By Judith Lee
Like shrinking superheroes, surfacing generators are getting smaller but also faster, more accurate and easier to operate. Several new models offer labs the opportunity to get on board with free-form digital surfacing, or if you’ve already taken the plunge, “up your game” with equipment that improves speed without sacrificing accuracy.

“Digital has exploded in the last five years, and the new generators get you into digital. If you already have digital capability, these new generators have larger and more accurate cutting motors, and we’ve developed platforms that provide stability without as much weight,” noted Ian Gregg, director of sales for Satisloh.

“What sets today’s generators apart from 10-year-old machines is not only user-friendliness, but also incredible lens replication at very high speeds,” noted Kurt Atchison, president of Schneider Optical Machines, Inc.

Manufacturers said the new equipment offers accuracy at speeds that previously would have undermined that accuracy. This means more productivity with less waste.

With market demand high and growing, equipment manufacturers have made a sizeable investment in research and development. That means the price tags are sizeable too: entry level equipment is in the $150,000 range, and top-end equipment for the largest labs is priced at $300,000 and up.

Here’s a quick look at the newest generation of generators by their features and benefits.


Manufacturers have not forgotten the smaller labs, and several offer new generators that provide conventional milling, but can be upgraded later to digital.

“Our latest generator comes in a non-free-form model that can be upgraded to free-form at a later date. This is very important to labs that are looking to start offering in-house free-form options in the near future, and can plan to do so without investing in an entirely new machine,” noted Jason Smith, director of marketing communications with Coburn Technologies, which recently released the CobaltLTE Compact Free-Form Generator.


With changes in design and materials, manufacturers have created machines that do the same thing in a smaller footprint.  “Our new machine has a working chamber made of cast aluminum, with all components bolted to it. It’s much smaller and lighter, with tremendous stability plus thermal stability,” Gregg noted. Satisloh’s VFT-orbit generator weighed in at some 7,000 lbs., while the new VHF-macro generator is about 1,800 lbs.

Manufacturers have simplified generators in other ways. Coburn’s wet-mist system enables wet-cut generating without the need for a water management system. OptoTech is launching—in the U.S.—its ASM Flash generators that surface and polish.

“In the past there was a generator and a polisher. Today there is a system to produce individual lenses in a very short way,” said OptoTech president Roland Mandler.


Manufacturers have dramatically increased speed with proprietary new technology.

“Schneider’s HSC Modulo XT has completely new technology including new drive technology, revolutionary high-speed cutting dynamics of up to 35G and a whole new level of guidance and bearing systems. With unprecedented sampling rates, it offers never before seen speeds with superior form and accuracy,” noted Atchison.

Refinements have permitted equipment makers to minimize or eliminate lens surfacing steps.

“Older generators required hundreds of large laps to fine and polish all combinations of lens powers. Now the number of laps has been reduced to approximately five,” said Patricia Machado, vice president of Augen Optics. Augen’s EasyForm FF-V3 Digital Surfacing Generator offers dramatically reduced processing time by eliminating fining and minimizing polishing time.

The complexities of digital free-form surfacing have demanded more accuracy, and this imperative has been applied to all generators.

“The digital process itself demands more accuracy. In conventional processing you could ‘fine away a lot of sins.’ When digital came on to the scene, we had to build a more accurate machine. But now, even our conventional generators offer a level of accuracy that was not previously available,” said Gregg.


Manufacturers said that lab owners will realize greater productivity with the new machines that will both streamline operations and enable the lab to handle increased volume with the same resources.

“To compare the new ophthalmic technology versus the older, you must compare the time and cost to finish a lens,” noted Mandler.

“The key in the new generation is superior form accuracy to handle the most demanding new progressive designs with ease and while maintaining high productivity. You need a generator that keeps up with or even opens the door to even more sophisticated geometries with perfect reproducibility,” Atchison said.

Machado pointed out that the Augen Easyform generator incorporates robotics, which enhance productivity by eliminating human error and maximizing throughput: “Robotics take the guesswork out of lens processing and ensure the job gets done right the first time. Ultimately, robotics save time and increase accuracy and productivity.”

Your shopping list – If you are in the market for a new generator, manufacturers noted that your shopping list should start with a look at your lab’s needs. Ask yourself these questions:

  • How does this new generator fit into my existingworkflow?
  • How will this generator improve my production?

“If a feature doesn’t directly apply to one of those two questions, you may not really need it,” said Smith.

You should also consider the total cost of operating a given generator, and not just the asking price, Machado said: “Many purchasers tend to focus on the bid costs for purchasing the actual free form equipment, without recognizing the supplemental or ongoing operational costs such as peripheral equipment, consumables, design clicks, and labor. All these variables contribute to the full cost of the equipment and should be taken into consideration as part of the overall cost to purchase.”

You also need to take the long view; choose a generator that will improve productivity now and also enable the lab to grow.

“The biggest mistake is spending a lot of capital on a system that may not handle all the needs. The money is spent, but the lab finds it is limited in what it can do. It’s important to invest in a machine that will surface any lens you might consider in your lab’s offering,” Atchison said.

Here’s a simple way to calculate your future needs:

1           Look at your average daily production

2           Look at your peak production

3           Add 20-25% to your average

“That will handle your peaks and give you room to grow,” said Gregg.

What’s next – Manufacturers noted that in the near term, lab owners can expect to see more of the same, i.e., new technologies that produce high-quality lenses in less time, more robotics, and the capability to process expanded lens designs.

In the longer term, we are likely to see “smart generators” that not only remove the guesswork, but do most of the thinking.

“We can expect adaptive milling, where the machine senses the load has increased, so it speeds up,” noted Gregg. “As you make a deeper cut, the machine senses the need for torque, so it slows down, when less torque is needed, it will speed up. The generator will increase the overall speed and accuracy of the cut by sensing when to go slow and when to go fast.”

The generators of today and tomorrow are and will be the lab’s super heroes of the production process.


Labtalk June 2020