The Daily Grind, What’s New in Generators

By Linda Little
It wasn’t that long ago (1989) that surfacing equipment stood alone in the laboratory, performance dependant on the machine itself; whether computer numerically controlled (CNC) or manually controlled, the data for each lens was input by the operator. As efficiency, productivity and quality requirements increased, machine manufacturers began to identify how they could improve the surfacing process by reducing laboratory costs; specifically the cost per lens to surface. Today’s ‘new’ technology in generating is the direct result of the concepts and technology that have been developed and introduced since that time.

As with any new technology, this has been a long time in development. In the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, two machines were introduced that initiated today’s available technology options. Both the Gerber SGX Generator and the Coburn IQ Lensmaker Lathe were three-axis generators, capable of creating a continuous toric surface more precise than previous generators. The IQ Lensmaker’s single point diamond cutter was an advancement that reduced the fining and polishing times as well as improving the accuracy of the generator and quality of the lens. These new generators created a platform for the lab management software companies, pad designers and manufacturers, and lens companies to create new products and services that would allow a laboratory to have a seamless interface, new fining and polish systems and new, more sophisticated lens designs and materials that could be generated on three axis generators with precision tools.

The pace of introducing sophisticated equipment in the U.S. market has been driven by the cost of the development and the processing improvements that are needed, plus an industry that is ready. DAC International and Micro Optics were early pioneers, introducing machines that would produce a lens that could be polished or coated. Although a very exciting concept, the industry wasn’t ready for the ‘investment’ level nor was the process ready in a way that would meet the market’s need for reducing the cost to process a lens and a timely return on investment.

Why the history lesson? The time between concept development and offering an affordable, accurate new process has been necessary in order for continuous development efforts by machinery manufacturers, lens management software companies and the supply companies to get the industry ready. Now the generating news is sophisticated technology available from machinery manufacturers, lab software companies, and lens companies for any size laboratory with an attractive return on investment.

The three-axis generators offered today are using the same concepts of those early three-axis generators only better—with improved components, the same job can be done faster, result in higher quality lenses and the surfacing cost per lens has improved. The new generators produce accurate, high quality lenses that are ready for polishing—toric, aspheric, direct-to-polish, direct surfacing, convex, and concave surfaces. The real ‘new’ technology is soft lap polishing. From the new polishers to the new materials used, the lenses are truly ‘polished’ without changing the curve generated into the lens.

With the capability of the equipment and the willingness of lens companies to make their design data available, direct surfacing technology has come of age. Significantly increased margins can be achieved on a directly surfaced progressive lens including inventory reductions as well as lower production costs. The necessary elements for direct surfacing include the lens design and data from the lens company, the generator and polisher with soft lap polishing capability, and probably the most difficult job, creating the lens management software that interfaces with the equipment and communicates the necessary data. Direct surfacing technology continues to move toward a seamless process offering significant gains in a lab’s return on investment for this technology.

Whether a lab is ready to add direct surfacing or take advantage of the gains in cut to polish with options for the future, there are several proven options available for any lab of any size, whether producing 150 jobs per day or 1,000’s. Here’s what the manufacturers’ have to say:

DAC International, Inc offers their RxD Lathe, a high precision diamond turning lathe for spectacle lens back surface generation of base curves, cylinder and prism. All plastic lens surfaces are ready for soft lap polishing. The fully automatic operation was built on the advanced technology of contact lens generating. DAC International was one of the first to actually be capable of producing a lens that could go direct to polish. They were also one of the first systems that offered direct surfacing working with Shamir Optical’s FREEFORM ™ lens designs. Additional efficiency is gained with the RxD Lathe Automation auto-loading system.

The NSLP Soft Lap Polisher, also by DAC International, offers the latest in CNC controlled soft lap polishing. The X Axis controls the motion of the dual heads of the polisher, following a pre-programmed path for optimum polishing efficiency. Using time-tested, cloth-covered, air-filled polishing tools, surfaces off the RxD Lathe can be polished in three minutes or less. The HMI with touch screen input provides clearly displayed operational information regarding lap position, pressure, lap and lens RPM and cycle time remaining. DAC International offers a relatively low cost entry to a high-tech solution.

Gerber Coburn developed the Diamond Turning Lathe Generator (DTL) as the platform for technology advancements. With several options, the DTL’s industrial-strength, expandable platform helps labs improve productivity and cut operating costs. For labs seeking to further reduce labor costs, an automation option is available. In 2006, Gerber Coburn launched the Cut-to-Polish Option for their DTL 100, an affordable high-speed, dry-cut, single point diamond turning lathe that employs precision diamond machining technology for traditional or advanced lens processing. The Cut-to-Polish Option advances the performance of the DTL 100 high-speed version to produce an extremely smooth lens surface. The surface quality enables plastic or polycarbonate lenses to move directly to conventional or soft tool polishing equipment. The company plans a direct surfacing process option to be released this year.

Opto Tech Optical Machinery, Inc, a long established supplier in Europe introduced their advanced surfacing production cells in the U.S. in 2005. They offer three production cells for prescription ophthalmic lenses. The Basic Compact Cell consists of the Digital Surfacing Generator ASM 80 CNC-TC and the Digital Surfacing Polisher ASP 80 CNC, offered in manual or automatic. Building on this platform, their Compact Cell “A-Toric” includes the automatic generator ASM 80 CNC-TC and the automatic polisher ASP 80 CNC. Referred to as the ‘smartLAB-a-toric,’ this system manufactures aspheric and a-toric plastic lenses.

