The Digital Surfacing Explosion- How This Big Bang Can Benefit Your Lab

By Julie Bos
Two decades ago, the World Wide Web was merely a great idea that held much promise. Since its debut in 1991, however, the Internet has virtually exploded—proving to be the great-est telecommunication breakthrough since the telephone. Today, we all know the Web is now an indispensable tool for education, business and entertainment.

An equally stunning breakthrough is at work today in the optical lens world—digitally surfaced lenses. This technology is taking the industry by storm, with more and more labs adopting digital surfacing hardware every day.

“The transition can best be described as an explosion,” said Ian Gregg, director of surfacing products for Satisloh North America. “I think labs are looking at the lessons of AR and realizing that they need to get in the game, or risk being further marginalized in the market.”

Kurt Atchison, president of Schneider Optical Machines agrees wholeheartedly. “The rapid move to digital surfacing platforms is spreading like wildfire,” he said. “Labs are either already doing it or deciding when they will do it. I think they see the push and know they’re no longer a guinea-pig lab.”

“With proven success out there, now is the time to adopt the technology while it’s still on a strong growth curve and more profitable than ever—not unlike AR coating or polycarbonate production phases were in the past. A lot of people think they waited too long to jump into AR coating. By the time they were in and good at it, the competition had outrun them. Most labs realize that freeform will grow faster than AR ever did. Just as importantly, digital surfacing generators can help labs make progressives—as well as all production on digital lines. In terms of benefits, it’s a double-whammy.”

Is the timing right for your lab to jump in the game? If you’ve been holding off, consider the latest technology trends.


Trend #1:

Smaller Footprints

The first trend is a “trickle down” of the technology. Early on, most customers were larger labs and the original machines reflected that with their large sizes. Most of the new development today is aimed at making the technology more accessible to a wider customer base—specifically, smaller labs. Therefore, the newest hardware releases now offer digital surfacing technology in a smaller footprint. Trend #2:

Lower Prices

Many smaller generators also address another major concern for today’s labs—affordability. New generations of hardware are lower priced—a better fit for the budgets of small and midsized labs (or any sized lab that wants to invest in freeform progressive manufacturing without breaking the bank). By scaling down the size (and price) of larger-production machines, manufacturers are enabling labs to make the same quality as larger production lines and the larger lines are getting more efficient and affordable.

Trend #3:

More Processing Flexibility

In addition to a smaller size, today’s labs want generators that offer multiple processing capabilities in a single unit (e.g., traditional, cut-to-polish, and digital/freeform). Flexibility of processing is the key.

Trend #4:

More Automation

For larger labs that are already in the digital arena, there’s a tremendous push for more automation. Sophisticated workflow and job-routing systems are now able to remove a great deal of non-value-added labor processes, which increases efficiency and allows labs to more effectively compete with off-shore and near-shore operations.

Trend #5:

Automatic Calibrations

Many manufacturers are also working to improve their routine calibrations and adjustments. Since digital equipment errors are measured in microns, not tenths of millimeters, precise calibrations are critical. Many of today’s newest machines are nearing the point where calibration will be completely automatic.


Clearly, more and more labs are adopting digital surfacing technology—and the ever-expanding choices of hardware are addressing the growing demand. Why the popularity?

State-of-the-art digital generators produce higher-precision lens surfaces, which offer the following benefits:

•Reduced lens breakage and processing costs

•Improved optics for patient

•Reduced processing time (both for cutting and polishing)

•Elimination of downstream processes and products (e.g., fining, fining consumables, water).

“What people are beginning to realize is that the next generator they purchase must be able to produce digital lenses—even if their lab is not quite ready to process these types of jobs,” said Randy Baldwin, director of marketing/product management for Gerber Coburn. “In fact, manufacturers will begin to only offer digital-capable generators for the wholesale industry.”


DAC RxD System

DAC International

DAC International’s latest generator has a completely new servo positioning system, allowing for even more complex lens designs and automatic calibrations. The DAC RxD Generator is a highly versatile machine, featuring a three-menu system: RX to produce sphere, cylinder and prism standard prescriptions; PAL for generating freeform lenses; and Specialty Lens, an option capable of producing hard-to-get, hard-to-process lens designs (e.g., blended round segs, slab-off/slab-ons, high power lenticulars). Labs can choose the product mix that best suits their needs.

Advanced technological features allow the RxD Generator to product exceptional surfaces, resulting in prescription accuracy of less than a tenth diopter. Patented vibration cancellation allows the creation of surfaces so smooth they can go directly to polish.

Small footprint, ease-of-use and low cost make the RxD an excellent choice for small-to-midsize labs.

DTL Generator Series

Gerber Coburn

This company’s latest generator is the DTL generator series. Although it’s a few years old, it remains an affordable high-speed, dry-cut, single point diamond turning lathe that employs precision diamond machining technology for traditional or advanced lens processing, such as cut-to-polish and digital (freeform) lens production. DTL 150 – This high-speed generator employs standard generating parameters to produce lens surface qualities that require conventional fining and polishing. DTL200 – Offers advanced lens processing to produce digital (freeform) lenses. The DTL200 is available as a manual unit or may be upgraded to automatic.

VFT-orbit L and VFT Compact Pro


For both of these highly successful platforms, Satisloh has focused on increasing accessibility for the small-to-midsize lab.

VFT-orbit L – A scaled-down and lower-cost version of the standard machine, the new VFT-orbit L makes a great entry-level solution, while offering the ability to be upgraded to the full version with all the features and options available.

VFT Compact Pro – This generator includes Satisloh’s unique auto-calibration feature and in-chamber mechanical engraving as standard features included in the base price, making entry into digital processing more affordable than ever.

New Sprint and Smart XP Generators

Schneider Optical Machines

Sprint – Although this is a manual machine, the Sprint generator processes lenses using the exact methods as the larger machines. At 40 lenses per hour, it handles any small lab production requirement or fits nicely as a “lab in a lab” setup as a lower cost free form lab within larger labs. Priced at under $150,000, this generator offers an excellent cost/output ratio on the market for smaller production.

Smart XP – Recently introduced at Vision Expo West, the Smart XP sports a very small footprint and low price, while offering the same technologies and all the capacity of Schneider’s largest generator.


Labtalk June 2020