where, by comparison, we are still a bit under-represented, and I think that, by being acquired by a larger company, we will be able to have more impact.
How will the exocad users benefit from the collaboration?
Even though some dentists use our software solutions, most of our users are laboratory technicians. Among other things, they will benefit from further improvements and integration with the installed base of iTero intraoral scanners. As far as dentists are concerned, there will be extremely interesting solutions for orthodontic restorative purposes, although it is still too early to comment on details in this area.
“I am very happy with what we have achieved”
This year, exocad will be celebrating its tenth anniversary. In the past, what were the biggest milestones for exocad? And what are you hoping to achieve in the next ten years?
The first milestones were the ones we mastered while we were still employees at the Fraunhofer Institute. These included finding major partners from the industry who would sell CAD/CAM systems based on our CAD technology. So far, we have all been very successful with that, and everyone benefited from working together. The next big challenge was geographic expansion. We still are a much smaller company than our competitors, and getting a foot in the door in Asia or the US was not that easy. But I am very happy with what we have achieved in that respect. In the US, we have a great team and a significant market share, and in Asia, we are the market leader; we consider these achievements to be major milestones.
In assessing the future, I think that, today, even though there are various integrative approaches, we still find a dominance of isolated and non-connected solutions in digital dentistry. So, we have CAD/CAM software, software for guided surgery, an orthodontics solution and so on. And they are not optimally linked, as the cross-disciplinary workflows are quite cumbersome. I think that, in the future, there will be very few platforms across the disciplines that will allow more holistic and digitally supported treatments. This idea is something that fascinates me and could greatly benefit our customers, and this is something we want to build together with Align in the future.