Cherry Optical Lab
Green Bay, Wisconsin

Synopsis: In May, 2020, Cherry Optical Lab began a major expansion and equipment upgrade project adding 6,500 square feet of production and creating a four-building campus. Company president Adam Cherry described how the complex process unfolded, and what resulted.

Lab Owner’s Report: Adam Cherry

“The driver for the reengineering project was the successes we have had, wanting to improve upon where we were, and also to get ready for the next level. These are some pretty big boys we’re going up against, and if we aren’t constantly innovating and trying to create the best proficiency in our process, we’ll fall behind very quickly.

There’s also the reality of being competitive in the labor market. We were overly reliant on low-skill manual labor—loading and unloading polishers and edgers, moving trays from one place to the other, scooping swarf. You can get great people, but who’s going to want to do that for 10 to 20 years? Who wants to make a career of polishing lenses? For us, automation is about repurposing labor. We’re trying to attract people with a skillset, people with a background in AutoCAD or electrical engineering.

There’s a lot to be done to create the transition from a modern lab to a future lab. A major part of the effort was expanding and automating surfacing. We really leaned in on our partnership with Schneider, and they came through very well. We gave them a canvas, and then they started to lay out what we could do in that space with what we have now, and what we can do in that space over time. They showed us how we would add equipment, how we can configure it, and what you can get out of it. They’ve got the experience and tools to estimate capacity and throughput.

The glamorous part is the equipment, but how are you going to talk to all of these machines? How are you going to assure that the system is secure? Do you have the right power, do you have transformers all over, or do you upgrade your service to your building? Getting enterprise-quality and configured switches and redundant routers, and virtualizing servers added a whole other level of stress and anxiety. That’s part of growing. All these machines run on air, and so you keep adding more and more and more. Now you’ve put a lot of pressure on your compressors. Is your compressor big enough? All this stuff needs to be thought of.

The parcel that our laboratory was on had three different buildings on it, and our vision when we bought the property was this expansion. Having the vision to see how the current layout is working was the reason we purchased the property with existing buildings. A green space build [an empty space] would have been nice, but it also would have been either dramatically disruptive or more expensive. Picking up and moving a fully-enabled laboratory that was doing a thousand-plus jobs per day was not something I wanted to take on.

We were able to keep everything going during the expansion. That was a task we gave to the contractor. Then, as they finalized the building, it was time for Schneider to come in and do their part on the surfacing automation, and similarly, we told them they had to keep running. We devised a plan where we could stage all the equipment near where it was going to go.

The team that Schneider brought in to build the automation ring was incredible. They worked 12- to 14- hour days, through the weekend. They were away from home in September and October, when COVID numbers were spiking—and they stayed dedicated and on the task.

We have already seen nearly 100 percent growth in utilized capacity since the expansion was completed in November 2020. Turnaround time isn’t where we want it to be but, we are working like mad to improve that. The rapid return of business, combined with growth and a highly competitive labor market has added some stresses to the situation. We hear that we are doing better than our competition, but we really don’t use our competition as a gauge of our performance. We’re seeing progress with each passing week.”