In the metal refining industry, where the business is all about precious metals and their worth, trust is everything. There are dozens of metal refining companies that service the dental profession, each one rich in family history. By its nature, metal refining in dentistry can be a tricky path to navigate. What is the process? Where does the metal go? And most importantly, how do you know you're getting your metal's worth? Dentaltown Magazine interviewed five of the biggest metal refineries that specialize in dentistry to get the answers.
in metal refining
- Scrap is only worth a couple
- All refiners are the same
- Taking cash up front is better
- It's all based on guess work
- There is no accountability
- It's too much effort
Don Mappin started a humble refinery in a small shed in a Pittsburgh suburb in 1988. Mappin's father, who owned a dental lab in New Kensington, Pennsylvania, had been looking for an honest dental scrap processor for years, so, he turned to his son, who was a trained dental technician and fresh out of the Air Force. What began as a father trusting his son for honest work, continues today on a grand scale. Of course the operation is now quite a bit bigger than a shed. Today, Atlantic Precious Metal Refining is a 15,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art refinery along the banks of the Ohio River in Leetsdale, Pennsylvania.
Josh Daab, Atlantic's vice president of sales, works alongside the Mappin family and has been in the dental business for almost 30 years.
"Many dentists have a 'guy' who comes around the office on a regular basis to collect the scrap," Daab says. "What these dentists don't realize is that they are receiving significantly less than the actual value of that asset." Many times, he says, a full pint-size jar of scrap is purchased for cash on the spot for less than $1,000, while on average, a single ounce of dental scrap could be worth $400 in the present market. Meanwhile, with cash in hand, the office staff is giddy about having some extra lunch money, unaware that the guy just walked out with thousands of dollars' worth of material.
"The average dental scrap numbers transfer in every way," Daab says. "Our averages of approximately $400 per ounce will hold true regardless of where the scrap is processed, so if the doctor is not receiving the type of money ... it is best to try another method or company."
Tony Circelli began his career in metal refining as an assayer in the refining department at Heraeus Kulzer Precious Metal Refining, a German-founded company still family owned after 160 years. Now with more than 12,000 employees and 110 subsidiaries worldwide, the company has established itself well among its peers.
"With precious metal prices still very high [and] depending on how often a dentist sends in scrap, he or she can expect a substantial return," Circelli says. Refinery experts agree that dentists easily add thousands of dollars to their bottom line each year through refining with a reputable company. Circelli says that on average, he sees dentists turning in lots of scrap worth $2,000 on a regular basis.
"I feel that the dentist wants to get a fair payment for what is recovered in the scrap shipment," Circelli says. "They owe it to themselves to find a reputable refiner." How do you tell if it's reputable? Circelli points out a few key attributes.
Important questions to ask before you select a metal refinery
- Is the metal actually being melted?
- Will I receive an assay report?
- Does the company have a website?
- Am I giving my scrap to a direct representative?
- How long does the process take?
- Is my metal insured?
"Ask your scrap collector if you can tour its processing facility," he says. "This will ensure that the company you are dealing with is doing the actual processing."
Once a doctor decides to take the leap and begin sending out his or her scrap, the real science begins. The process that turns scrap back into valuable, precious metal is one that has evolved and, for lack of a better word, been refined for centuries.
Michael Nisson is the dentist refining manager at Argen, a company that was established more than 40 years ago in Johannesburg, South Africa. In 1983, Argen came to the United States with the goal of focusing on the production of dental alloys. Argen is headquartered in San Diego, California and is the largest manufacture of precious dental alloys in the world. Needless to say, Argen, like the other top metal refiners, have a tried and tested approach.
"Many people don't realize how important the process is," Nisson says. "The more meticulous and detailed the refining process, the more precious metals will be found in the scrap."
Nisson breaks down Argen's process into six steps: shipping, receiving, melting, assaying, contacting the doctor and finally, guaranteeing satisfaction.
Like most metal refiners, Argen provides free FedEx shipping labels, and materials can be insured in the unlikely event of loss. Once received, materials are sorted, inspected and weighed. Digital records are taken and the doctor is contacted with an acknowledgment of what was sent in. Then, it's on to melting.
"Argen's professional staff melts the solids and grindings," Nisson explains. "Proprietary flux is added to remove all non-metallic materials, leaving only alloy behind. The alloy is then re-melted in an induction melting furnace." The furnace continuously stirs liquid metal assuring a homogenous melt. From there, samples are extracted from the liquid metal, a technique Nisson says is the most accurate sampling method. Then, assaying takes place. Assaying is a complex analysis done to determine the amount of gold, platinum, palladium and silver in the sample. After the results are in, the refinery contacts the doctor and provides a detailed settlement of the scrap value. If a doctor isn't satisfied with the results, he or she can ask for a return of the processed materials at no cost. Every refinery will have variations to its exact process, but these steps are found in major metal refineries.
The biggest concern a doctor will have when sending out scrap to a metal refinery is whether he or she is getting the metal's true worth.
"Aside from standing over the melt and assay from start to finish, there is no surefire, 100 percent way a dentist can verify the accuracy of the metal's worth," says Dave Weinberg, the director of operations at Scientific Metals, a metal refining company started by Weinberg's father, Mark. Scientific Metals deals primarily with the dental and jewelry industries. "Having said that," Weinberg adds, "a dentist can take measures to ensure the integrity and accuracy of the return by researching the company's reputation, asking for references and analyzing the refining report." The assay, or purity of metal, is what determines the worth, along with the price the metal is trading for, a dollar amount that, like stock, goes up and down on a daily basis.
"The average metal prices from the time the metal is received to the time the metal has been processed is multiplied by the assay and weight of the bar for gold, platinum, palladium and silver," Weinberg says. "For example, if the average gold price is $1,250 an ounce, the bar is melted to three ounces, and the gold assay is 33 percent, then the dentist's bar would contain one ounce of pure gold at $1,250." A similar formula applies to other precious metals.
Michael Sherbekow is director of sales and purchasing at Garfield Refining, a Philadelphia-based metal refining company that has been in business since 1892. The company takes great pride in remaining family-operated and owned, and that fact lends itself to fostering trust with customers. He fields doctors' concerns when it comes to getting a fair, honest price on scrap.
"Value is always determined by three factors," Sherbekow says. "The weight, the purity and the spot price of the metal. Weight and purity will be verified in the melt and assay process, while the spot price of each of the precious metals is set on the day we take the material into our possession." Keep in mind that each refinery will have a different payout structure, Sherbekow says.
At the end of the day, there is no independent oversight or government regulations that ensure doctors are getting back what their metal is worth. "This is why its that much more important to deal with a reputable refiner," Sherbekow says. "Luckily the market has a way of working for the consumer in this regard, and we encourage all customers to do their due diligence before they refine with anyone."
After all is said and done, where does the metal go?
"We are precious metal recyclers," Sherbekow says, "which means that all the metal that comes through our refinery is ultimately taken from its scrap form and refined back into its pure state." From there the metal is sold back into the marketplace where it is re-fabricated or repurposed, sometimes back into dental products.
There are many options for dentists who want to begin turning their scrap into cash. Even in the smallest amounts, precious metals can be worth a significant chunk of change. While selling scrap to the first person to walk into the practice and ask for it seems convenient, dealing directly with a refinery almost always results in a considerable boost in payout. Always research the refinery and don't hesitate to ask questions (see sidebar for suggestions).