Diving into Digital

By Julie Bos

If you pay attention to what’s happening in the world of digital surfacing and finishing equipment, you’re likely picking up on several themes: faster, smaller, more automated and the highest quality possible. Consumers and ECPs alike are demanding increasingly more from their eyewear—and that has a direct result on today’s labs (especially their equipment choices).

To take a deeper dive into digital surfacing and finishing, we turned to several leading equipment providers, who shared their thoughts on current trends, what’s driving them and how labs can be prepared.

Our thanks go to Katherine Allen (marketing manager, Briot USA), Dan Clarke, (value stream manager, Coburn Technologies), Kevin Cross (sales director, North America, Schneider Optical Machinery), Matt Schmidt (consultant, OptoTech Optical Machinery), Steve Swalgen (national director of lab business, Santinelli) and Ian Gregg, (director of sales, Satisloh), who graciously contributed their insights.

Q: What trends are driving growth in the digital surfacing and finishing environment?

Briot USA: As consumers continue to become savvier, they have higher expectations of their eyewear performance. This movement pushes ECPs to focus on delivering the highest quality lenses in order to give their patients a truly customized experience. Competition is fierce. Those who adapt to the newer technology and are able to offer their patients the premium choices will be the winners of this digital race.

Coburn Technologies: Some additional trends we’ve seen include changes to the competitive landscape, the rapid consolidation of the market (particularly large regional labs) and cost pressure generated by insurance changes and cheap imported free-form lenses from Asia. All of these factors are causing the remaining small and medium-sized independent labs to reconsider their long- and short-term plans.

OptoTech: We see a higher degree of integration between LMS, LDS and CNC machines, as well as environmental considerations, including blockless
lens holding.

Satisloh: As labs and retailers work to differentiate themselves, the number one driver of consumer loyalty is service. The industry has done a good job of promoting the benefits of premium products like digital progressives and AR. Consumers want those products, but are less willing to accept the delivery times traditionally associated with them. In addition, machines capable of producing digital and AR lenses are becoming more accessible to lower-volume producers as the technology is scaled down by manufacturers.

Schneider: Automation is one trend but so is the rapid demand and availability of “real time” information and analytics on processing capabilities. From smallest to largest, labs want technology that removes guesswork from making great quality lenses.

Q: Where is the future of digital surfacing and finishing headed (and why)?

Coburn Technologies: There’s no question that the optical industry wants digital surfacing and finishing equipment that’s faster, smaller, modular and interchangeable (cross-OEM compatibility), while also delivering greater automation and higher output.

OptoTech: Modular systems like the OptoTech IQ Star will provide machine layout possibilities that ensure a high degree of equipment utilization and automated quality assurance. We also foresee blockless lens holding systems that do not require any consumables as a future trend.

Satisloh: As the industry moves toward 100 percent digital processing, we see a trend toward lens production being done closer to the end user (e.g., small to mid-sized retail).

Schneider: Surfacing is certainly evolving and, as the world embraces “smart” technology, so will the machines that power laboratories. It keeps costs competitive while providing our customers with real time information and a more accurate finished product.  As geometries on the lens surface become more highly complex, the machines that create those surfaces must have faster dynamics and higher accuracy to keep ahead of the demand for more sophisticated and better lens offerings.

Q: What about the future of finishing, specifically? Where is that headed?

Santinelli: Finish equipment development can either play catch up or lead the way with processing capability of new lens and frame design, and material changes. In some ways, digitally surfaced lenses have brought to the forefront the need for advanced, high-tech lens finishing equipment and capabilities.

Schneider: Certainly there is carry over from the surfacing side and that’s automation and cognitive machines. Accuracy and speed are just as important, but so is reducing spoilage since lenses are getting more and more expensive by the time they reach the finish department.

Q: What trends are driving this shift?

Santinelli: The trend in finishing is being driven by a better visual acuity experience from the patient/wearer, along with aggressive marketing on behalf of lens manufacturer.

Schneider: Fashion has always been a trend-setter in what consumers want to wear, so as frame shapes and styles get more complex and lens manufacturers are able to offer more and more lenses to accommodate fashion trends, finish equipment needs to be able to keep up while maintaining high first-pass yields.

Q: What do labs need to be aware of, as the industry moves forward?

Briot USA: Labs have already seen a big push for faster turn-around times to satisfy the demands of an immediate gratification society. ECPs put pressure on labs to produce the highest quality in the quickest amount of time possible, and at the best price available.

