What You Need to Know About...CONDENSING LAB FLOOR SPACE

By Ken Lento

Way back when, more than 10 years ago labs started to use conveyor systems to minimize tray handling. This allowed tray flow to machines and optical lab processes to be automated. The initial layouts were accumulation loops of conveyor, which worked great, but required much more floor space. The evolution of conveyors has certainly improved in optical labs, and today, labs are saving space; creating an environment that lab personnel attending to machines are more efficient. Who would have thought that the way trays are conveyed and handled would have gone so far and so different, much like the movie Back to the Future?

Lab layouts today are aiming to put the machines in a straight line and as close together as possible. This type of layout minimizes the required space for machines and conveyors, allows for more machines and future growth by shortening the distance between machines.

This type of set up works perfect for new digital process machines where the automation handles the process from taping, blocking, generating, lens engraving and polishing. This type of layout also reduces the length of piping for swarf and utilities.

Exhibit A Lift and Transfer

In addition to these space saving layouts, the way in which the optical tray is handled from the conveyor to the machines is changing. There are several ways in which this part of the tray handling process is accomplished—lift and transfer type devices, pusher/puller devices and now collaborative robots. All of these solutions are effective, but have various levels of complexity and costs. The good news being that all devices can be fully electric thus eliminating the need for pneumatics, which have long been an issue for optical labs. In Exhibit A below, there is a picture of a lift and transfer solution—very compact and transfers trays from below the conveyor height, lifting the tray to transfer from point to point. The photo in Exhibit B is a FlexLink solution using a collaborative robot. Collaborative robots are taking the industry by storm because they provide a simpler and very effective method for transferring a tray from a conveyor to a machine and back to the conveyor. Collaborative robots are designed to work around people without the need for additional safety guarding.

Exhibit B Collaborative Robot

The optical industry is evolving allowing the way labs produce to evolve as well. More automated, and more efficient is the way to go. Conveyor systems get the work efficiently to where the trays need to go and with space saving technology, lab floor space can be maximized to add additional machines or future growth. It also doesn’t hurt having machines close together so operators tending to machines can do their job faster and more efficient.

All of the above technologies are already in or scheduled to be installed into an optical lab. The floor space gained from the introduction and acceptance of conveyor systems and collaborative robots has greatly impacted efficiency in an optical lab. The evolution of machines and lens processing will continue and as will the way trays are conveyed and handled. It is definitely…Back to the Future!

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May/June LabTalk 2017