Brave New World? or a world only for the brave?

By Rich Palmer
I recently read an article by Marc Savoie of Satisloh GmbH in which he makes a case for defining the advent of digital surfacing into our industry as nothing short of a far-reaching and technological breakthrough into the manner in which ophthalmic lenses will (and can be) produced.

Over the past decades our industry has proudly pointed to improvements in laboratory processing that have taken place by advancing from ceramic to diamond wheels to electronic transfer of frame geometry to multiple axis toric generators. And now perhaps the single greatest possible acceptance by the ophthalmic industry of machine tool technology is on the horizon; dare I say actually much closer even than that… technology aptly noted as Digital Surfacing.

The more I am exposed to and learn about this complete departure from existing processing methodologies, the more I realize that it’s not going to be your father’s laboratory anymore. Other industries have experienced technical innovations on just such a grand scale that when the specific technology is applied the effects are nothing less than totally dramatic. This is the very window of opportunity that we are having opening in front of us today … a new “state-of-the-art” and we dare not let it pass us by.

Mike Rybacki, senior vice president of sales and marketing for Seiko Optical products predicts, “Backside progressive lenses will become the mainstream in the next five years.”

Free form, direct digital surfacing, point-to-point manufacturing of mathematically defined lens surfaces represent a distinct departure from our status quo of manufacturing capabilities. But I submit that this is only the beginning of just how far the introduction of this technology will assert itself into the industry as well as into our individual enterprises. The econometric model of the ophthalmic industry from the supply, manufacturing, and distribution chain to sales and marketing and the terms of conditions surrounding those efforts will undoubtedly be altered like never before. Here are a few areas that I believe will be impacted by this technology.

Manufacturing

We will be moving from lenses with a pre-determined and fixed front surface geometry to having the capability of true customization of individual Rx requirements through incorporating a toric and progressive correction on the back surface of a lens. With this technology the shift is from generating injected moulded PAL’s to machining concave curve geometries of a very complex nature.

Additionally we will eliminate a fining procedure on hard laps (which has covered a multitude of sins) and move to a flexible polishing process driven by a highly controlled polishing tool whose tool path and subsequent shape of the tool path travel complete the often called “cut-to-polish” process. The exactness of this digital surfacing of free form generating/machining and flexible polishing produce accuracies at the micron level relative to form or geometry and nanometric levels respective to surface deviations or frequencies.

Lens & Power Verification

“The hardest thing about this technology will be knowing what you made is what you wanted to make,” said Barney Dougher, HOYA. At the end of this advanced process, we will need a lens and power verification system radically different from that which we are accustomed to performing. Rather than measuring and comparing distance and near vision points to an Rx with a traditional lensometer, we will move to a 3-D surface measurement to create what amounts to a topographical map of the lens geometry. This “optical map”1 of the produced lens is then compared to the desired topography and/or geometry of a point-to-point map or display from the downloaded progressive file accomplished initially in the production stream. In essence, this produces the ability to make direct and 3-dimensional comparisons between that which was produced and that which was intended to be produced.

Sales & Marketing

Respective to the sales and marketing aspect that this technology will undoubtedly influence, the concept of “individualized company product branding” becomes more than marketing theory. The industry will evolve all the way to that sought after brass ring of competitive advantage. Imagine this. You now have a truly individualized and custom-made visual device that’s been fabricated from a distinctive combination of required Rx powers, overlaid and incorporated onto a unique surface geometry, yielding optical performance never before realized. The final end product is laser engraved and “branded” with your company logo, too.

Lens Warranties

What about the dreaded and recently much maligned Terms & Conditions of Sales issue known as the Rx Warranty? I recently attended an optical machinery conference whose focal point (pun intended) was the subject of Free-Form/Digital Surfacing. And as one might expect at a gathering of optical folks the topic of warranties vs. implementation of this innovative technology did in fact rear its ugly head. The idea that because digital surfacing so drastically alters the dynamics and the metrics of the industry, and that because “… a new game requires new rules …”, perhaps now is the time to seriously consider and perhaps eliminate “warranties” connected with such a truly customized, one-of-a-kind, individualized, and 3-D topographically verified product. (Say that real fast.)

Unresolved Issues

There are still several unresolved issues here in the U.S. involving the so-called “click fees” associated with lens design downloading; resolution of patent issues; and undoubtedly many many more. These are serious considerations and concerns and truly deserve the attention warranted. However these matters, in my opinion, will not and should not stifle nor impede the advances that free-form technology can and will unleash.

“There is no doubt that this technology will create a better product,” said Raanan Naftalovich, CEO Shamir Insights. But Bob Colucci, president of the independent distribution division of Essilor warns, “This technology means nothing to the end consumer unless it provides better vision.”

As an industry we must never be deficient in embracing and implementing all viable technological opportunities, such as this, if we are to continue to be the mainstream provider of life-enhancing quality vision care products. So while there are a few kinks still to be ironed out, a brave new world of creating customized lenses is just around the corner. Will you be ready?

1Dr. Marc Abitbols, president/CEO and Haggai Herman, general manager Visionix Ltd, May 2006 OW, Page 23, “How to control your free-form process.” Free Form is a registered Trademark of Shamir Insight.

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May/June LabTalk 2017