LAYER BY LAYER: BUILDING PROFITS ONE COAT AT A TIME

By Julie Bos
Is your company ready to build revenue and reduce send-outs by bringing AR coating in-house? It’s a topic that’s on many labs’ minds these days—especially among those who are intent on sharpening their competitive edge, improving quality and shortening turnaround time.

Despite the obvious benefits, however, this decision should not be taken lightly or made without considering all the angles. Adding new equipment at the wrong time can have disastrous effects on your operation and adding a new service offering will certainly cause ripples that permeate every department in your organization.

If you’re considering jumping into the AR coating arena, getting the right information—before you commit—is key. To help, we sought input from several of today’s leading AR coating equipment providers: Chemat Vision, Coburn Technologies, Leybold Optics and Satisloh.

What are the primary benefits of adding AR capabilities in-house?

“The benefits are fairly obvious—improved profitability on AR jobs, increased AR job volume, control of AR quality, ability to offer more AR products and improved AR and total job turnaround time,” said Curt Brey, vice president of marketing and business development at Coburn Technologies. “These factors are major motivators during the decision-making process.”

Kevin Cross, manager of U.S. ophthalmic sales and marketing for Leybold Optics, points out another perk. “By bringing AR in house, labs can also offer more choices, such as ‘house’ brands or ‘value’ brands, in addition to premium and national-branded coatings that appeal to their markets and customers—without being forced to use other products simply because that’s all that’s available from their current coating partner,” he said.

Despite all these benefits, however, Brey says there’s more to consider when adding in-house AR—specifically concerning the AR company you plan to partner with for the system and support services. It’s wise to do your due diligence when comparing various vendors, so your lab can determine the partner that’s the best fit.

Is my lab a good candidate for in-house AR coating?

Most agree there are few things a lab can add to their offerings that have the return on investment that AR coating does. But how do you know if your lab is a good candidate?

Brian Peterson, director of coating products at Satisloh shared one specific guideline.

“If a lab is focused on premium products, including polarized, progressives and high index lenses, they should seriously consider bringing AR coating in-house,” he said.

I’m interested in bringing AR coating in house, but how can I know when the time is right?

Determining the right timing is all about three factors: your market, your demographics and your job volume—specifically, do you have the volume to justify the investment? Once you evaluate your job volume and market potential, you can calculate your improvement in profitability and therefore, the return on investment and payback.

Not surprisingly, different companies have different opinions about when it makes sense to bring in AR coating.

According to Henry Zheng, president of Chemat Vision, if your lab’s monthly AR bill is larger than $1,000, it’s a good time to consider adding a Chemalux machine into the system to lower your bills and remain competitive.“If your AR volume is small—as low as around 10 pairs a day—a Chemalux coater could offer lower capital investment and offer multifunction coating, such as AR, SR and mirror coatings,” he said.

Kevin Cross provides a different measure. “At Leybold Optics, we’ve found that the magic number is around 40 AR jobs per day,” he said. “At this volume, you can cover the cost of the equipment and consumables while attaining the ever-elusive ‘break-even’ point. Also, when bringing in digital or free-form processing, it’s important to consider bringing in AR at the same time because the two go hand-in-hand. Premium lenses need to be paired with AR coating. Nothing is worse than having to send out your free-form lenses to be coated—thus adding to the turnaround time.”

Brian Peterson says the magic number may be even lower.

“With the offers available today, if your lab is outsourcing more than 20 pairs per day, you should consider bringing AR coating in house,” he said.

Should my lab’s geographic location be considered?

Absolutely. According to Curt Brey, some areas of the U.S. have a much higher percentage of AR volume than others. In affluent cities, AR volume is usually far higher than more rural areas (where the daily volume is typically in the teens or less). It’s always helpful if a business is already selling AR, and has the opportunity to increase that volume over time.

Average AR volume in the U.S. is typically 25-30 percent of the total lab job volume and it’s not uncommon for a business to witness an immediate increase in AR volume of another 20-25 percent simply by adding the service in-house.

What should I know before investing in AR coating technology?

“Outside of being able to justify the expense through volume and profitability, labs should also consider the system features, the system complexity, technology learning curve, the space required for the system and the company from which you’ll be buying the system, including its service and support structure,” said Brey. “The cost of true AR technology has come down greatly in recent months as new systems have been introduced to meet the needs of a larger variety of businesses.”

