How to Become the Artisan of the Modern Lab

By Judith Lee
Like the fine art of creating stain glass, drilled rimless is the intricate art of the optical world, fitting together small, intricate pieces to create the final vision. Even though automation can streamline the process and reduce wastage, every pair of rimless frames are unique, created step-b-ystep with painstaking care. Independent labs report that drilled rimless represents 10 percent or less of their business, but more specialized labs are fabricating higher percentages of drilled rimless, and a leading equipment maker pins the market segment at 25 percent and growing.

“There is a custom-made, one-of-a-kind trend seen recently in fashion, cars, and jewelry,” said Frank Balestra, technical director for Santinelli International. “The use [of drilled rimless] will increase further because of high tech equipment enabling customization and unique designs of rimless.”

Smaller labs and retailers who do their own finishing might also see drilled rimless as an ideal niche to maintain their independence.

“Large chains like to process rimless in central labs, and that adds to the processing time. In contrast, the smaller stores and franchises can provide quick turnaround and better service if they bring rimless in-house,” noted Steve Boudreau, president of Tabco Optical, which makes the Smart Drill. “If you are going to invest in finishing equipment, your setup should include a rimless drill.”

Certain products are supporting growth in drilled rimless:

• Trivex offers higher tensile and torsional strengths, which serves drilled rimless very well. The only complaint from labs and dispensers is that Trivex may not perform as well with Transitions when compared to high-index or polycarbonate.

• High-Index lenses continue to be a good choice for rimless.

• Polyurethane lenses are offering another choice for the industry.

• Niche lenses are compatible with high tech lens drilling units and customizable for any rimless frames, such as Chemistrie Sunlenses.

• Unique fastening systems are being designed for drilled rimless. Lab owners and managers experienced in drilled rimless offer these “tips of the trade” for labs that are considering drilled rimless as a niche for their future.

Top 5 Must-Haves

1. To process drilled rimless, you need an accurate drill. This may range from an automated drill that works right in the same chamber that edges the lens (such as Santinelli Me1200) to a specialized handheld drill (Smart Drill from Tabco).

“Our system is all automatic. It traces the size of holes and placement of notching. It does what we could never do before. It does it by camera, bringing it up on the screen so you can see the size of the hole, you put it into the computer. Then blocks it and edges it on the machine. It drills the hole where you tell it to put it. It’s amazing,” said Chrystal Colflesh, general manager of FEA Industries.

If you have an automated system, you’ll also need a built-in database that includes a Drill Coordinate Data (DCD) for ease of reproducing and processing.

At Wizard of Eyes Optical, Richard Chavez is happy with his Smart Drill: “I don’t use an automated edger because if you have a frame that’s not updated [by the edger manufacturer], you cannot get the chart. I just send the frame to Tabco and they chart it for you. I just bought a new digital Smart Drill; the ease and accuracy are great.”

2. Everyone agrees you must have sharp drill bits, and plenty of them, so you aren’t tempted to cut corners.

“Make sure your drill bits are sharp – if it’s dull, that will cause starring and fractures down the road. The job will come back to you and it will come back with an unhappy customer,” said Robert Drezek of Quality Optics.

Santinelli’s Balestra advises labs to periodically replace bits, as the newer bits hold a sharper edge. Tabco offers a special micro-grain carbide drill bit that stays very sharp so lenses won’t crack, and 80 different sizes of drill bits.

3. Pliers…have a variety of them on hand including two pairs of parallel compression pliers with nylon fibers on both sides, to use when adjusting the frame.

4. Hand tools from Silhouette and Marchon to install pressure-fit fasteners are a must.

5. Other tools you’ll need include: a Flat cutter to cut bushings flush with the edge of the lens; a “bushing opener” to lightly open the bushing when you insert the mounting; a full set of hex nut screwdrivers; and a Screw Grinder, which finishes all types of screws and mounting nuts.

Learning Curve

The drilled rimless learning curve is steeper than conventional eyeglass fabrication, but it’s not as steep as it used to be.

“It used to take me more than two months to train a new person [for drilled rimless]. Now I can train someone in a couple of weeks,” said Colflesh. “It still takes time to learn the sizing of holes, assembly, tracing of pattern, lots of little issues. I look for people who are good with their hands, like a jeweller-type person.” Chavis said he trains by having the person make four to five pair of drilled rimless before taking on an actual order: “You practice, take your time, it’s much better than it was years ago without the equipment we have today.”

Those who invest in automated edgers with built-in drills are likely to have the smoothest transition for the “rookie” fabricator. Still, experience is the best quality in a person working on drilled rimless.

“As jobs become more complex with the unique designs and limitless prescription ranges, experience is critical. Having the basics and working through the difficult situations is probably the only way to build that exposure and time one will need to become efficient in this part of the lab,” noted Balestra.


Here is sage advice from those who have “made their mistakes.”

• Look at the frame and identify it.

• Make sure you have the right bushings.

• Don’t try to push a flat frame into an Rx that is a 2, 4 or 6 base (if you flatten the base curve, the lens won’t do what it’s meant to do).

• Check the measurements; take your time – measure twice, drill once.

• Make sure your drill bits are sharp.

• Make sure the hole sizes are accurate; holes that are too small will stress the lens and crack it.

• Make sure the holes are chamfered.

• Do not drill into a brittle material like plastic (some labs will only drill into 1.67 High Index or Trivex).

• Make sure the axes are aligned (if you have twisting on the edger, it will show up crooked on the drill).

• If the lens is AR coated, use lens protectors. Finish the screw mount properly. “Never cut corners,” said Drezek, “This is an expensive lens. Invest a dime to protect it. Mistakes always happen at the last step, and then you have to start all over!”


If labs invest in equipment and training to provide drilled rimless, what will be their return on investment?

“This is a mature product with a loyal following. It may never dominate the market but drilled rimless will not go away. It’s also a premium product the lab and dispenser can charge more for,” noted Boudreau.

Chavis, from his place in the retail trenches, said fashion may have a lot to do with it: “If the pendulum swings back to big Aviators and big frames, we’ll go back to big lenses. They are much easier to drill than modern, small lenses. You never know.”


Labtalk June 2020