Automating Surfacing & Finishing, Going with the Flow

By Seth J. Bookey
Automating the surfacing and finishing process has been in play for a while now, but with each passing year, various segments of the lens-processing method disappear as both surfacing and finishing equipment speed up job times and add new features to automate workflow and help lab personnel multitask like never before. Over the past two years, lab equipment manufacturers have made good on their promises of automation, and even some technology-resistant labs are now going ahead and investing.

“It has gone from being accepted in the last five years to what I would consider the norm in the past 24 months or so,” said Satisloh’s Kurt Atchison. “Labs have gone from considering it to making the plunge. Even small labs will implement small automation steps. This now mixes well with the remaining manual processes. They can then build by adding a piece of automation here or there. That goes for labs of all sizes.”

Atchison said that new and better technologies allow labs to “get rid of hard lap tools, as well as process freeform and other complex surfaces. This is the latest and greatest trend, and we are seeing unbelievable interest. It is the holy grail for making better optics and reducing labor.”

Tying together automated processes is key to improving workflow issues. Automating in steps results in “islands of automation in a sea of manual labor,” said Atchison, and that a lab’s ultimate goal should be to have fewer batch processes and more continuous flow.

Steve Swalgen, national director-lab business for Santinelli International, observed, “labs are faced with an opportunity and a challenge. They need to eliminate waste while pursuing concise and consistent practices when dealing with more complex lens designs. Freeform is another potentially earthshaking change, which can allow lenses to be made at the labs. Thousands of SKUs can be reduced to four or five.”

Swalgen also noted that American labs would probably follow what’s happening in Asia and Europe, where the market is more consolidated. “Lab automation, finishing and freeform are more prevalent in a consolidated [European] market.”

Cutting-Edge Edging

When it comes to edging trends, Satisloh’s Kevin Paddy noted, “Frame and lens trends happen ahead of the equipment makers’ trends.” Products like super hydrophobic AR lenses and wrap frames force equipment manufacturers to “slow down specific parts of the process without grinding the entire operation to a halt,” Paddy said.

In many labs, it is the finishing department that often has the highest rates of spoilage, primarily due to excessive lens handling. That is, human handling. This is where automating the finishing process can be revolutionary; freeing some of the best-skilled operators to multi-task. Today’s edgers also drill, groove, and bevel lenses of all types, including slippery super hydrophobic AR coating.

Another major consideration of getting automated is cost savings. Even a one-percent reduction in spoilage in a lab doing 500 jobs a day can result in an annual savings of $50,000.


DAC Vision — Harmony

The company’s Harmony one-step abrasive fining pad is designed to meet the challenges of processing polycarbonate lenses. Harmony features a unique mixture of abrasive materials that reduce fining times while providing an excellent surface finish and consistent stock removal. The pads also prevent swarf loading, resulting in fewer swirls and heat-related problems. According to DAC Vision, Harmony works on all generator surfaces and comes in a variety of shapes, backings, and adhesives.

Gerber Coburn — Dimetrix Lens Verification and Finish Blocker

Co-developed with Jerusalem-based Visionix, the company has enhanced the software in its Dimetrix product to incorporate two advanced technologies: Wavefront powerMAP Technology provides lens power analysis; while image recognition provides precise blocking, decreasing manual verifications and blocking cycle times. New left and right prism imbalance settings ensure that PALs are within tolerances, either as a complete job or as an individual lens. A manual offset mode for block axis allows the lab to set offset as needed. Diametrix can also recognize dotted lenses, key to reducing manual blocking time, especially for AR work. ANSI 2005 tolerances are pre-loaded into the unit, and labs can choose to customize them for tighter production. A daily maintenance mode has been added to optimize performance.

Satisloh — All-Format VFT with Auto-FLEX

The generating process in this line is based on Satisloh’s Fast-Tool technology, which features an extremely high-bandwidth system. The higher the bandwidth, the higher the cutting velocity in a single point turning process while keeping surface errors within tolerance, resulting in greater productivity. Multiple Auto-FLEX polishing units can be aligned depending on capacity requirements and mix of lens types. The Auto-FLEX is a fully automated polishing module with a tool magazine that provides continuous, unassisted operation and a lens-washing system. It includes a small number of disposable, “curvature optimized” polish tools that cover the entire working range. The company also has an All Format Ready surfacing system designed for smaller labs, allowing operation on all lens types, as well as freeform work.

Schneider Optical Machines — HSC Smart Generator

Schneider is introducing a compact freeform and Rx line consisting of the HSC Smart generator and the CP Swift conformable lap polisher. This unique combination brings full freeform and toric surfacing capability to virtually any small production lab. The HSC Smart is the only compact generator on the market featuring a separate generating milling tool spindle for fast stock removal of all materials including polycarbonate and Trivex. It can be purchased with or with out automation. The addition of the CP Swift manual polisher adds full polishing capability for both freeform and toric lenses to the line. The Swift features a combination of conformable soft lap polishing and the ability to use hard laps both in the same machine. The easy-to-operate, small-frame machine enables polishing of two lenses simultaneous. The CP Swift, in conjunction with the compact generator HSC Smart, enables smaller and mid-sized labs to compete in the market of high-end freeform and Rx lenses with larger labs.


