Not the Same Old Grind

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By Andrew Karp: Group Editor, Lenses and Technology

When was the last time you visited your prescription lab? If it’s been a while, you owe it to yourself to call them up and ask them what’s new. Chances are they’ll have a lot to show you.

With the advent of new technologies such as electronic ordering and digitally designed, free-form lenses over the past few years, many U.S. labs have raised their game by investing in new systems and equipment. Investments in computer systems and automation, as well as in advanced machinery for surfacing, coating, finishing and inspecting lenses is enabling labs to better compete regionally, nationally and even internationally.

The digital lens revolution, in particular, is changing the way labs do business because it is turning them from lens grinders into lens manufacturers. Using computer files containing the coordinates for an optimized or customized lens design and combining this data with the patient’s Rx information and position-of-wear measurements, labs are taking generic lens blanks and shaping them into actual lenses.

To do this repeatedly and with up to 1/100 of a diopter of precision requires great technical skill as well as the ability to monitor the quality of the final product to ensure it is up to spec. This high degree of quality control is raising the standard for prescriptions throughout the industry.

The six labs I profiled in this month’s Special Report, (see page 42) five of which are in this edition and one of which is on www.visionmonday.com, have each made major investments in new digital surfacing technology as well as in other aspects of lens production. As you read their accounts, you’ll understand the considerable time, effort and expense they have gone to in the process of upgrading their facilities. It’s a good sampling of what’s going on in labs today.

If you’re prescribing or dispensing digitally designed lenses, you need to visit your local lab to see how these lenses are made. When you see what it takes to produce these sophisticated products, you’ll appreciate how far our industry has really come in a relatively short time and the integral role labs are playing in its continuing evolution. I guarantee you, it’s not the same old grind.

akarp@jobson.com