Are You in the Game? Digitally Surfaced Lenses

By Liz Martinez, ABOC, NCLC
When digitally surfaced lenses first landed on the market, you could hear the oom-pah bands for miles, cheerily heralding the new technology. Today, these lenses are still going strong and have indeed become the wave of the future. As the technology is constantly refined, it’s more important than ever that labs keep themselves updated in order to stay competitive.

The message is clear: If you don’t run onto the digitally surfaced playing field now, you might end up cheering on rival labs from the stands. The trick to taking advantage of this lens technology, of course, is to provide the best lenses to the widest audience with the fewest number of returns. Fortunately, the lens manufacturers have taken all the guesswork out of the game. Here, they let you in on their most effective plays.

The case for providing digitally surfaced lenses is clear. “Labs should offer digitally surfaced lenses, because, if this technology is used in the right way, it can enhance the vision of the end users,” says Samy Lauriette, director of digital surfacing at Essilor of America.

Inventory reduction is another point in favor of offering these lenses, according to Craig Fahan, Seiko Optical’s marketing communications manager. “Instead of having SKUs up the wazoo, labs can make all the lenses with just eight or nine blanks,” he says.

Matt Lytle, vice president marketing at Shamir Insight, agrees. “Also, the labor needed to process a digitally surfaced lens is less than what it would take for semi-finished processing,” he adds.

According to Fahan, labs that choose to put in digital surfacing equipment can expect to recoup their costs in about 18 months, depending on the number of jobs they sell, of course. “When you consider the cost of the machine versus the reduced cost of labor and blanks,” he points out, “it lowers the real cost of the machine, and you see the return on investment pretty quickly.”

But not every lab is in a position to incorporate digital surfacing equipment. Does that mean they are have to sit on the bench while other labs are in the game? The lens manufacturers are saying “no.”

“The personal relationship between a lab and its customers is very important,” says Jeff Hopkins, communications manager at Carl Zeiss Vision, Inc. “It is in the lab’s interest to order the lenses from another lab in order to preserve that relationship. This can also help the lab become familiar with the lenses in anticipation of their own acquisition of freeform equipment,” he adds.

The manufacturers of digitally surfaced lenses have established “partner” labs from which labs without their own equipment can order these lenses.

Whether labs have their own equipment or order the lenses from other labs, it is important to get the word out about the advantages of these lenses, or no dispensers will place any orders. Labs essentially have to “train” their customers to order these lenses instead of the old standbys. Doing so is both easier and harder than one would think.

“Most digital PALs are ‘better’ than cast designs simply because the designs are newer,” says Jeff LaPlante, ABOM, manager of training and education for Signet Armorlite. “No spectacle lens designer sets out to create a new and inferior PAL.”

As Zeiss’s Hopkins points out, “Freeform manufacturing can be used to make any kind of lens – including one that is in no way superior to a semi-finished lens. However, when technology is used to customize the lens for the individual’s total prescription, frame style and fit, the differences can be dramatic.”

And that’s where Hopkins says the discussion should be focused. Laurie Badone, director of marketing for Optical Distribution Corporation, the exclusive U.S. distributor of Rodenstock lenses, says that the company’s new freeform PAL builds on research and information gathered over the past several years. “These data show changes in both human physiology and the way we use our eyes,” she says. “People are taller today than in the past and also do a wider variety of intermediate activities, such as using computers and text messaging.”

The new lens incorporates the “Retina Focus Principle,” which designs the lenses in the as-worn position to enable the image to always focus on the retina for greater visual acuity in all fields, especially intermediate and near,” Badone says.

Essilor’s Lauriette says that if customers can grasp the analogy between High Definition TV and the company’s digitally surfaced lenses, they can get what these lenses are all about. “Once you move to HD TV, you never go back to analog television,” he says.

But Signet Armorlite’s LaPlante cautions that it’s a mistake to sell digitally surfaced lenses on the basis of “better technology equates to better vision.” This pitch, he says, creates an environment fertile to patient rejection. “The ECP tells the patient that he or she will receive ‘better vision’ because of the new technology,” he cites as an example.

But the patient has paid an additional $200 to $400 for these lenses, and while he sees better, he doesn’t see $200 or $400 better. “So he rejects the technology because the upgrade cost is too substantial to be offset by improvements in acuity alone,” LaPlante concludes.

Brad Main, FNAO, manager of training and technical resources for Hoya Vision Care, concurs. “Do not create unrealistic expectations for the patient,” he warns. “Stay away from describing the wearer’s experience as ‘just like single vision,’” he says.

LaPlante suggests that the most successful sales of digitally surfaced lenses will come by focusing on the following qualities instead of solely on improved visual acuity: that these lenses represent the latest technology, that they are custom-manufactured, that there is a symbiosis between the materials and the coatings, and that brand recognition is important.

And Main points out that although these lenses can open a whole new world of vision to the wearer, “They don’t fit themselves. Careful frame selection, adjustments and measurements must be adhered to for the new technology to perform as intended.”

To that end, all the labs offer extensive training and support for both labs and end users. As Shamir’s Lytle says, “This technology cannot be summed up in a simple, concise catchphrase, which is why we encourage ECPs to become Freeform Certified, an education program from Shamir.”

At Hoya, the Hoya Technology Institute offers an intensive four-day education program for lab sales reps to educate them on technologies, marketing support programs and sales techniques.

And Carl Zeiss Vision has developed educational materials to help labs explain the technology to their customers, including five hours of online “Z-learning. The company also provides illustrations and video animations to demonstrate the visual differences between a standard and a customized lens.

Seiko’s Fahan points out that ECPs “generally dispense what they wear,” so his company strives to provide free fits to as many dispensers as possible. The company also offers free CE courses for opticians on its Web site, as well as POP displays for ECPs.

Regardless of which digitally surfaced manufacturer’s team your lab is playing on, there are plenty of training, education and support materials for you, your staff and your customers. All you have to do is pick up the ball and run with it.


Labtalk June 2020