AIT Industries — Evolution The company recently introduced a new generation of Maxima series edgers, including the Practica Evolution, the Maxima Evolution, and the Maxima Speed Evolution. The new series of machines, which debuted at Vision Expo West, features two new mechanical enhancements and improved electronics and more intuitive user interfaces. The new machines use servo motors rather than stepper motors, and they feature a new pin beveling and grooving assembly. Servo motors allow operators to control lens sizes and shapes to a thousandth of a millimeter, compared to other machines that get down to tenths or hundredths of a millimeter. The new beveling and grooving assembly allows tilting from zero to 15 degrees for any shape or size lens, eliminating the need for hand edging. A new microprocessor allows for faster calculations, and the series’ software gives operators the choice of classic mode for faster operation, and tutorial mode for training new operators.

Briot USA — Briot Alta

Introduced at Vision Expo West this year, the company’s latest generation edging and drilling system is designed to make in-office processing of traditional and rimless eyewear easier and more reliable. The company’s patented digiform technology enables customization by allowing the operator to modify lens sizes and shapes for rimless eyewear jobs, giving a smaller lab or practice a competitive edge. The Alta displays uncut jobs on a color screen so it can be customized for a client’s lifestyle and cosmetic requirements, for example, increasing a lower B segment for PALS, or widening A measurements for improved appearance. The Alta can automatically identify the exact placement of up to 10 drill holes or slots on the touch screen, where adjustments can be made. A complete finishing system, the Alta performs all lens-processing steps automatically, tracing frames with 5D measurements, and featuring automatic settings for hydrophobic AR lens work. DAC Vision — BluEdge

The company’s new BluEdge finishing pads assist in the finishing process by providing lenses with a high-strength, high-density carrier, designed to work with today’s longer processing times. A specially designed adhesive offers improved lens-side and block-side performance, offered in shapes to match today’s block styles and sizes. The pads are double-tabbed for easy removal. According to the company, the BluEdge conforms and adheres to all lens and block types, with a thinner bond that helps reduce axis failures. The pads are available in seven shapes, in 2,000 pads rolls.

Gerber Coburn — Kappa CTD Edger and Drill with Shape Modifier

The company’s Kappa CTD Series Finishing System, which features automatic centering and tilted drilling, now also includes the Shape Modifier, which provides an optimally suited lens shape and allows lens viewing throughout the process. Lens shapes can be modified before centering to adapt to any drilled or nylon shape, or to adjust the fit of the near-vision segment. Other modes include proportional sizing, half and full B adjustment, and single-point. The Kappa CTD system also incorporates a tracer and blocker.

LabTech — E900 Patternless Edger

LabTech’s E900 has a small footprint and uses four wheels on a vertical design to cut six different kinds of lens materials (CR-39, polycarbonate, Trivex, high-index, glass, and AR-coated) down to an 18-mm B measurement. Different water flows are used for different lens types, to reduce to minimize the chance of scratching lenses during the edging process. The unit’s OMA/VCA compliant software keeps track of statistical data and edger counts, and displays job information and error messages on a Windows-like interface. The screen also gives operators interactive customization features.

National Optronics — 7EA

This automated edging system is designed to work with a dedicated pick-and-place assembly unit for each edger. The edger’s back-loading feature provides complete accessibility to the front of the unit for both maintenance and troubleshooting. The 7EA can work with loading/unloading through either a tray stacker or a conveyor system. The patternless edger function includes drilling — the 7EA can drill up to six holes in each lens, in hole diameters or slot widths from 1 to 5 mm, and can drill chatter-free holes in plastic lenses without changing drill bits. The unit interfaces with most third-party software packages, is OMA compatible, and uses barcode job entry with an included scanner.

Santinelli International — SE-9090 Express Plus

This wholesale lab-specific industrial edger now edges lenses to a minimum B measurement of 22 mm, while lens grinding and measuring time is improved by 50 to 60 percent from the first model in this series of machines. The SE-9090 Express Plus uses an exclusive dual spindle technology that facilitates multitasking. Newly styled vertical and horizontal linear bearings help to eliminate vibrations and maintain job accuracy. The edger is made of heavy-duty, industrial grade, non-corrosive components for 24/7 operation, and can be fitted with Santinelli/Nidek robotic handling units or paired with the company’s AHM units for 3D drilling and grooving functionality. Satisloh — Verifier SL-60

New since OLA 2005, this machine is an upgrade from the Verifier Pro, featuring enhanced PAL recognition, a faster and more stable operating system, and a lab-ready software package. The Verifier SL-60 features one-step integrated power verification, decentration, and finish blocking. New features include an uncut mode, semi-automatic lens detection mode, and no lens-surface-contact during lens analysis by using wave-front technology. The unit can process up to 60 jobs per hour, features no lens marking, and a Windows-like user interface that is OMA /VCA compliant.

Topcon — XPRESS 5000

This high-speed finishing system uses a cosmetic bevel to give finished lenses the illusion of eliminating the excessive thicknesses associated with higher-myopic prescriptions. Topcon’s newest machine features a large color LCD screen that displays “true-size” frame shapes as part of the company’s user-friendly software features for operators with varying levels of experience. The XPRESS 5000 assists multitasking by indicating the lenses’ different stages of production with different background colors. The machine can be networked to Topcon’s DS Series of integrated blocking systems.


Labtalk June 2020