Click to download a PDF of Reengineering and Renovation.

The term “work in progress” accurately defines most prescription optical laboratories. No matter how smoothly a lab may be running, there’s always something that needs updating or replacing, whether it’s adding a single piece of equipment, reengineering an entire production line or even building a whole facility. It’s an endless cycle of invention and reinvention, and labs must learn to adjust to it while continuing to service customers, a challenge which can be daunting for any business.

Although the reasons for reengineering or renovating a lab are usually practical, they almost always have a strategic underpinning. The most common reasons are increasing efficiency, improving workflow, boosting throughput and capacity, and reducing manufacturing and labor costs, according to veteran lab owners and managers.

Ultimately, the goal of these projects, no matter what the size and scope may be, is to improve the quality of the ophthalmic lenses the lab produces while increasing the value of those products. Both are essential for a lab to remain competitive and operate profitably.

Staying on the cutting edge of technology, both literally and figuratively, has always been imperative for optical labs. But optical labs face a unique set of challenges. Unlike manufacturing businesses that produce products that are more or less uniform in function and appearance, optical labs must make personalized products, and they have to produce them in volume.

Creating and maintaining a rapid, repeatable manufacturing process that can still make one-of-a-kind products on demand is a conundrum that is somewhat unique to optical labs. It presents a set of problems that labs, together with the vendors that design and manufacture lens processing equipment and supplies, must regularly solve. The introduction of new lens materials and coatings makes this process even more complex, challenging the resourcefulness and creativity of labs and vendors.

In recent years, optical labs have made significant progress in these areas by adapting advanced systems and concepts used in other manufacturing industries. One popular approach, an end-to-end methodology known as Industry 4.0 that involves “smart” manufacturing processes and machines that can communicate to one another as well as to the operator, is achieving impressive results for many labs.

Another recent technical advance is the development of modular systems in which all components are designed to function together optimally. These systems can be scaled to the needs of individual labs, enabling small- and mid-sized labs to enjoy the same advantages as larger ones.

To better understand the reengineering process and how it benefits labs, eyecare professionals and patients, Vision Monday spoke with owners and managers of labs that have recently upgraded their facilities. We asked them what the primary factors were that drove their decisions to upgrade; to what extent the availability of new technologies influenced their choices; how they collaborated with key vendors; and whether the results of the project met their expectations.

By sharing firsthand accounts, along with photos of work in progress, these lab executives help us to understand and appreciate the knowledge and ingenuity that was required to overcome the challenges they encountered and accomplish their objectives. Their reports provide a window into the inner workings of labs, through which we can see how their investments in technology result in better products and improved service, which ultimately benefit them and their customers.

Thanks to Kurt Atchison of Schneider, Andy Huthoefer of Satisloh and Alex Incera of Coburn Technologies for their guidance and input for this article.