Tech Talk: Automation


Staff Reports


When Is It Time to Automate?

A common mistake for labs is to hold onto the perception that automation is only for large-scale operations. This is simply not the case. Labs that currently have little to no automation can incorporate many small implementations that can have an immediate impact on throughput and efficiency, while at the same time reducing unnecessary breakage.

One example is to have better control over their curing process between blocking and generating. The addition of a timed curing conveyor to transport trays from the blocking stations to the generators is a low-cost way to eliminate human intervention while creating a continuous workflow. The trays are timed to arrive at the generator(s) after they have reached their required curing time. This allows your generator/s to operate at a higher level of efficiency than you would if you had an operator manually loading trays into these machines. These operators can then be better utilized at the blocking stations where they can focus on blocking the lenses. Typically these operators would be distracted with trying to keep track of how long the lenses have been curing while simultaneously stacking trays. This simple technique also greatly reduces the risk of operators occasionally dropping stacks of trays as they manually transport them from one process to the next.

FlexLink Systems has designed a solution for this common application. It’s a smart cool down conveyor system that we’ve eloquently named our “Tray Hotel.” The tray hotel uses our fully electric elevators with multiple floors/levels of our Vision X conveyor to provide a compact modular solution. This then allows labs to have control over their curing process through the ability to prioritize jobs based on different criteria such as required curing times or dedicated job specifications. The tray hotel can be designed for all sizes of optical labs based on their current production needs and can be easily expanded for future growth requirements.

At FlexLink Systems, we try to make lab automation easy by walking side by side with our customers through the steps and processes necessary for automating their optical labs. FlexLink provides a consultative approach that specifically caters to the optical industry, keeping a sharp focus on your labs future goals. Technology advancem­­­ents in optical lab automation will continue to evolve with more innovators developing new processing and manufacturing models and procedures. Companies that accept and embrace these new technologies will have a greater advantage over their competitors. Adding automation to an optical lab will improve product quality, optimize labor resources and greatly improve turnaround times while lowering overall operating costs. When is the best time to automate? With more and more optical labs realizing the benefits of automation there is a good chance that the competition already has. Have you?

--Jason Long, Optical Sales and Application Engineer, FlexLink Systems, Inc.

3D Printing and Your Automation Plans

With a 3D printer from Luxexcel, a lens can be created within one machine. After creation of the lens within the printer, the lens is ready to be coated. Automation for 3D printing is really a question of how to get lenses physically to the coating area and how to manage your production flow within your lab management system.

--Guido Groet, Chief Medical Officer, Luxexcel

When to automate...

This can be a tricky question to answer since for most labs the answer depends on their individual circumstances. Some will say when they reach “X” amount jobs per day they will bring in automation. Some start right away. The real answer here is when it makes sense for you. To start you should think about the following questions:

1.  Will automation save me money and maintain the quality standard we have?

2.  Are there tasks in the lab that are best served with automation?

3.  Do I have good people that would be better off doing a more value-added task in the lab?

For lots of lab owners the cost of labor can be different based on your region so for some labor costs are not an issue while for issues it can cause some sleepless nights. The real question here is #3 above—would I better off moving good people to tasks that provide real value to the lab and its customers? If the answer is “yes,” then automation is something to look at. Another part to this is how hard it can be to find good people to come to work every day. Once we have good people we want to make sure they feel great about their job and keep them motivated. This can be done by automating tasks that provide minimal value to the lens making process. Functions like lens blocking, loading and unloading polishers and generators or de-blocking and de-taping lenses should be some of the first to be evaluated for automation. This can free up some good people in the lab to do other tasks that provide real value while making the employee feel needed. There are lots of other concerns like space and machine costs you will also need to consider. Have a conversation with your machine suppliers and see what makes sense for you and when. Your suppliers are a great resource of information like ROI calculators, layout and design as well as market trends.

--Kevin Cross, Vice President Sales, North America, Schneider Optical Machines Inc.



May/June LabTalk 2017