The Consumables Conversation

By Julie Bos

In today’s competitive world, every dollar matters—and cost is always king. That’s why it’s tempting for many labs to try saving significant cash with non-OEM (original equipment manufacturer) consumables for their surfacing and finishing equipment.

But is this a wise strategy? Are there any drawbacks? Will you be money ahead or will buying non-OEM consumables end up costing your lab more in the long run? 

For answers, we decided to go right to the experts. Check out our frank discussion with seven of today’s premier consumables manufacturers, representing both sides of the conversation.  

Our thanks go to: Khristina Selley, consumables sales manager, Lab Works Group, Coburn Technologies; Al Bednar, area manager, DAC Vision; Ronald Cooke, Jr.,  director of sales, Leybold Optics; J.C. Wilkerson, technical manager, Practical Systems, Inc.; Steve Albright, strategic sales director/owner, Salem Vision Group; Steve Schneider, VP aftermarket products and sales, Satisloh; and Nicolas Kane, consumables product manager, North America, Schneider Optical Machines, who graciously provided their thoughts and insights.


Why is it important that labs use OEM (original equipment manufacturer) consumables with their machines?

Coburn Technologies: Machines are tested and qualified using OEM consumables so they are guaranteed to work. If technical support is required for the equipment, it’s much easier to identify an issue if the consumables in use are the same as those tested with the machine.

Leybold Optics: Our new machines have all been qualified with Umicore materials for each machine’s various processes. The quality and consistency of our materials is of the highest quality, and therefore, offers the best performance with our equipment.

Satisloh: Every Satisloh consumable is designed and manufactured to maximize the efficiency and performance of our lab equipment. Our goal is to help give labs a competitive edge by optimizing workflow and improving yields. When choosing consumable products, it’s important that the materials are suitable for the machine, that they bring optimum results, and that the quality is consistent. Satisloh’s consumables fulfill these requirements.

Schneider Optical Machines: Every year, thousands of hours are spent improving existing digital surfacing technologies to yield the most efficient outcomes. Each process is created based on the OEM consumable parameters. By not using the correct consumables with your machine, performance almost always suffers.

What are a few advantages of using OEM consumables?

Coburn Technologies: Extensive testing has been done with OEM consumables to ensure that they produce the best results for the equipment. When using non-OEM supplies, it adds a variable that could potentially cause problems.

Leybold Optics: In a word, consistency. You can expect the highest quality materials since OEM consumables have been tested and quality controlled by the manufacturer to deliver the same high quality AR run after run.

Satisloh: OEM consumables are developed on and for machine specifications and all affiliated consumables. An OEM provider can only guarantee productivity parameters and process consistency when using their complete recommended process. OEM consumables provide a consistent process, ensure a quality throughput, minimize breakage and increase consistent production.

Schneider Optical Machines: OEM consumables were developed and tested to yield the lowest breakage with the best optical results. I would never suggest using a non-OEM brand when the outcome could result in thousands of dollars in spoilage. We see it over and over again, when the substitute product isn’t tested.

Are there every instances when it’s not as critical to use OEM consumables?  

Leybold Optics: There are a few basic chemicals (SIO2 for example) that are fairly similar between most suppliers. However, for compound mixtures being used on Leybold equipment, we always recommend the use of our OEM brand Umicore consumables.

How would you respond to a lab’s concern about the cost of consumables (and any tradeoffs in quality by going with non-OEM alternatives)?

Coburn Technologies: Consider the age-old adage: “You get what you pay for.” When choosing consumables, of course price is a major factor; but labs also need to evaluate the product performance to determine the best value.

Leybold Optics: We have seen many labs who have tried other, less expensive options and most of the time, they come back to our consumables. Everyone wants to stay competitive and keep costs as low as possible, but when it means compromising quality, the cost savings can be far outweighed by the rejected AR.

