Transforming Your Finishing Operation

By Kevin Paddy
Where’s the biggest challenge in today’s optical laboratory? The simplest and most common answer is the finishing department. Typically it’s this department where the largest percent of spoilage occurs. Take a moment and look at your finishing department — it’s likely allocated the smallest amount of space. Now calculate the number of lenses processed per department (surfacing, AR, and finishing) and the number of employees per department. The answer should be “I need to focus on my finishing department.”

Almost every production facility today is comprised of three departments: surfacing, AR and finishing. Unfortunately, in most cases, these departments are prioritized in this same order — surfacing, AR and finishing. Surfacing departments have been transformed, giving labs the ability to produce a great surface reliably. AR departments have exploded due to their profitability; all this while finishing remains virtually unchanged. Knowing this, what good is a great surfaced lens with a premium AR coating if you cannot finish it reliably, efficiently and remain profitable? Once you understand and identify the challenges of the finishing department you can transform your finishing operation. What are the most common challenges in the finishing department?

Spoilage

Why is the finishing department spoilage rate typically 30 percent higher than any other department? What is so different about finishing compared to other departments? One answer: excessive lens handling. Most labs will agree scratches are the number one problem in the finish department. So what’s the best way to reduce this? Automation. Automation reduces human lens handling — reducing scratches. Not only does automation reduce lens handling and breakage, it promotes continuous workflow.

Typically, manually operated machines only operate at 80 percent of capacity at best. Automation provides peak production at around 95 percent. While automation will likely make the biggest impact, equipment itself can do the same. Current finishing equipment allows more in — chamber processes than in the past. The more processes done in a single operation, the more breakage is reduced. Not only can new equipment reduce breakage, it can improve quality; adding to your bottom line. Be wary of some in-chamber processes; make sure they really provide a benefit. If an edger pin bevels and grooves, but the operator is required to remove swarf from what should be a ready-to-mount lens, this added step prevents the goal of eliminating excessive lens handling. Consider this…just a 1 percent spoilage reduction in a 500 job per day facility equals a $50,000 annual savings!

OutDated and Limited Technology

Until recently, most of our industry’s technology improvements focused on surfacing and AR. Only in the past few years has this same advanced technology become available for finishing. The trends of the optical industry are ever changing, but the basics of edging a lens remain. In years past, the process of uncuts were on the rise, based on today’s trends they are now declining. Every day, AR becomes more and more common. Combine this with the industry’s newest technology of free form and ask yourself how many cut and edge shops will continue with this procedure? If a doctor has the choice between edging a pair of free form, AR super-hydrophobic lenses in his office with the onus of breakage on him, or paying a nominal fee in comparison to have his lens production facility edge the lenses for him, which do you think he will choose? Knowing this, is the equipment that the doctor was going to edge his lenses on that much different than what you use in the production facility?

In the past, the answer would have been no, however with today’s finishing technology the answer could be yes! Some of today’s finishing technology is designed for a production environment. It’s meant to process the more difficult jobs and remove operator decision. While automation can remove operators completely, this newer technology is what can make a huge impact for the lab. New equipment allow labs to make decisions about how lenses are processed, not the operator. Even with today’s non-automated equipment, the operator only scans a barcode, loads the lens, and presses start. All other choices or options are pre-selected and downloaded to the equipment. Operators are no longer making decisions they’re not qualified to make. What does this really mean to you? It’s like you or your best operator is operating each one of these new pieces of equipment. Possibly even better, it is not biased to job types, customers, or day of the week.

Poor Workflow

Remember your last major finishing equipment purchase? How much thought was placed on best integrating it? In most cases, little thought is given to equipment location and it was confined to what little finishing space remained. For most, you may have begun or have fully transformed your surfacing department and may have automated every possible step. Take a moment to think back to when you first integrated automation into your production facility. Perhaps your first automated piece was a generator, and your first thoughts were likely “how do I know the generator will cut the job correctly?”

Like most, you probably fed one tray through at a time inspecting lenses as they came out. However, after just a short time you realized the consistency your new technology provided. You may even reflect back to these days and laugh about how cautious you were and even feel regret for not making this leap sooner. These same technologies are available today for finishing. While you are likely to follow the same pattern you did when integrating new surfacing technology and automation when doing your finishing area, the outcome will be the same. Think how much better production could be if operators were not tripping over each other, banging elbows, or shuffling trays all over. If automation is not in the budget, improved workflow using linear processing can be a low or no cost improvement for your finishing department.

Highest Skilled Operators

Not only does your finishing department likely house the most employees per department, it is likely where your highest skilled (highest paid) employees are working as well. As part of the new finishing technology, equipment manufacturers have focused on deskilling operations. High skilled veteran operators are becoming a thing of the past and the few that do remain can demand high wages. Therefore, equipment like tracers are more accurate, reliable and durable. Blockers have made major advancements by combining the process of power verification and blocking, which has also been taken to a new level of automation. Edging has seen the greatest improvements for production facilities. Some edgers now have a true industrial design, making them far more durable and accurate with tremendous production capacity. These types of technologies are what can reduce operators and labor costs.

These four items are only a few of the challenges and difficulties experienced in the finishing department — however they are likely the top four items. Focusing on these topics when considering your finishing transformation will have the biggest impact on reducing spoilage and labor costs and improving workflow with updated technology providing the quickest payback on your investment. Remember the payback on a one percent spoilage reduction of 500 jobs per day equals $50,000 in annual savings.

When considering a transformation in any department, keep these things in mind. Choose equipment carefully before purchasing. You are a production facility and need industrial grade equipment. A larger motor and a new outer case do not constitute an industrial label. Confirm that the unit’s features will meet your needs and can be integrated into your facility. When considering a specific piece of equipment, ask the manufacturer for references of customers using this equipment. A confident equipment manufacturer not only will provide you with several references, but will arrange for you to visit a unit in production. This is very important since viewing a unit in the equipment manufacturers’ facility or at a trade show is far different from seeing a unit in a production facility. Talk with facilities that have already made the transformation. In most cases these customers are very proud of the changes they’ve made and are willing to share their experiences, good and bad.

The old perception of an optical laboratory — an over-crowded room full of equipment, job trays and people — doesn’t fit today’s optical environment. Think more along the lines of a production department with automation, technology and linear flow and see your transformation become a reality.

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Labtalk November/December 2018