The Software and Hardware of Digital Surfacing

By Linda Little
Researching the new technology in progressive lenses now available to the market, I began by listing the manufacturers, materials, index of refraction, and so on just as I would have done for conventional progressives. But it doesn’t exactly work that way. Andy Huthoefer, vice president for Satisloh, suggested using the analogy of computer hardware and software during our conversation as a way of explaining the technology.

First, You Need The Hardware…

The hardware for processing digitally surfaced (direct surface, direct-to-polish, back side progressives, free-form or Free Form lenses, all various descriptions of the same) has been on the market for a couple of years. For simplicity sake, the hardware consists of a lathe that is able to utilize data points to surface the backside of a semi finished lens blank; the laser for cutting progressive markings if necessary and the soft lap polisher. When it comes to the hardware, a laboratory can invest in a complete system at many price points for various levels of production or choose a system that can process lenses conventionally as well, adding soft lap polishing and additional components as they move to processing these lenses. The large investment it takes to successfully process these lens products requires a dedication to offering the most accurate lenses possible, with the long term benefit of significant cost savings.

The reference to ‘Free-Form’ refers to the manufacturing process that allows laboratories to produce complex non-spherical surfaces with lens designs provided by lens manufacturers. The technology has been available and utilized for cutting concave surfaces to produce laps that matched the lens surface and reduced the need for traditional fining and polishing. The key for any equipment to successfully process lenses is the interface capability. To this end, major equipment manufacturers have heavily invested in interface specialists to support their customers when they are ready to move to digitally processing.

Augen Optics

Augen Optics has developed a proprietary free-form technology to fulfill the needs of the independent labs and retail chains. “We’re proud to be a technology-driven organization dedicated to all phases of the eyeglass lens development and delivery process,” said Dr. Marco Antonio Machado, founder and CEO of Augen Optics. “Free-form technology is at the forefront of the Augen strategy, with a focus not only on lenses made using free-form produced molds, but also on free-form processing equipment.”

“Our long term objective is to bring the Augen free-form processing system to the United States market,” added Dick Kapash, President, Augen Optics. “We plan to introduce the system at Vision Expo East this year.” Augen’s patented Digital Free Form Technology™, including computerized 5-axis surface generators and free form polishing machines, produces customized fine-cut lenses that deliver sharp, clear images of the highest definition.

DAC International

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 RxD Lathe Automation auto-loading system.

The NSLP Soft Lap Polisher 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

Gerber Coburn’s latest version DTL is an affordable high speed, dry-cut, single point diamond turning lathe that employs precision diamond machining technology for traditional, cut-to-polish, and digital lens processing. Built for speed and precision, the unique Hyper Speed Axis-Cutting Controller, self-contained Cutting/Swarf Chamber, and User Interface promote high lens throughput, ease-of-operation, and a clean environment. DTL uses multi-data points to ensure that semi-finished blanks are surfaced, cribbed, and safety beveled in a fast and accurate process. This helps to reduce lens spoilage while optimizing lens and lap cycle times. And, because the DTL uses a dry-cut process, the need for an expensive water-reclaiming filtration system is eliminated.

Whether labs process 250, 500, or 1,000 or more jobs a day, high speed, cut-to-polish, or direct-to-surface, DTL’s industrial-strength, and expandable platform helps labs improve productivity and cut operating costs. For those labs seeking to further reduce their labor costs by automating the process, an automated version is available.

Opto Tech

Opto Tech has brought the smartLAB “Lean” to the market. A cost-efficient lab for the production of plastic ophthalmic lenses, it is ideal for small labs wanting to produce high-quality Rx-lenses with a minimum of stock costs. This system can produce aspheric prescriptions, a-toric prescriptions and backside progressive lenses. The high-quality generator, ASM 80 TC can perform both edging and surfacing operations, including elliptical surfaces. Based on the Opto Tech ASP 80 FEM polishing technology, all surfaces can be polished by using one of only two long-life FEM tools.

Thanks to the ultra-modern “cut-to-polish” technology including edge and prism production used on Opto Tech’s Generator ASM 80 CNC-TC, all surfaces can now be polished direct after grinding on their new cylinder polishing machines – TORILAB X1. Opto Tech’s new Digital-Surfacing Polisher ASP 80 DT will offer high-speed polishing of two toric/atoric or backside progressive lenses simultaneously. Continuing to stress low operations costs due to the long life expected of the polishing tools and high process reliability, the ASP 80 DT will offer consistent, reproducible surface quality along with a high output for toric and digital surfaces.

Satisloh

Satisloh believes their hardware system offers a robust solution for laboratories wanting to process digitally surfaced lenses. Their equipment can cut any point file, offering all format surfacing. Satisloh’s focus is on the interface between the lens software and the equipment server that reads the point files. They work with all different lens manufacturers to make sure the lenses are cutting the way they are supposed to. If a laboratory owns a Satisloh All-Format surfacing machine, the addition of the soft tool polishing and perhaps a laser or mechanical engraver for fitting crosses is the only investment.

Satisloh has worked on advancing toric production to bring machines that are faster, to 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

For mid-sized and small labs, Schneider introduces a complete set of cost-effective surfacing equipment. Their small surfacing line starts with the manual blocker CB bond, which has been specifically designed to meet the higher requirements of precise and reliable prismatic blocking, which perfectly supports a compact Rx and direct surfacing production platform.