The ‘smartLAB-Compact’ cell offers direct surfacing capabilities for those who want to start slowly or expand into higher production of direct surfaced lenses. This compact lab has the technological capability to produce digital data surfaces to the highest level of perfection. This cell can manufacture aspheric, a-toric, progressive and direct surfaced lenses. The smartLab-Compact cell includes the ASM 80 CNC generator; the ASM 80 CNC-TC manual generator and the ASP 80 CNC polisher as well as the process technology for labs to produce in-house progressive lenses for very attractive costs. Their third system, the ‘smart-LAB-Synchroline’, offers the best solution for high production. This turnkey solution includes their improved process technology for all lens formats; laser engraving technology; software package for inside-progressives and measuring technology. The cell includes the ASM 80 CNC-TC automatic; the ASP 80 CNC—Wheel automatic polisher and the ASP 80 CNC—FEM automatic polisher.

Satisloh has worked on advancing toric production to bring machines that are faster, and improve the cost per lens. Their approach has been to offer machines that can meet all of the laboratory’s needs for production. Their VFT generators offer flexibility for any surfacing requirement either with a Fast Toric manufacturing line or an All-Format manufacturing line.

For labs wanting to bring flexible tool polishing technology in-house and eliminate hard lap tools, the VFT-compact is a low cost, all format generator. The VFT-compact is designed for any size lab that needs a lower cost direct surfacing production cell. The complete cell includes the i-FLEX Polisher, a soft tool polisher for All-Format lens surfaces of organic materials, convex and concave shapes, spheric/toric and direct surfaced lenses. Satisloh also recommends the Lens-Engraver-LC, a high precision laser engraving system for marking ophthalmic progressive lenses.

Those labs that are ready to upgrade to higher production capability should look at the VFT Ultra and Auto-FLEX Polisher for either Fast Toric manufacturing or All-format manufacturing line. The VFT-ultra offers fully automated lens processing with integrated loading. The VFT- Ultra works with a two step process: first the patented FastProcessing disc cutting method and then the fast-tool turning axis processes a ready-to-polish surface, suitable for fast flexible tool polishing. The VFT-ultra-S offers the same features with even greater productivity. The Auto-FLEX is a fully automated soft polishing system with a tool magazine providing continuous, unassisted operation complete with a lens washing station. The Auto-FLEX achieves fast polishing times without compromising the generated surface.

Schneider Optical Machines continues to offer equipment options that allow customers to choose the surfacing solution for their specific lab requirements. Their surfacing equipment handles all of today’s lab requirements from prescription aspheric, toric, concave, convex and direct surfaced lenses. The HSC Master generator builds on the HSC 101 generator platform, with faster production capabilities. The HSC generators are capable of producing a generated lens surface requiring only a short polishing time. The HSC Master generator offers a two-motor combination of robustness and precision, automated loading arm for pick and place operation and sophisticated geometrics, plus a rugged industrial design.

Computer controlled polishing has been an integral part of Schneider’s vision to process individual surfaces with intelligent automated production lines. Combining adaptive tools, permanent pads and special polishing spindles with the automatic tool/lens handling system and post cleaning of lenses, the CCP 101 became the first fully automated polisher on the market. The new CCP 102 polishes two lenses simultaneously, in one machine, increasing production capabilities. The combination of the HSC generator and the CCP 102 polisher offers a fully automated surfacing solution offering high productivity and quality in a small footprint. Schneider also offers the computer-controlled laser marking system CCL 100E which produces industrial marking solutions for automated Rx and direct surfacing production lines.

Customers with smaller operations would be interested in the HSC Smart generator. The compact and self-sufficient HSC Smart offers the quality and robustness that is needed to produce all prescription and direct surfaced lenses. The CP Swift polisher can polish with just one conformable tool almost all of the Rx and direct surfaced lenses. Expanding their line, the new, manual DB Bond blocker offers lens alignment accuracy and production modularity. These three manual machines complete a surfacing line for lower production labs.

Data Communication Standards Task Force The interfacing and communication component will get a boost this year thanks to the Vision Council of America’s (VCA) Data Communication Standards Task Force and Direct Surfacing Task Force. During their January 2007 meetings held in Dallas, the Direct Surfacing Task Force addressed the communication standards for direct surfacing and its soft lap polishing. The Data Communication Standards (DCS) (formerly referred to as the OMA standards) define how data is passed around the laboratory communicating between lab computers and machine computers. It is recognized worldwide as the defining document for data communication between machines and laboratory management/processing software.

“The task force is working to integrate a direct surfacing standard into the overall document that is currently used worldwide,” explained Ken Wood, technical director for the VCA. “With the introduction of direct surfacing, even more work has had to be done between the lens design companies and the equipment companies to understand what each needs in order to process a quality lens.” The original concept of creating standards was initiated by VCA’s Lens Processing Technology Division to better serve their customers. The laboratories are often the customers of the equipment and software members of the VCA and use of this standard benefits the labs as well as their suppliers through reduced costs and smoother integration of new systems into the lab.

The lab management software suppliers have the tough job of writing the interface and communication data for direct surfacing and direct to polish technologies to be seamless within the lab. This year, what’s new in generating will be the increasing capability for labs to run all jobs the same way through the lab, thanks to the capability and communication of the software and the machines.

Linda Little began her optical industry career in 1986 working for Coburn Optical Industries, Inc. as their manager for marketing communications before moving up to director, marketing services. Ms Little joined DAC Vision in 1994 as vice president of marketing and was promoted to managing director of the ophthalmic division. She was then tapped to establish a North American sales and service organization for WECO in 1999. During her tenure in the optical industry, Ms. Little served on many industry committees and was the founder and president of the Optical Women’s Association. Ms. Little is currently working as a freelance writer based in Dallas, Texas.

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Labtalk-November/December 2017