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The engineering behind SecureTip's innovative saliva ejector: An interview with Specialty Dental

Sept. 12, 2017
The SecureTip saliva ejector is changing the way dentists think about one of their most basic clinical tools. The product features a unique locking mechanism that makes the ejector safer for patients, more affordable, and better-performing for clinicians. Learn more about the intelligence behind the design and manufacturing partnership that made it happen in this interview with Cheryl Monson, operations manager of Specialty Dental, a division of Specialty Manufacturing Company.
RECENTLY, I HAD THE CHANCE TO SPEAK with the project team at Specialty Dental, a division of The Specialty Mfg. Co., about its collaboration with SecureTip, a dental startup that wanted to reengineer a staple piece of equipment in dental offices. The result was a saliva ejector that was safer for patients, more cost-efficient to manufacture, and better-performing for dentists and hygienists. Here's what Operations Manager Cheryl Monson had to say about this unique partnership.

Interview with Cheryl Monson, operations manager of Specialty Dental, a division of The Specialty Mfg. Co.

You recently took on a unique project for SecureTip. Tell us a little bit about that project and how it came about.

SecureTip was looking to improve performance of its saliva ejectors for clinicians and patients, while also reducing manufacturing costs. Its saliva ejector has a unique design compared to others on the market. Rather than relying on friction to connect the straw and adapter, the SecureTip design features a threaded straw that screws into the adapter. This allows the saliva ejector to work as a single bonded unit.

The original design had some inconsistencies in the straw fit and the action of a lever on the adapter handle, which controls the activation of suction. We contacted SecureTip to discuss their needs and how our expertise in precision-machined valves and components for the dental industry would fit their project. The conversation led to a discussion about how Specialty Dental could redesign their current saliva ejector and eliminate the issues with straw fit and the lever.

In talking with SecureTip, what did you feel were the major opportunities and challenges for this project, and how did you address them?

The major opportunity was to improve performance of the adapter, to ensure sanitary saliva ejection, and make the product easier to use by dentists and hygienists. The challenges for this project were clearly defined: improve straw fit, redesign the lever for reliable suction, and reduce manufacturing costs. SecureTip also wanted a material suitable for autoclaves.

Specialty Dental was uniquely suited for this project because of our value-added design and advanced manufacturing capabilities. To reach SecureTip’s goal, our engineers used an existing saliva ejector adapter design that we manufacture and modified it by adding threads to accommodate SecureTip’s unique threaded straw design. We used an existing and proven spool-and-lever design to resolve the loose lever issue. The lever controls the suction and flow via an internal spool, and the lever curves around the adapter body so it can’t accidentally be jostled out of place. Two Viton O-rings inside the valve offer a tight, no-leak seal.

To address the need for cleaning by autoclaves, the adapter is made of anodized aluminum, which seals pores so the device can stand up to the sterilization process. It’s also lightweight while very sturdy, which is important for dentist, hygienist, and patient comfort. The result was a more functional finished product with superior performance.

Above: The Specialty Dental manufacturing facility is 30,000 square feet and includes cutting-edge technology such as computer numerical control (CNC), injection molding, and state-of-the art testing. The company specializes in miniature valves, quick connects, foot controls, vacuum canisters, and SE/HVE for the dental industry.

Describe your engineering approach. Can you take us through your process and tell us how that process is reflected in the final product?

Our engineering approach is centered around design for manufacture to ensure efficient processes that are also cost-effective. We also specialize in custom products. One reason we perform well in this space is because we have a range of in-house capabilities, from technical and engineering support to design and prototyping.

For SecureTip, we started by reviewing a sample of the product. We used that concept to modify our existing adapter into a product that would work with SecureTip’s threaded straws. Fit was essential so dentists and hygienists can connect the straw and adapter in a few moments.

Prints were drawn, and rapid aluminum prototypes were produced and delivered within two weeks. After evaluation and testing, the new design was approved and volume production began. The final product has proven to be more reliable to use and less expensive to manufacture.

Looking at the final product, is there anything in particular you'd like to point out to dental professionals?

It’s important to understand how the manufacturing process affects the final product. Our company is ISO 9001:2008–certified, and we focus on quality production. As part of our process, we’re regularly inspecting products as they’re produced. This often means inspecting products in each batch against tolerance specifications every hour to ensure the products we send to customers meet their performance and design expectations.

Our 30-plus years of experience in the dental industry allow our company to be a leader in design and engineering of precision-machined products. We draw on this experience to help our customers refine designs, then manufacture a customized product that meets or exceeds original expectations.

Above: The Specialty Dental team works closely with customers to manufacture customized products that meets or exceeds original expectations. The group has 30-plus years of experience in the dental industry.

The Specialty Mfg. Co. has a long history of custom design services, which means it has experience weighing the different manufacturing considerations for bringing a product to market (materials, function, cost, speed, etc.). How does that experience inform the projects you undertake—like this one?

Continuous improvements in tooling, equipment, research, and development allow our highly skilled machinists and design engineering teams to produce more consistent and cost-effective products. In cases like SecureTip, our team’s experience gives us a competitive advantage that our customers benefit from. We’ve been in business for more than 100 years and have worked with virtually all types of plastics and metal materials. This knowledge is built into our design and manufacturing process.

Dental technology and the manufacturing process continue to evolve. In the future, what opportunities do you see for inventors, engineers, and end-users of dental products, and how does The Specialty Mfg. Co. fit in?

At Specialty Dental and The Specialty Manufacturing Company, we are proud of the fact all our products are made in the USA. We surround ourselves with highly skilled employees and research teams to pursue trends in products, materials, and technology in the dental industry. One of the things we see that’s continually important for our customers is value-added design. Our manufacturing process is centered around this idea: to take a design concept that meets a goal and make it better, easier to manufacture, or less expensive to make. This practice is essential for new products launching into a competitive marketplace.

Zachary Kulsrud is senior editor of PennWell Corporation's dental group. He serves as chief editor of Apex360 and managing editor of Dental Economics, and oversees the editorial team of DentistryIQ and Perio-Implant Advisory.


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Editor's note: This article first appeared in the Apex360 e-newsletter. Apex360 is a DentistryIQ partner publication for dental practitioners and members of the dental industry. Its goal is to provide timely dental information and present it in meaningful context, empowering those in the dental space to make better business decisions. Subscribe to the Apex360 e-newsletter here.

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