“Don’t forget, it’s important to look for a system that will generate the same or better AR results than what you’re currently getting through your outsource providers,” he added. “You need AR quality that you can stand behind—and that will meet the needs of your clients long-term.”

What else does my lab need (beside the equipment) to make this transition a success?

Like most capital equipment purchases, acquiring the equipment itself is just one part of the equation.

Kevin Cross said, “When considering bringing AR coating in-house, there are certain facility requirements—power, water and air are just a few. You also need to have the proper space—at least an extra 400 square feet to support the coater and peripheral equipment. A clean room is not needed, but a positively pressurized room (at the least) is.

“You need to make sure you’re filtering the air so that particulate matter isn’t floating around and contaminating the lenses,” he added. “You’ll also need a ‘gray room’ that’s apart from the AR areas, where you can hold peripheral equipment.”

Brian Peterson agrees that a designated space is essential. “The space should be separated from the surfacing lab by a room designed to sustain a clean room-level of a class 100,000 minimum (class 10,000 for dip coating) with environmental controls (HVAC) to maintain a year-round condition of 70 +/-2 degrees and a relative humidity of 50 +/-5 percent.

For optimal results, collaborate with an equipment provider who can conduct a complete facility review and provide details about what’s needed where—well in advance of the acquisition.

What if my lab doesn’t have a lot of extra space?

Not to worry, says Curt Brey. “With the introduction of new AR coating systems designed for retail and lower-volume applications, the system components have become smaller and more convenient for fitting in tighter spaces,” he said. “Many systems also include a clean airflow booth, which provides clean-room-like performance in a standalone unit. This makes preparation for the system installation less complicated.”

In addition, Zheng said that Chemat equipment doesn’t require a clean room, since the coater can be used in the same environment as the scratch-resistant coater in the laboratory. Plus, the system footprints are very small, which helps space-challenged laboratories adopt this technology without making major renovations.

What’s the Latest in AR Coating Systems?

Chemat Vision

Offers products for small-to-midsize labs that are doing 10-100 AR jobs per day. Main features include small footprints and low capital investment thresholds. A Chemalux 100 coater is ideal for up to 12 AR pairs a day. A Chemalux 300 coater is the choice for up to 35 AR pairs a day; and a Chemalux 600 coater is excellent for up to 120 AR pairs a day.

Coburn Technologies

• Recently introduced an updated line of AR coating systems including four models and several configuration options that range from high-volume wholesale application to the first true retail ion-assisted vacuum deposition AR coating system. Main features include: high reliability, user-friendliness, cost-effectiveness, compact footprint and high performance at the touch of a button. Leybold Optics

• Recently introduced a new, premium AR coating process—EMInent—developed as an “Integrated Process Solution” (the AR layer stack was designed in conjunction with lens hard coatings to provide an optically superior and long-lasting AR product).

Satisloh

• Offers a solution for every size lab: the SP200 (for low-volume, entry-level labs producing up to 40 jobs per day); the MC380 (for the small-to-midsize labs producing 50-250 jobs per shift); and the 1200DLX (for large labs doing 500+ jobs per day).

1. Is the equipment scalable and upgradeable? Can it grow with my demand? (Not having to continue purchasing new equipment as your demand grows is key.)

2. Will my equipment investment limit my choice of brand partners? (Some equipment is not qualified to process coatings for all brands.)

3. What else comes with the equipment? Do you get AR processes that match your needs? Do you get ongoing service? Does it include training and production support to keep your AR processes performing at their optimal level?

Adding In-House AR?

Here’s How to Avoid Challenges in Your Edging Department

Considering the new possibilities with AR coating, your lab may soon be jumping in the game. However, if you invest in AR equipment, you may create challenges in your edging department. Here are some tips that may help to ease the problem:

• Always clean lenses thoroughly with isopropyl alcohol and a soft cloth (to remove hydrophobic coating not tightly adhered to the AR stack).

• Allow super-hydrophobic lenses to normalize (after removal from the AR chamber) prior to finishing.

• Speed the time between blocking and finishing (to assure the pad and block are well bonded).

• Remember, one blocking pad won’t solve all your AR needs. Try few different pads before you determine the one that best matches your equipment and lenses.

• Use a blocking pad that fits well underneath the block (and take into account the front curvature of the lens to optimize pad adhesion).

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May/June LabTalk 2017