By Bill Heffner, Bill Heffner, IV, and Chrystal Colflesh
There are few things more intimidating in the optical lab business than having to move your surfacing lab from one place to another, while at the same time keeping your customers happy. That was our challenge about two and a half years ago at FEA industries. It was at that time that we acquired a ­second location to house our expanding surfacing, finishing, and AR facilities. Now that we look back on what we went through, we wanted to share some of our experiences with anyone that might be considering moving or expanding their operation.


The expansion should be part of your long-term goals. Our plans for this started two years prior to moving. This was all part of our 10-year plan, which included that expansion, along with a second expansion project that we are now approaching within the next two to three years.


Once you get the building, the first thing that you need to know is how the work will flow through the lab. This will then define the placement of your machinery. We also made sure that we planned for equipment that we knew we would need in the future three years. This way it was much easier to add new machinery without having to re-arrange the entire lab. That was one of the last things we wanted to do. Once you know where your machines are being placed, then the blueprints for the electrical, plumbing, air, and computer connections are simple.

We were fortunate enough to have the skill on our team to be able to do the majority of the renovations ourselves, since the owner and senior maintenance personnel had experience in construction. This was a large benefit for us, and made it possible for us to maintain costs and ensure we stayed on schedule throughout the project.


We highly recommend becoming good friends with the secretary of your local township (it doesn’t hurt to find out what is their favorite type of candy). They’re the ones that can make your life easier, especially when you need to track down someone like a building inspector or ­code-enforcement officer. Throughout your project you’ll want to make sure you have a close relationship with your local government. Having everyone on the same page will make the project flow effortlessly.


Most likely, you will need to increase your workforce, but you don’t want to have to do that all at once and at the same time you’re moving into a new space. Begin a gradual ramp-up of staff, and use the time before move-in to train the new ones. Through trial and error, we’ve learned that the most effective form of training is to have the new person “shadow” an experienced worker in the position the new person will fill. This is recommended even if you hire workers who have optical lab experience. In 2011, the closing of a nearby competitor provided us with new staff who were trained – but not by us. Retraining to our way of doing things was done by shadowing for up to 10 days.


You want to make sure that the plumbing, electric, air, and network connections are already set up to receive your existing machinery, so that everything is just plug-and-play. The more work you can do ahead of time the better. Remember, once you start the move you’re committed. We ended up moving over the course of a single weekend by having our fifty employees come in early saturday to help us disconnect and move the equipment. We were then able to spend sunday connecting and testing. By monday morning, we were back in business.

The most important thing to plan

The most important thing is to know how the puzzle is going to fit together. Once this is accomplished, everything is easy. You will also want to keep in mind what your future plans are as you get additional equipment. It’s much easier to plan for it now than it is to have to move all of your machines (and their electrical, plumbing, etc) in a few years when you want to add additional equipment.

The worst part of moving

We had hired a professional moving company to move our inventory of semi-finished and stock lenses from one building to the other. Since all of the lenses were on shelves, it should have been a simple job for them to wrap the shelves and move them. Unfortunately, all 130 lens racks were placed on their side to make it easier for the movers. This, of course, caused all of the lenses to spill out of their places on the shelves, which took weeks for us to reorganize.


Make sure your key personnel don’t have any vacations scheduled right after your move. The last thing you want to be doing is covering for someone when you’re not settled into your new location. We made sure to give everyone notice about six months before the actual move day so that we didn’t have any schedule conflicts. You should also plan for the first day to have low production numbers, as people need time to settle into the new environment.

Hopefully our expansion and moving experiences will be helpful to anyone considering such an event in the near future. We look forward to refining these points in the future as we look towards future expansion projects.

The authors are owners or managers of fea industries, a full-service, independent optical lab. Fea industries offers its own super-hard ar coating, called independence, and its own free-form progressive lens, called eagle. Fea is the first independent lab to manufacture the kodak unique lens in-house. Please visit www.feaind.com for more information.


Labtalk June 2020