Independent Labs Go Digital

By Andrew Karp,
Group Editor, lenses and technology

NEW YORK—Although lens manufacturers such as Essilor, Zeiss, Hoya and Signet Armorlite produce digitally surfaced progressive lenses in their own U.S. laboratories, an increasing number of independent labs are acquiring the capability to produce the lenses themselves. Some labs are even making it their primary thrust.

One such wholesaler is U.S. Optical in East Syracuse, N.Y., which opened two months ago. The lab specializes in producing free-form and digitally surfaced progressives such as the Seiko Succeed Internal Free-Form and Shamir Autograph. The lab also distributes Hoya and Kodak Unique lenses from Signet Armorlite.

Rob Cotran, Ron Cotran and Ralph Cotran use Satisloh VFT Ultra generators and conveyors to produce digital progressive lenses at U.S. Optical, their new lab in East Syracuse, N.Y.
“We’re going to concentrate on free form, but we will do all progressives and high-end lenses,” said Ralph Cotran, co-owns the lab with his brothers Rob and Ron. Lens production at U.S. Optical is highly automated. “We installed a SatisLoh automatic line for free form, including a VFT Ultra generator with conveyor and UltraFlex polisher,” said Ron. “Because of the automation, we only have about 15 employees.”

The lab offers 24-hour service on all in-house free form and digitized lenses with AR coating, which are produced in a state-of- the-art Carl Zeiss coating center.

The Cotrans see the opening of their East Syracuse lab as the first step in a network of labs.

“Our goal is to also try to open a couple of more locations specializing in a wide range of free form lenses,” said Ralph.

Digital Eye Lab, a one-year-old lab in Hawthorne, N.Y., is dedicated to producing digital lenses, including Seiko Succeed Internal Freeform, Shamir Insight Autograph and Indo LifeMade, Inicia and Expert.

Perfect Optics, located in Vista, Calif., also specializes in free form lenses such as Shamir Autograph. Both Carl Zeiss Vision and Vision Service Plan are investors in the lab, which opened in 2007.

The most recent independent lab to add digital PALs to its product mix is Lab Italle. Last month, Essilor of America announced the completion of the first-ever technology transfer of its patented 360° Digital Surfacing process at California-based lab. With access to Essilor’s 360° Digital Surfacing technology, Italee can now fully manufacture Varilux lenses on its California campus, including Varilux Physio 360º, Varilux Ellipse 360º and Varilux Comfort 360º in a wide range of materials, including the new Transitions VI line.

“Essilor is proud to share our industry leading, state-of-the-art 360° technology with Italee,” said Bob Colucci, president of Essilor’s Independent Distribution Division. “The Essilor technical team was involved during every step of the installation at Italee, ensuring total process integration, from lab management systems to lab process re-engineering.”

Italee’s new digital surfacing facility operates Essilor’s proprietary and patented equipment and process. A remote daily quality certification of the process has been set up with Essilor to ensure design compliance and guarantee consistency and quality control.

Several other independent labs, such as Rite-Style Optical in Omaha, Nebraska and Pech Optical in Sioux City, Iowa, are producing digital PALs on-site while continuing to offer conventional progressives.