The Dynamics of Digitally Surfaced Lenses

By Christie Walker
Welcome to the digital discussion. In every issue of LabTalk, we will present a panel discussion revolving around the topic of digitally surfaced lenses. I’ve solicited questions from lab owners and managers—one question for equipment companies and one question for lens companies—to present to the experts. If you have a question for the panel, please send it to me at: cwalker@jobson.com. For clarity sake, we will note here that, Freeform® is a registered trademark of Shamir Insight, but will not be using the register mark throughout the rest of the article. We welcome Dr. Juan Carlos Dürsteler, PhD, Manager of Research, Development and Innovation, at Indo to the panel this month.

Q - Although this has been asked a million times, I think labs still struggle with the basic Return On Investment issue. At what point does it make sense for the average 500 job, per day laboratory to invest in this technology? What is their break even point considering the cost to acquire equipment and the click fees that are applicable?

A- Cj Eggbeer

Sales Engineer, RxD Systems, DAC International

“In today’s industry, it may no longer make sense to refer to 500 jobs per day as an average. Because the product mix (standard, freeform and specialty lens) of each lab is unique, it makes the ROI calculation for the purchase of capital equipment inherently much more complex. Most equipment vendors will work with labs to develop detailed ROI analyses.

However, let’s assume that of 500 jobs, 10 percent are freeform, and the average profit per freeform job is $30 (may vary greatly depending on royalties and selling prices). In this scenario, the lab would realize a profit of $31,250 per month, or $375,000 annually.

With DAC equipment, a five-year straight line lease on approximately $300,000 would result in a payment of $5,500 to $6,500 per month. Our customers typically see a break-even in less than two years, and positive cash flow within three to four months.”

A - Alex Incera

President, Gerber Coburn

Answering that question specifically is difficult because the breakeven point will be different for each lab. Less than two years ago, labs in the U.S. were convinced that digital lens processing would become important and mainstream within 5 to 10 years. Today, we have seen the need for labs to be capable of processing digital lenses sooner than previously thought. Reasons for the acceleration of this type of lens processing are mainly due to the wide range of affordable digital lens processing equipment, the availability of tailored lens designs from design companies, and flexible click-fees systems that are now available. And lastly, practitioners are beginning to understand the benefits of digitally enhanced lenses, although they still need to be educated and convinced of how to articulate the benefits to their customers.

However, specifically to the question of breakeven point, lab owners must consider the volume of digital freeform lenses they would be processing. This factor should include current and future demand growth of digital progressive lenses in their markets. Other factors are the cost of the equipment, the lens material being processed, the lab’s processing operating hours, and the volume of other lens type that could be processed through the digital equipment. When understanding these factors, as well as other factors not mentioned, the breakeven point has the potential of being less than two years.

A- Ian Gregg

Product Manager, Surfacing/Finishing, Satisloh North America

“The ROI for this type of investment can vary greatly, depending on the cost of the equipment, volume of lenses processed, amount of new business generated by entry into new markets and market conditions for the premium products offered. Another factor to consider is the business model for the lens design to be produced. In fact, each major lens company currently supplying designs to the market has their own unique fee structure. Choosing the right LDS partner is equally as important as the choice of technology platform. Given all that, in the optical industry, the pay back target is usually 18 to 24 months. A typical lab doing 500 jobs per day, with a normal material and stock lens mix, would reach that threshold at around 20 freeform jobs per shift with a fully automated production line. This, of course, means the equipment is busy throughout the rest of the shift producing toric lenses. That is the key to this type of investment. Not too many labs can dedicate significant capital toward machines that only address a fraction of their daily production needs. In order to be cost effective, the technology must not only allow entry into new markets but also enhance the labs current surfacing capabilities.”

A- Kurt Atchison

President, Schneider Optical Machines

“ROI on a freeform only line can be quite simple. For a smaller operation, you can install a complete freeform line for around $350,000. Then consider exactly what the new profit per progressive will be. Simply put, find out estimated new profit per pair then how many pairs it takes.

For a two year payback on a $350k investment, you’ll need an added $175k profit per year. If you can make $40 per pair added profit on freeform, then you need to make 17 pairs per day. We know what the equipment costs. We also know that the consumable and labor savings/expenses versus conventional production costs are about a wash. Therefore, it becomes a simple question of your cost for material and click fee subtracted from your new selling price. Maybe its $40, maybe it’s much more. At $20 profit, then you need 34 pairs per day to have your two year payback. At $60 profit, you need only 11 jobs per day. Kind of simple, but it is the easiest way to look at it.

There are more positives in the equation if you consider the freeform line can also run regular toric work if it has the capacity for both.”

Q - “Do digitally optimized progressives improve the optics for all Rx powers and add combinations, and if the benefits do vary based on these factors, can the combinations with the most benefit be identified?”

A - Gordon Keane

President, Digital Vision Inc.

With all of the variables, there is really no simple answer to this question. The category “optimized progressive lenses” is very broad in scope and specialized within each provider of such a product.

For example, some of the current optimizing steps would include using Exact power in distance and add, where there’s no rounding. A second step would be to accommodate Panto, Wrap and Vertex adjustments to create a manufactured Rx different than the written one. Another popular design optimization is the Progressive design and Channel adjustment, customized to match the fitting height and possibly other Rx parameters. Others would include creation in the lens of the Exact Inset to match the Rx, plus adjustments for the Reading Depth, and other adjustments related to Lifestyle.

Many of these features can be accomplished -- at least partially -- without Digital Surfacing. This raises the question, Should labs be adjusting all prescriptions? Also, many of the techniques used are proprietary to the various lens (design) companies, and thus unique to each. Therefore they tend to be somewhat mysterious to the customers, labs and others involved in implementing the processes. An ECP may not ask why the Rx doesn’t match his written order -- but if he does ask, the technically accurate answer may be difficult for the lab to provide.

Generally, at Digital Vision, having software for digital generators and polishers available, we are able to communicate complicated surface designs that can provide optical as well as cosmetic benefits to spectacle wearers, regardless of their prescription. These benefits are not limited to those wearing progressive lenses.

A - Dr. Juan Carlos Dürsteler, PhD

Manager of Research, Development and Innovation, Indo

“Any progressive is created in digital form and includes an optimization. Traditional technology has some limitations regarding what you can do with digital optimization, like 0.25 steps, fixed parameters of the cast blank (corridor length, inset, etc.) and as-worn position fixed for a certain average user (inter pupillary distance, vertes distance, pantoscoptic tilt, etc). Freeform opens up the possibility of creating designs by eliminating all those barriers and unleashing all the possibilities that digital optimization has. Specifically, it makes it possible to customize or personalize the geometry for an individual by taking into account personal parameters in the design.

It can also allow the creation of single vision lenses with improved features for the same reasons stated above.

In this sense, the higher the prescription (either plus or minus) the greater the benefit you will get from having digitally optimized progressives, since for prescriptions very close to plano the corrections aren’t that big.”

A - Jerry Thornhill

Manager, Technical Services, Shamir Insight, Inc.

“Yes. Freeform lenses improve the optics for all Rx powers and add combinations. The biggest reason being is the fact that in a true freeform lens, the design is on the back surface, which brings the design closer to the eye and widens the field of view. This way the patient is able to reach the intermediate and near zones faster. I’ve seen wearers of plano lenses that love it and high plus and minus patients that love it, so I really can’t identify a particular combination that would benefit from it the most. However I will say that with Autograph As-Worn Technology, because of the tilt and angles involved, the higher plus and minus wearers would benefit most from this technology.”

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Lab Talk-February/March 2018