The Future of Smart Surfacing

By Julie Bos

At one time, the promise of a “computer in every home” seemed revolutionary and far-fetched. Yet here we are today, surrounded by a multitude of tiny, intelligent computing devices that talk wirelessly among themselves, perform tasks on command and give us data we never had before. Coffeepots that talk to alarm clocks. Thermostats that talk to motion detectors. Sprinklers that talk to moisture sensors. Everything is interconnected—driving new levels of convenience, productivity and even safety. 

What’s driving this “intelligence revolution”? One thing—information, and the ability to sense it and share it like never before.  

This same transformation is happening in optical labs across the nation, as “data” becomes the most critical driver of quality and efficiency in lens surfacing.

That Was Then, This Is Now

In the early days of lens surfacing, “data” was simply the intelligence of the opticians making glasses. These were the experts in white coats who understood exactly how much stock removal they could take in one pass on a difficult high-prism job. Today, though, basic curves and shapes are being replaced by complex ones—all of which require computerized intelligence that goes beyond even the sharpest or most experienced optician.

Indeed, using superior computing power and data gathering, machines communicate as a single integrated system. Much of the communication revolves around the lab management system (LMS), which feeds data to production machines, telling them what to do with a given job. However, until recently, there was no feedback from the machines back to the LMS. This is now changing with the advent of manufacturing execution systems (MES).

“With MES solutions, we no longer just feed data into machines; we also get detailed data back from the machines and analyze it,” explains Steele Young, VP of Business Development at Satisloh. “This creates a closed loop of processes, based on real-time data from the manufacturing floor. Common in many manufacturing industries today, MES systems help manufacturers understand how plant floor conditions can be optimized to improve production output.”

Thanks to the introduction of the MES, it’s also a whole new world of data sharing for optical labs.

“Machines talk to machines, talk to LMS systems, talk to conveyors and even talk to the operators and management team in a way necessary to deliver all the knowledge needed for a truly accurate and efficient production line,” said Kurt Atchison, President, Schneider North America. “Customers are rarely looking for individual machines any more. They need integrated systems and all the know-how to drive a better process. Data sharing inside the system now allows the production to almost run itself. As a result, today’s operators are not likely to know much about how the optic is generated—they just know how to push the right buttons. Yet with great data-sharing taking place inside the system, the operators get what they expect—better-than-ever quality at the end of the line with minimal know-how through the process.”

Here’s how two labs have benefited from the novel technology.

The Future of Data Sharing

Lab: VSPOne, Sacramento, Calif.

Current solution: Schneider’s Modulo Line and Control Center

Why it’s working: The Schneider Modulo Control Center allows one operator, who the lab designates as the “Line Driver,” to view the operating status of 41 machines simultaneously. The Line Driver is able to quickly assess machine problems from a central location and alert a technician in the area to precisely service the machine and resolve the issue in question. She has all the data at her fingertips to address production issues and offer solutions to less experienced technicians, ensuring that each and every order is expedited with the highest quality and without delay.

Improvements noticed: Before getting the Modulo Line and Control Center, VSPOne used less sophisticated systems that made timely troubleshooting more difficult. Technicians would constantly monitor individual machines to ensure optimal operation and consumable life. With the Modulo system, the lab can monitor more key performance indicators (KPIs) with less staff—including tool life in real-time—without having to shut down the generator. This guarantees the same high quality surface from the first cut to the last, without exceeding the optimal useful life of the cutting tool.

The future: VSPOne subscribes to Six Sigma, a disciplined, data-driven approach to eliminate defects in any process, ensuring its labs deliver the highest possible product to its doctor customers and their patients. Systems like this allow the lab to continuously monitor the quality of the work coming off the surfacing line over time and drill down into the data on outliers, in real time. The lab is also able to be more proactive if staff sees KPIs drifting towards the upper end of normal ranges and, if needed, stop production to investigate before rejects are created.

Cutting Down on Downtime

Lab: Walman Optical, Minneapolis, Minn.

Current solution: Satisloh’s MES-360 Software

Why it’s working: Walman uses MES-360 software on its digital generators and polishers to optimize the uptime of the equipment. Staff receive real-time messages from the software that alerts the operator, supervisor and maintenance team of any equipment issues. If after a period of time, the machine is still not up, the system escalates the messages to the director of the facility. The MES-360 also sends daily reports of machine status and utilization along with a Pareto analysis of error codes for each machine being monitored. This information is used to prioritize the corrective action taken to improve the uptime of the machine. Using the software from the system, the lab has been able to greatly reduce the incidence of an error that was previously costing it hours of uptime per day.

Improvements noticed: Prior to using the MES-360 system, Walman relied on manual data tracking and information from its LMS software to troubleshoot the lab. While valuable, the LMS information came after the fact, and was not in real-time. As a result, issues could go undetected until the LMS reports came out a day later. Now, Walman has seen spoilage reduction by getting machine-specific information in real-time, which enables staff to stop problems quickly. Staff can also solve machine downtime issues quickly, which increase the productivity of the lab.

Looking forward: One of the real strengths of MES software, Walman staff notes, is the ability to show how the entire lab is functioning—all from one place, in real time. They believe LMS integration is key to filling in all of the data required to do proper analysis of the lab and is necessary to do the consolidated types of reporting that the MES system is capable of generating. In addition, future integration of intelligent conveyor systems would further increase the productivity of our plant’s automation systems. ■


Labtalk June 2020