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When the Japanese firm Mitsui Chemicals Group acquired Heraeus Kulzer, the dental division of Heraeus, in July 2013, no one could predict how that acquisition would transform not only the company but also its impact on the South Bend Region economy. That decision led to a different strategic approach for the 40-year-old company and kept it here in South Bend.
Heraeus Kulzer GmbH is one of the world’s leading dental companies with headquarter in Hanau, Germany and North American headquarters in South Bend. Its dental materials and digital services divisions supply dentists and dental technicians with an extensive product range, covering cosmetic dentistry, tooth preservation, prosthetics, periodontology and digital dentistry.
“The Mitsui acquisition was an important point for us,” said Chris Holden, president of Heraeus Kulzer. “Prior to the Mitsui acquisition, we were trying to decide how to adapt to the changing economic environment in dental.” In order to drive costs down for its customers, one option the company considered was to outsource all of its production and distribution, which meant jobs leaving South Bend.
But with the influence and investment from Mitsui Chemicals around that same time, Heraeus Kulzer went in a different direction and adopted a new approach to their business strategy.
“At our foundation, we are a chemical company; we bring enhancements to life through chemistry,” said Holden. “But, in addition, we have made investments in technological companies, meaning hardware and software companies,” he said. “The ability to offer solutions that include hardware and software services combined with chemistry as a total solution for dentists and dental laboratories enables us to deliver a great deal of value to our customers in a way that no one else in the industry is even attempting at this point.”
That change in business strategy helped them stay in South Bend, invest in the community and reinvest in their location as the centerpoint for digital dentistry in North America.
The city of South Bend was instrumental in keeping Heraeus Kulzer here. “The city was generous with us and worked with us to move our efforts along,” said Holden.
“Apart from being located here and not wanting to disrupt the nerve center of our organization, the heart of this organization is our people,” said Holden. “There are really good people in this area.” While the company has been based in other parts of the country, such as New York City, Holden said that South Bend rates as well as any other place in terms of talent. “We recognize and appreciate that, so we certainly didn’t want to walk away from people.”
He also adds that Mitsui, their tie to the Japanese culture, helped to provide them with the perspective of loyalty, value of people and long-term relationships.
The South Bend Region is a great place to attract new talent, according to Holden pointing to the University of Note Dame. “Beyond that, there are a number of universities in the state that are also great resources not only from a research standpoint but also from a talent standpoint. Indiana is a great place to be if you are a technology company,” said Holden.
Heraeus Kulzer’s unique approach of combining technology with chemistry is taking the company in new directions. They are investing in technology companies to provide hardware and software that work specifically with their chemistry to control the outcome and customer experience.
This is boosting the potential of the chemistry while also enabling them to develop significant cost savings to their clients. And, in some instances, the technology is helping their clients promote and grow their business.
To illustrate this integrated approach, Heraeus Kulzer makes restorative materials for the dental industry, such as crowns, veneers and bridges. However, it’s not enough to simply make and deliver that product to the dentist.
“What we are now embarking on is a software platform that allows the dentist to photograph patients and allow patients to help design their own smile,” said Holden. He explains that patients provide input on how they want their teeth to look. From that point, the dentist digitizes the data to produce an impression that meets patients’ desires. The process uses chemistry in the form of the restorative material, hardware in the machinery to cut the material and software to facilitate the data.
The company is utilizing additive manufacturing in its denture prototyping to cut down on the number of patient appointments. By using this process, practices and patients can save thousands of dollars because the dentist can actually see more patients, adding to the profitability of the practice.
While Heraeus Kulzer works on other projects like implant dentures and fixed prosthetics using a laser milling device, it will continue to integrate technology into every aspect of its business to deliver the total solution for its customers.