Satisloh: Labs measure their productivity in cost per surface. Ask yourself: Which is more cost-effective—processing a lens right the first time or running a lens several times until you get the surface quality you want? Producing quality products the first time maximizes efficiency and minimizes consumables and labor. Satisloh’s Best Practices team can review a lab’s current process, equipment and consumables. The team analyzes the results and makes recommendations based on each customer’s specific system, needs and goals. They can also determine if a lab’s process is running effectively and efficiently with standard premium products. Most non-OEM products are attractive because of price, but don’t offer the performance levels today’s labs need.

Schneider Optical Machines: Just because a consumable product may be cheaper up-front and may save you a few pennies per lens, it only takes one broken lens to deplete that savings. Don’t step over dollars to save pennies.

How large of a concern is this issue for most labs? How do you address it? 

Coburn Technologies: Cost is always an issue for most labs. However, it’s not only the cost of the consumables themselves, but also the cost of breakage caused by unsatisfactory supplies. Both need to be considered. Our Lab Works group can work with labs individually to determine the best products at the best prices available.

If labs choose to buy non-OEM consumables, what should they be looking for (and what pitfalls should they be aware of)?

Coburn Technologies: They should look for quality. Many non-OEM consumables exist today, but labs need to be extremely conscious of the quality of their supplies. Poor quality consumables lead to poor quality lenses and unhappy customers.

Satisloh: Low-quality consumables produce low-quality finished lenses. Many consumables businesses come and go; therefore, labs should look for a company with longevity in the optical industry. Companies may offer “OEM-like” consumables at 50 percent less than actual OEM consumables, but do they really perform the same as OEM products? These products could harm a lab’s equipment, causing the need for more frequent calibrating, reducing quality or increasing processing parameters. If non-OEM consumables damage your machines, you’ll have to pay for a service call from the machine vendor. This not only costs money, but causes lost productivity, too. All equipment manufacturers stand behind their consumables.

What words of warning or advice might you propose?

Coburn Technologies: Always test a product before making a decision. Never settle for what you’re using today when something better could exist.

Leybold Optics: Two words…be careful! Talk with other labs that have used the consumables, or better yet, contact Leybold since we have worked with many labs that have tried generic consumables and created their own nightmares.

Schneider Optical Machines: Look only at quality and cost per job, not individual prices. It’s a complete system that needs to work together! 


When and why do labs turn to non-OEM consumables providers like you?

DAC Vision: We have a long history of being a preferred supplier of laboratory consumables, offering a comprehensive product portfolio, a strong market presence and veteran representation. We’re able to actively offer the correct solutions and product mix along with extensive technical support. Our manufacturing experience is unparalleled in the industry.

Practical Systems, Inc. (PSI): For over 44 years, labs in the U.S. and worldwide have been looking to Practical Systems, Inc. (PSI). They know they can trust our products to perform as well or better than any products available. In addition, labs have access to PSI’s on-site technical support, knowledgeable and friendly customer service staff and quick delivery times from one of two warehouses on the east and west coasts. New and existing customers often reach out to PSI for product suggestions or to ask for help in overcoming processing problems with their existing systems. Since the introduction of our new website (, customers can also appreciate the convenience of online ordering.

Salem Vision Group: We provide technical assistance and have the ability to troubleshoot process issues. In most cases, we’re able to optimize production with our consumables. Since Salem Vision Group is an employee-owned company that’s independent of any large optical corporation, we’re a viable option for labs who don’t want to be a revenue stream for their competitors.

What are a few advantages of purchasing non-OEM consumables?

DAC Vision: At DAC Vision, we specialize in manufacturing and distributing consumables—and strive to improve their quality and performance. Over the years, our products have become well-known brands in lab environments worldwide.

Practical Systems, Inc. (PSI): PSI has always been an innovator through new product development and has created many products that are as good as or better than OEM consumables. In fact, some are well recognized in the industry and have won OLA Awards of Excellence.  Finding the right product for the lab is the ultimate goal, and it isn’t always the brand first introduced by the company selling the machinery. Consider the product on which PSI was founded—AlumaLap. This lightweight aluminum lap became the industry standard, replacing heavy cast iron tools. Using lighter-weight laps reduced machine maintenance and extended equipment life. Over the years, PSI has spent much time and many resources researching and developing new “Practical Systems” for the optical industry.  All PSI products undergo extensive testing and validation in our customers’ labs so they are production-proven before they’re brought to market.

