Get Ready, Cause Here I Come

By Bob Niemiec
Little did the Temptations know that when those words were sung that they were going to be predicting the state of direct surfacing (DS) in North America some 40 years later. While the technology to directly surface lenses (primarily we are talking about creating progressives on the backside where generating, and in particular, fining and polishing as traditionally defined are eliminated or significantly changed.) has been alive and growing for a number of years in Europe and Asia, its presence on this continent has only more recently begun to be felt in a still small but growing way.

In the last decade there have been any number of products or processes in our industry that while perhaps initially showing promise, ultimately never achieve their full potential; DS is on a different path. Even to a casual observer, rarely, if ever, has there been the amount of industry wide resources, primarily equipment and lens vendors, working to make DS a reality. The amount of financial and intellectual capital being devoted to DS is nearly unprecedented. One only needs to have walked the floor of the recent OLA show to experience this. Still, the question remains, is this a plug and play, ready for prime time type of technology? Unfortunately, as with many things in life, the answer is that it depends on a number of things.

Unlike with traditional production methods where the product and process are somewhat independent, with DS they are much more linked. Do you understand the various types of DS lens designs that are available? Do you and will your customer understand the personalization aspect that the different designs offer? How will these designs run on the equipment you may be considering? Do you understand the issues regarding patents around backside progressives? With DS progressives, given that you are creating the lens design on the backside, are you satisfied that the process produces the design the lens designer intended?

Regarding the process itself, the capital investment required is beyond what most labs have been accustomed to making. At a very elemental level, a lab owner considering implementing DS needs to get comfortable with an investment of this magnitude. Additionally, while there are manual ways of doing DS, the process lends itself, in fact screams, to be automated; a reality that the equipment vendors have aggressively moved to accommodate. If you currently have a low level of automation have you thought through and do you understand the effects that moving to an automated process would have in your facility? Will your people perceive this as a threat? How will you explain it to them and make them a partner in making the process successful? Beyond the automation aspect is the equipment itself which, given the production tolerances for DS, is at a level of complexity and sophistication that most labs are unaccustomed to. How will you operate differently with this? Do you have the maintenance staff that understands and can deal with this level of sophistication? Given a realistic assessment of their capabilities and capacity, can they be trained to deal with the technical challenges that DS presents?

While there are a number of questions that any lab owner needs to consider when it comes to DS, they are questions that other lab players around the world have already answered or are getting answered. At this point, where the stakes are much higher and the payoff potentially much greater each lab owner needs to challenge themselves to answer the questions posed above because when it comes to DS, like the song says, “Get ready, cause here I come, I’m on my way.”

Bob Niemiec is an optical industry veteran with 14 years experience in running large volume optical facilities and in implementing new manufacturing technologies and methods. He can be reached at robertniemiec@hotmail.com.

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May/June LabTalk 2017