Solving the Consumables Puzzle--Faster, Better, Cheaper

By Liz Martinez, ABOC, NCLC
The wholesale laboratory business is driven by the “faster, better, cheaper” mentality. Labs are always looking for ways to increase profits by incorporating these three elements into lens processing methods.

In order to help labs become more successful, equipment manufacturers have brought to market consumables designed to give labs an edge over their competitors. To discuss new products in the consumables category, as well as strategies that labs can incorporate to do business faster, better and cheaper, LabTalk assembled a panel of industry experts, who share their knowledge with readers: Al Bednar, director of sales and technical service at Practical Systems Inc. (PSI); Sylvia Sadofsky-Saavedra, creative services manager at DAC Vision; Satisloh’s Steve Schneider, product manager, consumables; and licensed optician Russell Gagain, ABOC, NCLC, Gerber Coburn’s product specialist.

FASTER

Polycarbonate, which is the “new standard” lens material, along with the widely used Trivex material, are known for requiring the longest fining times. After fining, these lenses have to be polished for a standard cycle time of six minutes. However, several companies have addressed the required processing times, providing new ways of decreasing the necessary lens processing time and thereby increase throughput for wholesale labs.

DAC Vision offers Quattro lens polish, whose chemistry is specifically designed for resin lens materials and which is especially useful for labs that produce high volumes of polycarbonate. Poly, which has presented difficulties since its inception, is still one of the lab’s biggest challenges. According to the company, when Quattro is used in combination with the Lumina polishing pad, it can improve throughput by up to 33 percent, while offering excellent surface quality.

According to Al Bednar of PSI, “The trend in recent months has been to promote shorter cycle times for both fining and polishing because of advances in materials. The industry has been told forever that six minutes is the emphasized polishing time. Now, with new abrasive and polishing products, labs can see a time savings of up to 50 percent in fining and up to 25 to 30 percent in the polishing process, under the right conditions,” he added. PSI provides the Red Revolution One-Step Fining Pad for poly, which the company says can halve cycle times under optimal operating conditions.

Steve Schneider of Satisloh has also seen the emphasis that has been placed on faster production of late. To address the time factor, the company introduced the Accelerated Cycle Time (ACT) process at Vision Expo West in September 2009. “The ACT process consists of three components,” he explained. “We’ve looked at ‘systems’ rather than individual consumables, and we’ve brought together the fining pad, polish and polish pad together so they all work as a whole to bring about an extreme decrease in time and an increase in production.” According to Schneider, ACT allows labs to reduce lens production time by 39 percent, reducing the six-minute cycle to about four-and-a-half minutes. “Poly and Trivex take the longest time for fining, and then polishing is a standard 6 minutes,” Schneider echoed. “This new process can reduce cycle time to allow for a production increase of 25 percent per line of equipment, which is a standard two finers and five polishers,” he added.

BETTER

Schneider acknowledged that just reducing cycle times is not the whole answer for a lab that wants to be competitive. “Quality is the most important thing,” he emphasized. “You can run at lower times, but what is your quality? Labs need to see reduced cycle times and increased throughput while maintaining a benchmark of quality,” he added.

Maintaining excellent lens quality is one of the reasons that Satisloh developed ACT as a system designed to be used as a whole, rather than just individual components, Schneider said. “Lots of labs have to use multiple fining pads for the various materials,” he pointed out. “We now offer one material—one abrasive fining pad that decreases the number of choices the lab operator has to make. In turn, this lessens the number of mistakes that are made.” He said that the polish pad works with the polish to provide a higher speed and that the mechanics of the polish and the pad together work to produce a lens with clear optics.

Sylvia Sadofsky-Saavedra of DAC Vision said that Quattro polish not only helps increase throughput for all plastic lens materials, including poly, but also improves the lens surface when used in combination with the Lumina polishing pad to enhance coating, which is a key factor for poly processing. Lumina was designed to be used with new, chemically enhanced polishes such as Quattro so that the full benefit of the polish is achieved. The pad is constructed using a mixture of fiber lengths and densities that allow optimum support and distribution of the slurry onto the lens surface while reducing pad carryout to minimize polish usage. Lumina comes in “Low-Tack” for bare lap and “High-Tack” for base pad adhesives.

According to DAC Vision, its products allow labs to set their polishing times for optimum flow, which makes them appealing to all labs, regardless of volume. And while smaller labs may not have the same urgent need as larger ones to reduce polishing times from the standard six minutes to four minutes, labs of any size are able to take advantage of improved surface quality because of Quattro’s chemistry, which is designed to be user-friendly for both operators and equipment.

Russ Gagain of Gerber Coburn pointed to the 3M Blue Chip Protectors, LSE Pads, and Anti-Slip Disks as products that his company provides to improve lens processing. The Blue Chip Protectors are 35mm round discs designed to protect lenses from scratching during finishing. When they’re combined with 3M Leap III Pads, they help reduce slippage during edging. The Anti-Slip Disk is also designed to work with Leap III finishing blocking pads when edging anti-reflective coated lenses. The 3M LEAP LSE pads are made especially to adhere to hydrophobic coatings and to maintain axis stability because of its dual adhesive system. When coated, expensive lenses are able to stay in place during processing, the lab’s processing success rate increases.

CHEAPER

Bednar of PSI pointed out that while “reduced cycle time” is the new buzzword, the time that is actually required for processing will depend in part on laboratory conditions. “Temperature control, equipment that is properly calibrated, tooling that is a good match to the generator—as long as these things are in place, cycle time can be cut when using the new products,” he said. But if these elements are not prioritized, no consumables will make much of a difference in terms of processing success. Bednar also encouraged labs to look at where the real savings are coming from and explained that the new consumables themselves don’t generally cost any less than the existing products. “Red Revolution is competitive in price to what already exists,” he said. “The dollar savings comes from having to run a machine for only two-and-a-half minutes instead of six minutes. When you reduce the machine’s running time, you’re reducing the amount of water running over it and electricity used,” he pointed out. “So you’re saving cycle time, but you’re also using less energy and decreasing water consumption. All of this results in a savings of money and time, and an increase of productivity and throughput.”

Gagain of Gerber Coburn added that while in-lab processing is a critical consideration, what happens to the lenses once they leave the lab is of at least equal importance. “The lab has spent all this money in making a good lens out of a good material, and often, has added premium coatings,” he said. “So the lab has an interest in maintaining its pristine condition. By the time you get to the edging process, the next step is to make sure the lens doesn’t slip and avoid scratching it.”

He recommended that labs take the extra step of teaching the ECP to communicate with the patient about the quality of their new lenses. “The patient needs to be told to use a cleaning cloth, for example,” he said. “The message to the patient is that this lens is special and has to be taken care of. The last thing the lab wants, after making a high-quality, high-value lens, is for the lens to come back under warranty because it’s been scratched.” According to our panel of experts, labs that employ the latest techniques along with the newest consumables can indeed achieve their goals of increased productivity and profitability while processing lenses “faster, better and cheaper.”

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Labtalk May/June 2018