By Eric Peterson | Jul 12, 2021
South Jordan, Utah
Dr. Daniel Fischer launched the manufacturer of dental products in the 1970s with a single hemostatic product he invented that Ultradent still makes today: Astringedent.
Longtime President Dirk Jeffs succeeded Fischer as CEO in 2020, and Fischer is now the company's chairman and CEO emeritus.
Today, Ultradent makes everything from whitening gels and sealants to cheek retractors and ultrasonic devices. "Pretty much anything you see in a dentist's office, we produce," says Anger. "We sell into about 120 countries right now."
Whitening products is one of the strongest categories for Ultradent, but the company is notably diversified. "We're a very low-volume, high-mix company," notes Anger. "We're kind of unique. We sell over 15,000 SKUs."
About 95 percent of the company's products are manufactured in Utah at its South Jordan headquarters, where about 600 employees work in production, with the remaining 5 percent being manufactured at a secondary facility in Brazil.
"We're a very vertically integrated company," says Anger. "We don't rely on our supply chain for a lot of key things."
The South Jordan complex includes a formulation lab and six manufacturing areas, and the company's supply chain includes local shops as well as vendors in China.
"We do have a fair number of what we call OPS -- that's outside production steps -- but there are things we don't want to bring in, anodizing, things that are big and messy, so we do have some key strategic partnerships," says Anger.
Innovation has long been front and center at Ultradent. "We're a very creative company," says Anger. "It's really hard to go out and buy a piece of equipment that meets our business model, so we build a lot of our own equipment. We do things that are customized to our needs."
Ultradent has seen "steady" growth in recent years, says Anger. "We haven't had a year where we didn't grow in a very long time."
He adds, "As we grow the revenue side of it, I'm actually trying to maintain a stable head count or even drop it in some areas. . . . I've always had this goal with Ultradent: I want less people making more money, so they're more vested in the business, we're vested in them, and the stability going forward is greatly enhanced."
"[Automation] is a big part of it. We're designing a lot of equipment of our own," says Anger. "The goal of automation isn't to make waste faster, it's to eliminate waste. Sometimes automation can be premature. . . . Automation's not one of things where you can say, 'Tomorrow we're going to be automated.' It takes time. It takes money. You've got to really understand the processes."
A slowdown with furloughs in spring 2020 offered a chance to rethink some logistics. "Our focus has been simplification," he adds. "It gave us time to really improve the infrastructure of our processes. . . . It's hard to improve a moving target."
Anger was the perfect person for the task. "I've spent 35 years of my life in Lean and Six Sigma," he says. "A lot of innovativeness of where we are now compared to where we were is about creating waste-free processes and improve flow."
It all has added up to dynamic growth. "We are growing at a pretty rapid pace," says Anger. "A lot of it is because of who we are as a company. We live and breathe our core values."
After working in the nuclear industry and consulting, Anger says he found Ultradent to be different from his previous employers. "I've been in my professional career for 46-plus years, and I've seen core values posted on walls and conference rooms forever, but until I came to Ultradent about six years ago, I never saw them in play on a day in, day out, decision-by-decision basis," he says.
Challenges: Beyond the "giant" hurdle of COVID-19 -- which brought on a sudden sales slump followed by a sharp recovery by summer 2020 -- it's hiring, says Anger. "It's just been very hard to find people," says Anger. In a perfect world, he'd hire about 50 new employees. "We're still slogging through it."
Opportunities: Anger describes "significant upticks across the board" for all of Ultradent's product categories and geographic markets, highlighting the whitening category as a reliable growth driver.
Needs: "With growth comes expansion," says Anger. "We are expanding manufacturing right now. We're redefining flows. We're moving within buildings and adding buildings. I just wish I could build a building in less than 18 months."
Of all the bottlenecks in Ultradent's supply chain, he notes, "Construction in Utah is a giant one, for sure. Finding materials, finding contractors and construction companies, it's slowing things down."