Salem Vision Group: Our products usually meet or exceed the OEM product quality. We also provide the best parameters for our products and assist in implementing new processes. In most cases, we offer value targeted options with improved performance.

Are there any instances where you would recommend a lab not purchase a non-OEM brand?

DAC Vision: No. Our products have been in use in laboratory environments worldwide for over four decades and we are constantly developing new solutions in process technologies for the demands of new processing systems.

Practical Systems, Inc. (PSI): With new equipment, such as digital or AR coating systems, PSI recommends that during the initial training and qualification phase (and while under the initial warranty period), labs use the components supplied by the manufacturer to reduce variables and optimize troubleshooting as the OEM technicians might not understand the performance attributes of other products. This also helps establish a performance and cost baseline for comparing PSI’s products when introduced into the process. Historically, once labs become familiar with their new equipment, the next step is to optimize production and reduce operating costs. That’s when they look to PSI’s consumables to widen the scope of products to test, so they find the best match for their needs. This eliminates being locked in or limited to only one specific source or product, which is always best for the consumer.

How do you address a lab’s concern about the cost of consumables (and potential tradeoffs in quality by going with non-OEM alternatives?)

DAC Vision: Our products are well known for consistency and reliability. In addition, on-time delivery, responsive customer service and field troubleshooting and process methodology help set us apart. Cost concerns are usually addressed by proven performance and real-time support. DAC Vision is extremely price competitive in all markets. Due to efficiencies in sourcing and manufacturing, we are able to provide economic solutions to virtually every optical laboratory and ECP practice.

Practical Systems, Inc. (PSI): There is no tradeoff in quality. In fact, there is usually a “trade-up” with PSI products because in many cases, our products perform better than existing options. Up-front costs for PSI products are not always the lowest, but their quality provides added value, such as extended life and reduced maintenance, which produces a positive effect on the manufacturing costs per lens. For example, users of PSI’s Digi-Lap polishing tools for digital processing are seeing high surface quality as well as tool life that lasts longer than OEM recommendations, which are two benefits every lab wants.

Some labs make the cost of consumables king, with little regard to quality. Their risk-versus-reward ratio determines how far they will go for a low-cost alternative. In these cases, a quote from Ben Franklin usually applies: “The bitterness of poor quality remains long after the sweetness of low price is forgotten.” This is one reason PSI has always been a leader in innovation with a focus on producing the highest quality products and providing long-term cost savings.

Salem Vision Group: When we change a process or a consumable, we are able to provide confirmation that the process or product is a better solution. There must be a valid reason for the change.

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Trends in Consumables: What’s Happening Today

Our consumables manufacturers also weighed in on several industry trends, and provided tips on how you can adapt to them.

• A “greener” focus: One key trend is the green movement in all aspects of lens processing, especially in consumables. Labs want less waste, safe disposal and the ability to make more lenses per consumable. Tip: Partner with a provider that can offer unique, green alternatives to the traditional alloy process, while being seamlessly integrated into existing production lines.

• No shortage of choices: Every consumables manufacturer/distributor has similar products.  With the industry’s move from conventional to soft tool/digital processing, there are many consumables options available. Tip: Carefully evaluate each product to determine the best solutions for your needs.

•A changing mix: Traditional surfacing supplies are tapering off as digital processing technology becomes a larger part of today’s manufacturing platform. Tip: Align yourself with a provider that offers a wide array of digital supplies, including diamonds, polishing tools, slurries and more.

• Confining contracts: Some machinery companies are linking warranties to consumable contracts. This means labs may be obligated to purchase expensive (and in some cases lower-quality) consumables while they wait for those contracts to end. Review the sales proposal to make sure there is not a binding contract linking consumables to the warranty. If you’re already in a binding consumable contract, start testing well before the contract expires to evaluate other options on the market.

• Rapid growth: Digital processes are growing at a tremendous pace and more companies are starting to understand the value consumables that have been tried, tested, and proven. Tip: It’s okay to shop around for price, but pay attention to uncompromising quality, too.






Labtalk June 2020