VCA Data Standards, Improve Efficiency & Make More $$$

By Lee Bissonnette
Rarely do phrases like ‘data standards’ get the proverbial juices flowing at their mention. Yet when the Vision Council of America closed in on its latest draft of the DCS (Digital Communications Standard) and the subsequent Drilled Rimless standard earlier this year, the excitement among member labs was almost palpable.

The consolidations in the industry of late have created unique challenges on both sides of the fence. The newly formed giants of the field find themselves grappling with dozens, sometimes hundreds, of procedures, machines and proprietary systems that don’t always agree with or even talk with one another. Bringing standardization to these is of paramount importance to companies who wish to create a customer expectation of highest quality.

Meanwhile, the pressure to do so quickly and carefully so as not to disturb multi-million dollar operations sometimes seem at odds.

On the other side of the fence,independents have shined by offering white glove service, fast turnaround and exceptional quality. But these have a cost, and so the resultant market demands are having many lab owners searching for ways to cut out delays and cost overruns (particularly in areas of waste or duplicative workflows) wherever possible. If there is one thing that both sides of this equation share, it is a need for standardization and automation; and with one comes the other. The latest generation of machines from industry leaders such as National Optronics, Santinelli International, Gerber and others feature automatic edger/drills that can precisely produce quality lenses with the touch of a button. The major lab software packages have gone even further, absorbing massive databases of information to help facilitate the automated lab.

The VCA data standards are a giant step toward achieving all of these parties’ goals. By utilizing a single format to transmit data from manufacturer to retailer and back to the lab, all parties can confidently invest in a single technology knowing that their partners at all levels are on board with them. Moreover, the open standard allows third party software providers like FRAMES Data and FRAMETRACE.com among others, including the manufacturers and the VCA itself, to release commercial packages capable of transmitting hundreds of thousands of frames into the databases that power the labs processes.

Presently there are two major categories of packages that are available, frame tracings and, more recently, drill files associated with drilled rimless frames. FRAMES Data’s Tracing Points product, for instance, features over 30,000 individual files carrying 512 pt tracing information to be used with most major LMS packages. Users simply insert the disc and use their LMS’s proprietary menus to find and import the data. From there, it’s simply a press of a button to identify the correct blank sizes and get jobs started.

Tom Lamond, publisher and vice president of FRAMES Data adds, “While we do not recommend the use of Tracing Points for the commercial edging of lenses, we have dozens of customers – from smaller labs to large networks – who use this for surfacing work, to improve their turnaround time and to eliminate workflow lags. Using Tracing Points, they are able to put all the wheels in motion for a job before ever receiving the frame, in some cases reducing turnaround by as much as 24 hours. In today’s environment, that efficiency equates to happy customers and more sales.” Many labs would agree, as sales of their product have been brisk in the past year since the adoption of the standard.

Even more exciting to the world of laboratory-related data are the new generation of drilling packages that allow for direct communication between software and machine to automatically create perfect drilled rimless lenses every time. The process of creating these lenses is particularly costly, due to increased waste percentage from breakage, and the gathering of the required information is typically manual and time intensive. Due to these factors, turnaround time for these jobs can sometimes be 20-30 percent more than their standard frame counterparts. It is in areas such as this where standardized data deliveries shine.

With the Drilled Rimless Standard in hand, even manufacturers are getting in on the act. Marchon recently released a substantial number of Drill records on a disc as has National Optronics. Most major equipment and frame manufacturers are sure to follow suit shortly either with databases installed on the machines from their own libraries of coordinates or directly populated with manufacturer info.

One notable standout from the manufacturer-data camp is the Drilling Points product from FRAMES. Released in late 2005 to coincide with the debut of the VCA standard, this product has grown from an initial demo release of 35 products to over 550 styles in a universe of approximately 2,700 styles.

The folks at FRAMES are quick to point out that in the process of manually disassembling, measuring and test-building each and every frame on the CD, they have found dozens of errors with the manufacturer data that were only noticed by physically building the frame. FRAMES subscription manager, Angela Carroll notes, “Last year we had people asking about the Drill Points product and wondering why they should subscribe to it rather than the free services offered by the VCA and others. After observing the process in the lab, I can safely say that they are getting a good bargain by purchasing Drilling Points. I can’t tell you how many times people have had to re-do a frame because the initial data, assumed to be correct, turned out to be flawed. By test building every frame, we ensure a level of accuracy and quality that no one else can match.”

Regardless of whether you try one of the commercial packages, receive the data from the manufacturers or even develop it yourself, one frame at a time data communications standards have revolutionized the industry and helped it to stay competitive at a time where that is needed most. By removing manual input (and error) from the equation, preloading databases with standardized information and formatting it in a common language, the lab industry looks poised to move into an age of automated efficiency.

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Labtalk November/December 2018