What You Need to Know About Smart Routing

By Ken Lento
Are you a manager, technical process analyst, or owner who wants to ensure that job trays go to the right processes in the correct order? There is now revolutionary technology available for your lab, “Smart Routing” job tray handling.

Modern lens processing equipment, such as digital surface technology capable generators and more advanced lens edging equipment have given labs the opportunity to decide which jobs should go to one machine or another. Because of these advanced capabilities in the lab, managers can now be very selective on how to set up and what to process where. Many optical labs are adding more advanced process machines and some run traditional processes in parallel. Think about the breakage reduction, automatic decision making, and increase in quality potential that is possible. Much of your stack and wait and other existing sorting challenges become history. Productivity and lab output increases substantially.

Smart routing is a way to automatically connect with the Rx software database (DVI, Visionstar, Optifacts, etc.) and route the job according to specific characteristics: Lens shape, prescription type, material composition, digital or conventional processing requirements, coating type, B-measurement limitations, shipping bin location etc.

Smart routing is used in conjunction with the lab’s new or existing conveyor system. In a smart routing scenario, pre-defined job routes are determined and placed into a “product route table” so that when a condition that matches is determined in the database, the job route is updated. Next, the job tray automatically advances to the correct machine or lab process.

One large U.S. lab that installed smart routing with their conveyor system has both freeform and traditional surfacing equipment after blocking. All jobs are blocked in one area and sent through the lab on a central conveyor. Job trays arrive at a Smart Routing decision point at the end of a 30 minute cooling conveyor. Trays entering the decision point are momentarily stopped for a few seconds. Their bar codes are read by a fixed scanner. Information is exchanged in milliseconds between the conveyor’s PLC system and the host Rx database. Communications are fast, the tray is released, and allowed to continue on its pre-determined path.

Advantages of Smart Routing

1. Jobs are automatically routed to the correct machine by the conveyor system.

2. Lab managers can define what types of lenses, jobs they want to go and where.

3. There are not many limitations on sorting characteristics, as long as the Rx software has a way to define the parameter.

4. OMA interface principles are used.

5. Almost all Rx software companies can provide the route table information in the database.

6. Reduces human errors and breakage by not sending jobs to the wrong process or equipment type.

7. Routes can be changed as materials and knowledge is learned about a machine, or pattern of processing.

Disadvantages of Automatic Smart Routing

1. Works only with a conveyor system.

2. Some patience is required in the beginning with the software to work out the lab specific routing patterns.

3. It takes discipline by lab personnel to let jobs flow where they need to go, and not manually move jobs to the location they think they should go.

Sometimes the Rx software companies have an argument against smart routing. Specifically, that they already offer in their software a way to direct work to the correct process step or machine. True, but this method involves manually moving trays and there are no guarantees that they make it to the correct destination. A conveyor with automatic scanning and Smart Routing all but guarantees that the correct destination is achieved.

To implement Smart Routing with today’s technology; a lab should have conveyors linking process steps and machines. It is beneficial if the Smart Routing is planned and implemented at the time of conveyor installation, although Smart Routing can also be added to an existing conveyor system.

There are an estimated 10 labs throughout the U.S. that have Smart Routing working and several more planning to implement the technology in the near future.

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May/June LabTalk 2017