Overheard at the OLA

By Christie Walker
The opening of the Optical Laboratories Associations’ annual event in Nashville, Tenn., came two days after the historic election of Barack Obama as our 44th president of the United States. While the election and the economy were on the minds of OLA attendees, once they stepped onto the show floor it was business as usual, with talk of new equipment, innovative products and whether or not now was the time to invest. This year’s question was:

“Are you selling digitally surfaced lenses? If yes, how’s it going? If no, when do you anticipate getting into this market?”

Jason Blue

Optic Blue

Lubbock, Texas


“We are selling freeform lenses. We promote them and welcome any orders we receive. The fact that we are not making the lenses ourselves is not an issue for us. HOYA Vision Care is making most of the lenses and we have some lenses produced through Perfect Optics in San Diego. Our volume of freeform prescriptions would have to increase dramatically to justify the cost of purchasing new equipment to produce the lenses ourselves.”

Ron Cooke, Jr.

Diversified Ophthalmics

Cincinnati, Ohio


“We are absolutely selling digitally surfaced lenses, but are not producing them in-house yet. Currently we are working with several lens manufacturers and outsourcing the work to other labs. With Internet portals such as Vision Web, it’s somewhat seamless. We’ve reduced breakage and increased turnaround time. If you had the equipment, it would ultimately bring down the unit cost and increase profits in the long run. Right now we are building up the volume. When the volume is up, then we will pull the trigger, and invest in the equipment.”

Jacquie Honstrom

Next Generation

Grand Rapids, Minn.


“We are selling some digitally surfaced products but don’t have the equipment so we are farming these jobs out to the manufacturers. We are assuming that they know how to do it better than anyone. The lens manufacturers need to work better with the equipment people and operating systems people. They need to learn to play nice. We currently run 200 jobs per day. My freeform jobs are less than 10 per day. When the time comes that my lease bill for freeform equipment would be less than what I’m paying subcontractors to make these lenses, then I would consider leasing the equipment to produce digitally surfaced lenses. Until then, I’m letting the lens manufacturers make the lenses.”

Tom Culley

Expert Optics

Shorewood, Ill.


“Selling digitally surfaced lenses is a process. We are telling a story to the ECP, explaining the benefits of what we believe true digital technology really is—1/100th diopter accuracy, minimized vertex distance, material options, variable corridor lengths and the newest designs. The freeform designs we currently surface are from Zeiss, SOLA/AO and Shamir. We process freeform in house using Satisloh generators. The doctors are accepting this pretty well. Freeform is a small percentage of our jobs per day but we are seeing steady growth. It’s going to be a long road. We feel that the growth of digitally surfaced freeform progressive lenses will be faster than the growth rate of AR.”

John Sutherlin

Sutherlin Optical

Kansas City, Mo.


“We currently receive some orders for Physio 360° and Kodak Unique but we subcontract these out to the lens manufacturers. I’m not saying we won’t be in the game eventually. We are waiting for the market and the technology to settle in. I’m not smart enough to make this type of equipment buying decision right now. The lens manufacturers have engineers who monitor the process and equipment. We don’t have that luxury, so we are waiting for the equipment and process to be refined to where a smaller lab can be confident in producing a quality product, day in and day out. Currently the decision to purchase the digital surfacing equipment has nothing to do with ROI or percentage of sales. It’s about having the confidence that we can produce a quality product day in and day out.”

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Labtalk-November/December 2017