Fashion & Finishing Bump Heads

By Linda Little
Just when you think you’ve got a handle on the best way to process current lens materials and shapes, along comes fashion! And today, fashion and finishing are bumping heads in the finishing department. Whether it’s the smaller frame sizes, the larger frame sizes, wrap styles, or new coatings on the lenses; fashion is frustrating the finishing room!

Today’s ‘cutting edge’ frames are causing lens-finishing processes to re-evaluate the equipment and steps. Steeply curved frames pose special challenges to both lens manufacturers and equipment manufacturers. Many labs are facing the shear limitations of their equipment, whether they are mechanical and/or physical. Often the speed of the edger, the cutter, and/or the material application is not quite right for today’s frames. Add to that the new hydrophobic coatings, which improve the lens quality but can create a slippage problem at the edger, and the most qualified lab technician can be challenged.

Or perhaps your competitors are using remote tracing to their advantage and your customers are talking about it… do you go invest with a software company and give your customers tracers to keep them tied to you? Competition can be fierce to a finishing department and who wants to lose customers to technology?

Maybe you just inherited your father’s Oldsmobile, as they say, and want to upgrade from 1990 Trace N’Edge systems to this century’s models. For whatever reason your finishing department is not performing at the level you would like, what do you do?

We don’t see too many labs throwing out their equipment and starting over these days, so how does a laboratory remain competitive in its service, efficient in its investments and stay on top of trends as well?

According to Kevin Paddy, product manager for Satisloh, they start with a plan. “The first step is to sit down with a manufacturer and create an investment plan that will give your finishing department the biggest bang for your buck.” (What … no concern for fashion trendsetting? Does he know my father?)

“Most people today don’t upgrade in one swoop,” added Paddy. “A lab manager should look for those opportunities to reduce labor costs and spoilage.” Based on each individual laboratory’s equipment and process mix, identifying technology that will reduce costs is the right move for seeing an acceptable return on the investment. Planning out the finish laboratory upgrades over time also allows the lab to see the results of each upgrade.

Identify the spoilage and find the initial cause, Paddy recommends. “If the data is bad, a new edger isn’t going to reduce spoilage. Start with the first step that can make a difference, find a way to improve the data.” This sound advice can also be applied to high cost labor. Determining why the cost of labor is high and where, will identify potential improvements whether equipment or process related, to reduce the labor costs. These two priorities will help the finishing department manager in identifying the necessary improvements that would make a difference now and for the long term. But back to that fashion influence… surely no one needs a plan to see that today’s fashion is causing havoc in the lab and changes should be made immediately? Isn’t that how it is to be in fashion? Or moving quickly to address a competitive situation? Or you just can’t stand the thought of 20-year-old technology or your father’s Olds?

“Technology has really improved and should be considered,” according to John Stellano, technical service representative for National Optronics and industry veteran. “Finishing equipment, specifically edgers, have become more flexible over the past two years with a larger left to right range and higher curve capability. New edgers can offer flexibility, adaptability and allow the operator to tailor the lenses to fit the frame.” But when asked about how one knows when and what to upgrade, Stellano echoes Paddy.

“Always identify the areas of cost—where can you improve,” commented Stellano. “If you are experiencing huge spoilage with hydrophobic coated lenses, upgrade your lens blocking pads first.” It is true that the older edgers aren’t going to have the capability to increase or decrease the pressure for chucking; or slow down feed rates for certain materials. “If these jobs are increasing in the lab, they slow the finish process down, and they take skill and manual operation. The increase cost of labor and the reduction in production might justify a new edger.”

Many finishing departments have liked the new 7E dry cut edger by National Optronics due to their offering of different cutters for large and wrap frames. Lisa Smith, national sales manager for National Optronics added “edgers today can handle the small frames and wrap frames. They do not have the mechanical limitations of past edgers. The different cutters follow the base curve of the frame and different bevels can be cut as well.”

Finish lab managers have also benefited from reviewing their consumables and the role they play in spoilage and labor costs. The new hydrophobic-coated lenses are really giving finishing technicians problems. The coated lens is an expensive reject if it slips during edging. Some solutions have been to control the chucking pressure, others to coat after the edging thus handling the lens twice, and still others have found a switch to the new blocking pads specific for these lenses to have made a difference. Again focusing on a cost issue allows labs to set their priorities for improvements.

Another recommendation is to look for industrial strength products. Invest in the right products for the work the lab is doing and expect those products to be durable, reliable and easily serviced. Although technology is moving swiftly within the optical industry, equipment invested in today will not be so obsolete that it is a throw away next year or during the next five years. The equipment is computer controlled, automated for ease of operation, lab software communicates lens and Rx data, lens materials drive different processing steps, and the edgers have become more flexible and adaptable to frame sizes, bevels and lens shapes.

Additional investments will most likely be additions not replacements of today’s new products. The ES3 edger from Satisloh is a good example of a day-to-day workhorse that will serve the lab well handling todays fashion trends as well as tomorrows. So nothing impractical here from these finish room experts, just a focus on reducing costs—labor and spoilage.

When asked what areas of finishing are still frustrating given the advancements in equipment and consumable technology? An overwhelming … “FASHION!” was heard. The enormous amount of frames available, the equally large range of quality and the number one concern—the consumers’ lack of understanding that the wrap frame will look different with prescription lenses than it did with Plano sunglasses. And there isn’t a magic solution for that until frame manufacturers and finishing equipment manufacturers work together. Ah…but we can hope!

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May/June LabTalk 2017