OptoTech: We believe they need to invest in capacity matched, lab proven, reliable equipment.

Santinelli: Labs need to be aware that the ECP has more expensive and technically advanced lens meters; and digital jobs are being more heavily scrutinized by the ECP, who expects total accuracy for the digital lens orders. Today’s labs need to advance each of the three steps in finishing (tracing, blocking, edging manual or automated) to a “first-time fit” and qualitative result without embracing past bad habits of “cutting big” and other time/labor wasting practices.

Satisloh: Two key factors will have a significant impact on the industry over the next 10 years. The first is the transition to 100 percent digital progressives. As front side progressives are phased out, any lab looking to stay competitive will need the ability to produce back side progressive additions. The second, and perhaps the more dramatic change on the horizon, is the inevitable disappearance of alloy material for blocking due to the hazardous nature of several of its key components. This will require the industry as a whole to seek alternative methods for surface blocking.

Schneider: Technology is improving at speeds that the optical industry hasn’t been used to in the past. While it may have been prudent not be an early adopter in the past, today’s labs need to be on the cutting edge. They need to embrace technology and welcome changing philosophies on how lenses can be made.

Q: How can today’s labs prepare themselves for the coming changes?

Briot USA: Have the best technology available to you using advanced automation platforms and perfect your solution to rising cost of lens materials, which make profit margins difficult to reach for ECPs who are trying to be competitive in their market.

OptoTech: We suggest that labs choose their future automated lab layout today and gradually invest in components over the next few years to complete the system as the lab envisions it to exist in its final stage.

Santinelli: Labs can prepare by continuing to invest in the best possible equipment that produces the most optically correct and cosmetically well-built pair of eyewear possible, all while minimizing (if not eliminating) spoilage. Precision finishing should coincide with the most precise digital surfacing, relative to the Rx, from beginning to end. If your lens finishing accuracy on the back end doesn’t reflect the accuracy of the digital measuring devices on the front end, you’re losing the integrity of the work.

Satisloh: It is always a good idea to have a five year strategy for growth in place to use as a roadmap for decision making. This plan should include strategies for investment in new technology that address the changing marketplace.

Schneider: Listen to your suppliers about new products and innovations, go see new machines in action—don’t wait for a show, talk with other labs and most importantly be open to new ideas.

Q: What questions should lab owners be asking themselves (and their equipment suppliers) before investing in new equipment?

Coburn Technologies: To determine what’s right for them, we suggest that lab owners contemplate the following:

• What’s the benefit of offering free-form surfacing in their lab versus outsourcing the work?

• What best serves the needs of my customers and their budgets?

• What’s the ROI for a right-sized, scalable free-form lab today? How would that change as business grows?

Schneider: Definitely the first two above. In addition, they should ask:

• What, if any, limitations might I have in product range or capability if I make this investment? (Don’t spend big money on something that creates new limitations on what you can do now or in the foreseeable future.)

Q: Do you have any additional advice for today’s labs as they consider
their choices?

Coburn Technologies: Finding a partner that can assist with a flexible offering, the knowledge center to be a trusted advisor, and the experience to understand the ROI and cost benefit requirements of the small to medium-sized business owner are critical as the industry continues to evolve and independent labs continue to feel the pressure.

Schneider: As with any decision that has an effect on your processing capabilities, be sure to talk with colleagues, ask a lot of questions and, most importantly, make sure your equipment decisions don’t get in the way of or dictate business decisions in the future.  Installing the wrong or limited platform can be costly and limit the business opportunities that may come up down the road so be sure you have the right platform for today and hopefully for tomorrow, as well.

What’s New in Digital Surfacing and Finishing?

Check Out the Latest Product Releases

Alta Zd and Alta Z Edgers (Briot USA)

Alta Zd  Edger

The innovative Alta Zd, the newest edger from Briot, comes equipped with capabilities that aim to make daily work easier and more effective. After nearly 80 years in the optical business, designers at Briot understand the needs of a modern lab. Alta Zd is made for achieving the highest productivity and meets every requirement for high-end edging in today’s industry. For more product details, visit http://www.briot.com/usa/E-catalogue/Briot/Equipment/Alta-Line/Alta-Zd-Smart-Design-Technology.

