The New Breed of Blockers

By Christie Walker
Innovate or vacate the premises. That seems to be the motto of the three companies—Gerber Coburn, Satisloh and Schneider—that are bringing new surface blocker technology to the market. All three companies have switched over to new blocking mediums, leaving wax and alloy blocking materials behind. Check out what these three leaders in equipment innovation have to say about the new breed of blockers.

What’s New

GERBER COBURN

Gerber Coburn’s new E2G Surface Blocking System consists of the E2G Blocker, new surface blocks, a de-blocker and an environmentally safe blocking medium called Onyxbond. “One of the best things about our new blocking system is its capable of delivering our new blocking medium Onyxbond. Second, it incorporates an upgraded vision system and larger viewing screen, and third it has a changeable ring system for complete flexibility when blocking lenses,” said Jeremy Lehning, product specialist for Gerber Coburn. “The large and more visible alignment screen and auto-fill feature make our blocker easy to use and accurate. Onyxbond is easy to de-block using our new de-blocker…no more slamming the lenses on a table to release them.”

SATISLOH

“Our new blocking system, known as Nucleo, is more than just a blocker in the traditional sense. It is really a process integration platform,” said Ian Greg, product manager, surfacing and finishing for Satisloh.

“At Satisloh we are focusing our research and development efforts toward On Block Manufacturing, or OBM. The idea is to block the lens once using a machineable block piece and adhesive, and then process it all the way through the lab up to mounting without removing the block. This includes generating, polishing, cleaning and backside scratch coat, AR, and ultimately edging. OBM will bring the optical manufacturing facility closer to “lights out” automation than ever before. Short term, as we await the ultimate OBM promise, the Nucleo blocker immediately eliminates taping, labor, cooling time, and blocking rings. In addition, it allows a lab to produce a much more accurate surface, especially when producing freeform lenses. While others are focusing on trying to introduce a “green” substitute for alloy, their substitution products do not represent a significant technology or process advancement. On the other hand, we have taken the blocking process much further by adding all of the benefits mentioned above while also automating de-blocking, eliminating labor and possible human errors, and saving labs money in the process. Nucleo will offer fully-automated operation, a Windows-based touch screen user interface, Remote STEP Internet troubleshooting capability, and on-board maintenance software designed to simplify and bring certainty to the maintenance process. In addition, during the Nucleo blocking process, each lens will also be checked for front curve accuracy, and that information can be used to recalculate the generated back curve via the lab’s LMS for an even more accurate finished product.”

SCHNEIDER OPTICAL MACHINERY

“The CB Fusion from Schneider Optical Machinery is a plug-and play surface blocker and of course, it is non-alloy,” said Kurt Atchison, president Schneider Optical Machinery. “Almost every lab has the goal to eliminate alloy due to waste stream and handling issues. Our new blocker uses a totally safe and organic material—safe for handling and disposal. This means you can replace your old alloy system with the Fusion without having to alter the rest of your process. It has a simple user interface with automatic alignment verification and auto fill control.”

THOSE NASTY LITTLE BLOCKS

When it comes to the question of alloy or wax, all three companies agree…neither does the best job. All three companies have come out with new blocking mediums that can take the place of wax or alloy.

Satisloh’s surface blocking system uses neither alloy nor wax but a patented foundation made of recyclable PET and a UV cured bonding agent, which once cured becomes completely inert leaving no wax or other contaminants on the lens surface and is environmentally friendly. “Use of other alloy substitutes contaminates a surface and therefore requires the use of tape on the lens to protect it. The new Satisloh plastic blocks can be used many times (if they are not cut into during the generating or edging process), and once they are cut into, can be thrown into any normal recycle bin because they are made from the same highly recyclable material as two liter soda bottles,” said Gregg.

The Satisloh Blocking Platform uses a revolutionary process that provides total support across the entire surface of the lens and blocks prism up to five degrees, using a patented spatial prism system. The bonding agent is cured with a UV emitting LED, which induces no residual heat into the lens, allowing it to be generated almost immediately after blocking, thus eliminating the normal cooling time required in traditional blocking.

“It is important to note that unlike other alloy replacement materials, which are typically thermally activated and can leave residues requiring taping to protect the lenses, our material is a UV cured material that cures like hard rubber, eliminates the need to tape, and is easily removed leaving no residue on the lens,” said Gregg.

The CB Fusion from Schneider has also eliminated the use of wax or alloy. “Our new blocking material is safe, re-usable, and has stronger holding ability and less flexure than alloy. Also, it allows us to cover the entire lens surface in blocking. This is critical to improve digital surfacing quality, eliminate knife edge polishing issues and speed generating processes,” said Atchison.

Gerber Coburn’s new blocking system uses neither wax nor alloy but a new plastic material they developed. “Alloy is expensive and is not people or environmentally friendly. Until now it was the only game in town for freeform due to its ability to support lenses,” explained Lehning. “Wax is people and environmentally friendly and inexpensive but it does carry a stigma for being AR incompatible and is not capable of producing all freeform or cut-to-polish surfaces.”

Gerber Coburn’s new blocking medium, Onyxbond, is strong, inexpensive, environment and people friendly and designed especially for working with freeform lenses. “Onyxbond provides strong support for all lenses especially freeform resulting in high machining accuracy. It’s inexpensive and easily machinable, unlike alloy, so that you can fully support lenses and then cut into the blocking medium without significant wear on generator cutter life,” said Lehning. “Just like wax and alloy, Onyxbond is re-usable and can be re-melted right into the blocker.”

For all three of these new blocking systems, labs will need to purchase a new de-blocker as well. “Given the unique nature of this new platform, an automated de-blocking system will be required for integration within the lab. After that, the block has been design to work with all other machines that are compatible with the standard LOH style block,” said Gregg. “With the Schneider blocking system, the company provides a simple de-blocking device that is more automated than the old ‘bang-on-the-table method’ used today,” added Atchison.

With the Gerber Coburn system labs will need a new de-blocker, blocks, and the new Onyxbond tape.

ROBOTICS

How would the three new blockers fit into a robotic operation? Of the three models featured here, only the Satisloh Nucleo is ready for the automation super highway. “The Nucleo is designed to not only fit into an automated environment, but to dramatically enhance it. OBM, with Nucleo as the enabler, will take automation in the optical manufacturing facility to the next level,” said Gregg.

The Schneider blocker has a robotic version in the works, although they will offer the manual version initially and Gerber Coburn’s E2G blocking system is not automatable at this time.

WHAT WILL THE FUTURE BRING?

Gregg from Satisloh believes the Nucleo Platform Integration System represents the next step in the evolution of the surface blocker. “We will offer the technology as a completely open platform and will encourage our competitors to develop machines and processes that take advantage of the OBM system and concept. The new PET blocks can be used on anyone’s equipment as long as it accepts the traditional LOH type of V groove type block and we will encourage our customers to source or produce them in whatever way is most economical,” said Gregg.

Atchison sees a different future. “With the new material and ability to cover the entire lens surface while easily cutting into or sacrificing the block material, it lends itself to a future where there is only one block that works through the entire process all the way through finishing. This is also in the works, although the first target is to provide a ready-made option to replace alloy blocking in the labs without a tremendous investment or process disruption.”

But it’s Lehning who is looking beyond the block to a totally new system. “I see the possibility of a blockless system from start to finish or even a system that makes lenses without requiring blocking at all.” Whatever the future may bring, you can be assured that these top equipment manufacturers will be pushing the envelope of innovation for many years to come.

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May/June LabTalk 2017