What Makes a Winner in Lens Coating & Cleaning Equipment...Results

By Karen Appold
When it comes to deciding which lens coating and cleaning equipment to buy, evaluating the final results is key. But where do you start?

We’ve asked industry experts to share their insights for evaluating equipment. This will provide you with information to start searching for the system that suits your lab best. But this is only the first step. Next ask other lab owners who have the same equipment you’re considering about their results. Using these two approaches, you’ll be assured you’re buying the best equipment for your lab. Of paramount importance is the chemistry used in the equipment, says John Quinn, president of LTI, which works in conjunction with Satisloh for the majority of coating products. “Anti-reflective compatibility is the driving force behind our coating development.”

Certain components are good indicators of a sure bet. “When evaluating equipment, look for safety, reliability and throughput,” Quinn says.

Set your sights on coating equipment that is robust and built to run multiple shifts without requiring maintenance or having consumables refilled, says Brian Peterson, director of coating products, Satisloh. The system should be capable of handling a variety of sizes (typically uncut), including bifocals.

Satisloh sells a variety of lens coating and washing systems in different sizes and capacities. These include general lab application ultra-violet spin coating systems using all solids chemistry with tintable and non-tintable formulations including the G3 and AR dedicated solvent-based UV cure spin coater, Magnaspin. Additionally, Satisloh offers the SL201 and SL501, which offer thermally cured dip coating systems. The capacities for the coaters range from 90 to 150 lenses per hour.

Satisloh washing systems have ultrasonic transducers and heated tanks for cleaning and surface preparation prior to AR coating. The company has four models with varying capacities: T05, T10, T20 and T40. The capacities range from 48 to 384 lenses per hour.

Another factor you should track is whether or not the technology is scalable, advises Kevin Cross, manager for ophthalmic sales and marketing, Leybold Optics USA. Ask yourself these questions: Can it grow with your demand? Is it easy to operate with automatic settings or is there a lot of operator involvement? What do consumables cost? Who is the service organization behind the equipment? Does it match up well with my current processes?

The provider should be able to offer multiple options on wash and hard coat processes, says Jeff Hopkins, senior manager, customer communications and professional affairs, Carl Zeiss Vision. Other ideal qualities include first-time yields (>90 percent is ideal); flexibility on hardware set-up; internal water systems that provide de-ionized water, water purification and filtration; and remote access for process control and support.

Dave Kirchoff, vice president, Ultra Optics, says that ultimately, a good quality coating should meet all of your needs: AR, tintability, scratch resistance and adhesion to all materials (even the newest in Hi index). Don’t be talked into buying a model that’s larger than you need or can accommodate. Ultra Optics has the perfection solution-—four different clean and coat systems that are each designed according to a lab’s size.

Green Products and Solutions

Labs should always dispose of any byproducts resulting from cleaning or coating systems in conjunction with local, state and federal laws. Specialized, licensed companies provide removal and recycling of waste products. You will need the Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) of the products (i.e., soaps, lacquers and solvents) that you use to organize the proper reclaim and removal from your lab, Peterson says.

The majority of chemicals are biodegradable and can be released to normal city water draining systems once they are neutralized, Hopkins adds.

Solutions from Leybold Optics USA are engineered to be compliant with Underwriter Laboratories (UL) regulations and use the lowest amount of power, water and air required to produce the highest yield of lenses in each of the machines it produces. LTI offers both UV curable and thermal curable coatings for spin and dip applications. The majority of labs in the United States use UV curable spin coatings, which are available in solvent based or 100 percent solids (no solvents) chemistry. LTI was the first company in the industry to introduce 100 percent solid coatings, which are re-circulated continuously. This eliminates waste byproducts and improves throughput.

LTI’s most recent developments are next generation solvent-based UV curable coatings that have performance characteristics in combination with AR that are comparable to thermal dip coatings. Ultra Optics uses the newest in coating technology, developing all of its coatings in house. “Our coatings are solventless. They are recirculated without any waste,” Kirchoff said. “As part of our ongoing green initiative, last year we even changed to recyclable aluminum bottles.”

Unique Features

All lens cleaning systems are similar by design and function, although each has its unique benefits. Having invented AR coatings, Carl Zeiss Vision is well-versed in requirements for cleaning lenses that will be subsequently AR-coated. “We offer state-of-the-art, purpose-built equipment,” Hopkins says.