Alta Z Edger

The Alta Z edger can handle all of your needs by itself, or combined with either the Alta XLd tracer/blocker or the Alta XS tracer/blocker. It performs a wide-range of finishes with record speed. For more details, visit http://www.briot.com/usa/E-catalogue/Briot/Equipment/Alta-Line/ALTA-Z.

Both systems offer step-bevel edging, ease-of-use when edging lenses for complex frame requirements, and highly customized and intricate shapes. These compact systems also offer fast speed and the ability to accomplish practically every frame design.

Cobalt Generators and LaunchPad (Coburn Technologies)

Labs who are not ready to invest in a rigid free-form system can benefit from the flexibility and relatively lower cost of this company’s Cobalt line of generators (Cobalt DS and LTE), and also avoid the expense of a polisher by utilizing LaunchPad as they ramp up their free-form production. They can inexpensively increase their free-form polishing capacity by augmenting their line with a Cobalt DP polisher. Or they can purchase a Cobalt generator and LaunchPad to get greater free-form capacity from their under-utilized cylinder machines.

 OptoTech Optical Machinery

OptoTech offers a complete line of conventional and digital surfacing equipment that’s suitable for both manual and completely automated production. Available equipment includes Auto Tapers, Auto Blockers, Digital Generators, Digital Polishers and Auto Laser Markers, as well as the IQ Star lab automation system.

Key features include exact auto blocking, high-capacity digital generation producing 30 jobs per hour (mixed production) and a fast two-step auto-polish process for PC via PU pads, a motor-driven tool and workpiece spindles. OptoTech products help reduce breakage and number of required operators. The IQ Start system significantly reduces the equipment footprint, and digital generators improve the digital lens quality, especially for higher lens curves.

LT Series Tracing Technology and Xtrimer SE-1 “5-Axis” Milling Technology (Santinelli International)

Finishing of digitally surfaced lenses (and even traditionally surfaced lenses), is optimized by accurately digitizing frame traced data points, per individual eye, and is further enhanced through the edging process by way of “super fit” software using proprietary algorithm calculations. Santinelli’s gold standard amongst labs “LT-series” tracing technology, with its high-point and wrap data capture, works well with any VCA lab management software and seamlessly synchronizes to a perfectly-calibrated edging environment (tracer to edger), resulting in a high “first-time fit” rate.

The now available SE-1 5 axis platform perfectly complements the “LT-series” tracing accuracy while providing a per-job customizing software (iRx) that can dimensionally adjust any POF or bring into full production any new lens design easily and seamlessly via the ICE-900 blocker, without interruption of high JPH workflow through the edger. Unlike more common “4-axis” dry cut milling edgers, the SE-1 consistently manages high wrap shelf bevel thickness without variation. For more information, please visit www.santinelli.com.

All Inclusive Micro-lab (Satisloh)

Satisloh recently launched AIM (its All Inclusive Micro-lab). This exciting new program utilizes Micro Lab OBM equipment, allowing any lab to produce digital lenses with AR coating in-house using state-of-the-art machines and processes. This unique “pay as you go” program means labs only pay for what they produce. Virtually everything a lab needs to produce top quality lenses is included—from software to consumables—plus one of the largest support networks in the industry. The program even includes a full parts warranty for the life of the contract.

AIM offers a turnkey solution that is an ideal entry into modern lens production. It is also perfectly suited as a separate express line; labs can produce digital lenses with AR coating in less than one hour while maintaining the full performance quality level of lens surfacing, coating and finishing. All machines are self-sufficient and can operate independently for maximum availability during production. The modular concept provides unmatched freedom for future lab expansion as the lab business grows.

Modulo from Schneider Optical Machines

Schneider is implementing a totally new and improved system for the laboratory for 2015. Having already started in 2014, Schneider believes Modulo will be the future.  Modulo includes six new machines, from auto blocking to generating, polishing, laser marking and lens analysis. It’s the first time a lab’s production system has been so automated and efficient.

For years, labs have requested a better way to have complete, real-time control of their production and their process. Modulo takes care of every aspect, even down to machine conditions. For example, a job might have been rejected from days earlier. A simple mouse click reveals every aspect of that job’s journey—telling the lab which machines and what conditions (e.g., temperatures, cutter life, polish flow) were present during processing. Not only does Modulo take all the guesswork out of processing stability, this new generation of machinery is faster, more accurate and more streamlined than ever before.






Labtalk June 2020