Schneider’s small but fully capable generator HSC Smart enables the profitable production of high-quality Rx or direct surfaced lenses in the manual or automated mode. The new double-spindle polisher CCP Swift in conjunction with the generator HSC Smart offers a very affordable solution for digitally surfaced and hard-lap-free Rx production. The lens quality produced by this compact surfacing solution is excellent. This is because the HSC Smart and the CCP Swift use the same technology and tool sets as the larger and automated solution CCP102 + HSC Master respectively - a machine tandem that has been proven to be the benchmark in digital surfacing in the last two to three years.

In the small surfacing line, there are now two very affordable options to mark the direct surfaced lenses in progress: on board of the HSC Smart, or with the new table-top CCL laser marking unit. The Phase Measuring Deflectometer, now available as a compact version, will provide first hand proof of the excellent quality of lenses made on the Schneider equipment.

And Then There is The Software…

There are several progressive lens designs available today for the production of backside surfaced progressive lenses using semi-finished spheres where the progressive design is completely machined on the concave side. Software from lens manufacturers such as Shamir, Signet Armolite, Seiko, Carl Zeiss, Sola and AO is licensed directly to the laboratories. There are different licensing agreements and base lens packages for each. The lens designs are loaded into a server or computer at the laboratory. The laboratory’s software calculates all of the measurements, including the patient’s prescription and creates a ‘points’ file. The data points are sent with the job information to the hardware (generator). With the right tools, this technology can deliver optical products with a level of customization and optical optimization not possible with mass-produced, semi-finished lenses. The processing technology of the hardware allows the lens designer to use both the front and back surfaces while taking into consideration the fit, the frame, and the patient’s prescription. The result is an optically clear, distortion free (or reduced) lens that is custom made for the patient’s prescription and frame.

Essilor

VARILUX Ellipse 360o, Physio 360o and Definity lenses all utilize 360o Digital Surfacing to optimize the VARILUX lenses. The digital surfacing utilizes a Point-by-Point Mapping™ process to evaluate the interaction of the front side design and the patients’ prescription.

HOYA

HOYA Free-Form design technology offers Hoyalux ID LifeStyle; 18mm minimum fitting height and Hoyalux ID LifeStyle CD; 14 mm minimum fitting height. Material availability includes 1.50 standard plastic; Phoenix; 1.67 EYNOA High Index; 1.50 Transitions Gray; and Phoenix Transitions Gray. These materials automatically include Super HiVision Anti-Reflective or HiVision with View Protect AntiReflective coating.

Seiko Optical Products

Seiko Optical Products offers Succeed Ws (wide and short internal free-form) and Succeed designs. These designs are available in 1.67, 1.60, polycarbonate and 1.50 materials. In clear, polarized and Transitions lenses. Minimum fitting height ranges include 11, 13, and 15mm corridor designs. The patented 100 percent back-surface design technology eliminates front curve distortion, significantly expands all visual zones and is capable of producing billions of customized, optically precise prescriptions. Seiko Optical Products also offers Perfas back-surface progressive addition lenses, which utilize their patented 100 percent back-surface design. The three new designs include Perfas Prime, Perfas Premier, and Perfas Prestige.

Shamir Insight

Shamir Insight offers two designs, the Shamir Autograph® and the Shamir Creation™. The Autograph is a custom-made personalized lens created to the highest level of optical accuracy (up to 1/100 diopter) by combining each patient's unique measures and Personalized Freeform Technology®. Shamir Autograph's patented state-of-the-art back surface design provides 20 percent wider fields of vision in all zones by bringing the design closer to the eye.

Shamir Creation was developed with patented Freeform Optics to provide design resolution up to six times more accurate than standard PALs. Shamir Creation features an extended base curve selection (up to 20 percent more than a leading competitor) providing flatter, cosmetically superior lenses (up to 40 percent flatter). The extensive base curve selection not only produces flatter progressive lenses, but also results in an optimally divided prescription range that guarantees the best optical performance for each prescription.

SOLA

SOLA offers SOLAOne progressive lenses in a variety of lens options, including semi-finished and HD–individually optimized using digital surfacing technology. The HD lenses are available in 1.67 high index and 1.67 Transitions Gray, each with an Rx range of -12.00 to +8.00 diopters and add powers of 1.00 to 3.50. SOLA’s Compact ULTRA™ is also offered as a free-form design in 1.67 high index and 1.67 Transitions Grey in a Rx range of -12.00 to + 8.00D, up to -6.00 with add powers of 0.75 to 3.50. The AO Easy is an easy wear, balanced performance progressive lens now available in a digitally surfaced lens design for 1.67 high index and 1.67 Transitions Gray.

Where Do You Start?

Learn from those laboratories that have been early adopters for this technology. They will collectively agree that it has been a learning process, and it has to be a team effort to be successful – the team of the hardware (equipment) supplier, software (lens designs) supplier, lab management software supplier, and the lab employees. More than ever before, everyone must work together for success. Ask your equipment supplier for recommendations. Find out how your lens supplier licenses software and supports you. Even if you aren’t ready today, start attending seminars, speaking to other laboratories; get up to speed with what is going on today. This is one trend every laboratory needs to be familiar with, because it’s not going away.

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May/June LabTalk 2017