Quinn touts LTI’s Compact Coater as a low-cost unit that uses the same process steps that have been optimized for more than 20 years of coating system development. The operator loads a pair of lenses into the system and can walk away to perform other tasks while the pair is processed in 90 seconds. The system utilizes 100 percent solids chemistry and produces 40 jobs per hour.

Leybold Optics AR equipment is built on a scalable approach that allows each of its machines to grow with demand rather than requiring additional coating equipment purchases. The company is also the manufacturer–Leybold does not buy components from other suppliers and then assemble them on a machine. Instead, it builds and designs its equipment from the ground up, based on more than 150 years of vacuum coating experience.

Jim Evans, owner, NEA Optical, which has had the Leybold Boxer for one year, attests to the company’s quality. “The performance of equipment and product results are better than expected,” Evans says. “We are happy we chose Leybold to partner with in the AR market. The company’s technical team is very helpful and knowledgeable.”

Like Leybold Optics, Ultra Optics also builds its equipment in-house. “Our equipment is very easy to use and maintain,” Kirchoff says. “Our coating enables us to update or make changes so we can supply customers with the best products possible,” he says.

Louis Larson, manager, Acu-Rx, has been very pleased with Ultra Optics’ products. “Their equipment works awesome,” he says. “They have a good support staff to help you with any problems. Their coating and equipment has always been the best in the industry.”

Ensuring Equipment is the Best It Can Be

A properly cleaned and maintained machine always runs best. Be sure to perform all regularly scheduled maintenance and adhere to the recommended cleaning schedule. “Problems typically arise when cutting corners,” Cross says.

Peterson notes that in particular, it is important to change out the soap tanks, to clean after every shift and to monitor the de-ionized water quality.

Satisloh’s coating equipment is intuitive; it operates much like the standard spin coaters labs have grown accustomed to over the years, Peterson says. “We have enhanced the operation and usability so there is less handling of the lens during the process and a distinct separation between the lacquers and the operators,” he says. In-house training on products, cleaning systems and AR coating systems is also important, adds Hopkins. Carl Zeiss Vision offers an extensive training program at its Virginia facility, as well as onsite training and support during the installation process. Additionally, 24/7 remote support is available along with Webcam and remote access to all Carl Zeiss Vision equipment.

Quinn says, “Effective cleaning of lenses prior to loading into any coating equipment is the most critical factor for yields. It’s also critical to monitor the energy of the UV bulb.”

“We’ve tried to make the process as simple as possible by keeping the operators’ hands out of the machine and incorporating warning messages to notify the operator when it’s time to load coating or replace the UV bulb,” Quinn notes.

Kirchoff says that hands-on training is included upon installation of all Ultra Optics equipment. Its ease-of-use is exemplified by the fact that some labs are already running the equipment when the technicians arrive.

Helping Your Lab’s Bottom Line

In addition to a quality product, cost efficiency is another critical factor when making a lens coating and cleaning equipment purchase. Most products that require coating are high-end products. “Our equipment makes it possible for labs to process high-end products while keeping the profits in-house with minimal time for payback,” Kirchoff says.

Says Quinn, “Labs recognize the value added by a good hardcoating, particularly the newer non-tintable coatings. One of the biggest opportunities in the market today is AR coating, and labs understand that the hardcoating is a critical element of the complete system that comprises a quality AR lens. The equipment that delivers that product needs to be robust and consistent.”

Because Leybold machines are scalable, capital expenditures can be predicted based on growth. “Our machines are engineered to be smaller but more productive, so we can add throughput without increasing any other costs,” Cross says. Leybold machines are also precision engineered and have 98 percent up time, which means that a lab can depend on Leybold equipment to run with minimal down time due to unscheduled maintenance issues.

Hopkins touts Carl Zeiss Vision as not just an equipment supplier. “We are a true partner in the lens manufacturing and coating process, from supplying the raw lens material to the correct ultrasonic cleaning and AR processes for the lab’s application. Carl Zeiss Vision’s research and development team is focused on quality, efficiency and ease of production to add value to the customer’s bottom line.”

At Satisloh, Peterson foresees a reduction in labor that will equate to dollars saved. “With the introduction of ‘On the Block Manufacturing’ in the near future, which will include hard coating and AR coating, the process will be automated and hands free from blocking through surfacing and AR to deblocking before anyone needs to touch a job.”

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May/June LabTalk 2017