PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER - The 4 Key Components for Successful Free-Form Integration

By Kevin Cross
Most mistakes in free-form processing come from a lack of planning and communication between all four necessary stake holders—equipment suppliers, lab management system (LMS), lens design supplier (LDS)and of course the lab! When implementing a project of this magnitude there must be clear communication between the involved parties.

The free-form decision is not just about equipment. The selection of vendors is usually not the -hardest part, it’s getting everyone to communicate and work together. Having performed many, many installations, the road map to success usually takes four key steps.

Step 1:

Vendor Selection

There are two key vendors that you need to select—-equipment and lens design supplier (LDS), assuming you are a lab and already use an LMS. However, don’t assume your current LMS can just push a button and you are now free-form enabled. The LMS supplier needs to be involved throughout the process that includes informing them of your equipment selection as well as your lens design supplier(s). There will most likely be costs from your LMS associated with free-form enablement so clarify that up front!

The lens design supplier or LDS is the new component that most labs are not used to and is the most critical. When deciding on an LDS you have to ask: Will I use a branded design or private label design? What are the costs associated with a branded design versus private label design? There are plenty of options in this area and most labs have more than one option. But you must decide what’s right for your business, so be sure and ask around—your current lens suppliers may have options as will others in this space. The main point is to ask around and investigate your options before deciding on an LDS. You will need to select an equipment supplier, as most likely your current equipment will be unable to process free-form lenses. When deciding on an equipment -supplier, be sure to ask a lot of questions as this will be the largest expenditure and the one you will have to live with the longest. Look for the right options; consider space as well as possible lab reconfiguration. Ask your peers for their thoughts and don’t hesitate to ask other labs that are already doing free-form what they like and don’t like about their current equipment. When in doubt, ask the question.

Key Learning: Generally all the LDS, equipment, and LMS suppliers are experienced at working together—you are the new guy! So make sure everyone knows what’s going on.

Step 2:

Vendor Introduction

Since you now know your equipment choice and LDS (lens design) supplier, it’s time to introduce the parties. From an equipment vendor’s standpoint, we usually just need to know the choice of LMS and LDS. After that, we can take it from there. But make sure all parties know which four components have been chosen. When in doubt, command a meeting to discuss the impending happy marriage!

Step 3:

Establish a TimeLine

Nothing derails a project faster than confusing schedules. Enabling free-form does take some time and it’s important that everyone understand what they need and when it will be delivered. Establish a regular schedule of meetings/updates where all parties will update each other and the lab on their progress or lack thereof. For instance, most equipment suppliers will need 12-16 weeks to deliver and install the equipment. The LMS supplier will need time to do the enablement of your system. You, the lab, will need some time to ensure any necessary facility upgrades are done. You will need time with the LDS to ensure you have selected and tested the right lens designs for your business. Timelines are critical and necessary so be sure and establish one.

Step 4:

It’s implementation time

Be sure and allow time for this to occur! This can be a difficult time and often I refer to it as walking in during the middle of surgery—while it often looks bad the outcome is usually positive! The equipment vendors need a week or so to set-up, install and test the equipment. The LMS needs to wait to make sure the equipment is working properly in order to ensure proper communication between all the pieces. The LDS needs to wait to ensure that the equipment and LMS are functioning properly in order to validate their designs. So as you can see, this is when you will see the results of your planning. If done properly, this process will be an optical orchestra making beautiful music! There will be hiccups and things that come up that were not accounted for, but by assuring good preparation and communication between all parties, you can usually get through it smoothly.

During installation (equipment, LDS etc), make sure you dedicate personnel to take charge of the project and learn quickly. A common pitfall of poor planning is inadequate time to teach the lab the new process. Let others in the lab know that some of your folks may not be as readily available, since they will be training and working side-by-side with your vendors during the implementation. You may also have to shift some of your production around or use a backup lab or partner to handle what you cannot during this time. Most labs allow for one to two weeks from the start of the free-form implementation before sending lenses to their customers to ensure that the quality is spot on.

There are lots of moving pieces when implementing free-form. And for the most part, the vendors will do most of the heavy lifting, especially since they have all done it before and know each other. The critical component falls on the lab owner/manager to make sure that everyone is talking and working together. This is when everyone knows what to expect up front and it all goes together most smoothly.

Kevin Cross is the director of sales, North America, for Schneider Optical Machines. Kevin has over 10 years’ experience working directly with Rx Labs and has overseen many, many free-form and equipment installations across the U.S.

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Labtalk September/October 2018