While optical labs have had to focus recently on COVID-19-related matters like implementing new safety protocols, maintaining a healthy staff and supporting a new set of customer needs, they continue to address long-term goals. One of these is increased sustainability: the need for processes that create less waste and use less energy to reduce the impact that optical manufacturing has on the environment. Equipment manufacturers continue to support lab sustainability efforts with innovative technologies that help make lab processes more environmentally friendly and more efficient.

According to Andreas Huthoefer, head of global marketing and product management at Satisloh, “The greatest sources of waste are swarf (plastic and polycarbonate waste, globally estimated at 40,000 tons per year in our industry), water (4 to 10 liters per lens) and energy (2 to 3 kWh per lens). As for pollutants, alloy blocking is likely the biggest issues in the optical industry, considering that alloy material contains toxic heavy metals such as lead and cadmium.”

Like other manufacturers, Satisloh uses various tactics to reduce waste from lab processes. The company’s Bazell Micro-Separating Systems create a closed-loop water cycle, filtering water and compacting swarf. Briquetters further compact the swarf, reducing waste volume by up to a 12:1 ratio.

Satisloh reduces toxic waste in the lab through its Alloy Replacement Technology (ART), which Huthoefer describes as “the only truly proven industrial alloy-free blocking solution in the market.” ART also lowers water usage and reduces energy consumption by up to 50 percent because it requires only two machines for blocking and deblocking, compared to four with standard automated alloy blocking.

Santinelli is addressing sustainability from two different angles. “Santinelli/Nidek has adjusted the water flow usage in our edgers to lower the amount of water used while processing lenses,” explained Jonathan Martin, director of technical services. “The second thing we have done is change our tank and pump offering. We now offer a large four-chambered recirculating tank and pump system that uses a hurricane filter.” This system reduces solid waste and means that water changes can occur about once per week, rather than daily, according to Martin.

DAC Technologies offers the Aqua Distill water/waste recycler, which distills water for reuse, while capturing alloy in a heat-resistant liner bag in the tank. The company’s ULTRA-TBW tray and block washers reduce hard and dry polish residue that could scratch lenses, while extending the life of trays and blocks to reduce landfill.

Luneau Technology USA creates a cleaner lab environment through its airMAX air purification system for edgers. This air purification filtering system eliminates foul smells and dust associated with edging high-index and polycarbonate lenses. It is compatible with virtually all wet edging systems, and each unit can be connected to up to two edgers.

In Europe, the company offers a cooling and filtration unit with their Briot and Weco edging systems. Water recirculation reduces water consumption, while a two-level filtration system reduces waste in the water that would otherwise go down the drain.

These new approaches to sustainable lens manufacturing are finding an appreciative audience in the lab community. Said Huthoefer, “We have over 160 successful ART installations worldwide that use alloy-free ART (alloy replacement technology solutions), and more than 250 million good lenses have been produced with ART. That’s just one indication of how much modern labs embrace green products.”