“Where’s the pattern for this frame?” Even opticians with just a few years experience in a finishing lab will remember this question all too well. Those were the days when lens finishing was a simple affair, with glass lenses still comprising a fair percentage of the lab’s weekly orders. Back then, the formula for making glasses was simple: “No pattern, no glasses.” But in 1987, Briot revolutionized the finishing process by introducing their model Scanform 5000S - the world’s first patternless edger. By scanning a frame’s shape via a stylus, the Scanform took the first step toward digitizing the world of eyeglass finishing. Even with its truly revolutionary technology, eye—care professionals voiced some basic objections, including “Too expensive” and “Why do I need that when what I’m using now is good enough.”

Today, the most advanced grinders have evolved to become essentially mini CNCs—a computer-numerically-controlled machine optimized for the processing of ophthalmic lenses. We are well underway to completely digitizing the entire finishing process. Even with tracer-blockers that can neutralize, mark up and block in one operation, to grinders that can polish, safety bevel, groove, slot, drill, scallop and process steeply-curved wrap lenses, skilled opticians and eye doctors often greet the latest finishing advancements with the same objections, based on expense and need. With the choices for eyewear consumers evolving at a frenetic pace, it’s time for business owners to realize that investing in the latest digital finishing equipment will be essential toward remaining competitive in a rapidly changing marketplace.

The desire for more speed in optical finishing was evident over 50 years ago, when regional businesses like Hillman Kohan pioneered promoting one-hour service. But today’s consumer isn’t measuring convenience strictly amongst optical stores alone. With the advent of online prescription eyewear, many eyeglass buyers now compare the experience of shopping in a local optical store to their experience shopping online with big companies like Amazon and Apple. In light of this, can you think of anything we do that is more inconvenient than shipping a customer’s own frame (COF) away to a lab, leaving them dependent for a week or more on their older, often expired-Rx spare pair? Today, this approach to business will never do if you want to be successful in a consumer market driven by the World Wide Web.

Luckily, the latest in-office, digitally-based finishing systems will deliver your customers the convenience they want and you need. You’ll be able to confidently and accurately trace a client’s frame, and either complete the edging of the lenses in house, or upload the resultant, VCA-compliant tracer file to the lab of your choice for remote finishing. Yes, the precision of today’s equipment is that good, and features precision sizing to a tolerance of 0.1mm.


On the opposite side of COF requests there is the client who wants or needs a tailored and customized fitting. Whether it be small or large bridge, high or low set ears, or simply a client’s personal reference for how the lens shape will center on their face, one of today’s digital lens tracer-blockers will help you satisfy these demanding clients by customizing a pair of rimless or semi-rimless eyewear for them. Whether you begin by to create a customized lens shape by tracing frame, lens template or existing lens, you’ll find the various tools to expand, contract or even modify a specific corner radius at your fingertips. Having these capabilities allows you to differentiate yourself from the competition, and it communicates that your office is committed to offering the highest levels of craftsmanship and personalization. These qualities are sought after by an significant segment of consumers, who are ready and willing to pay a premium for them.

There’s a time and place to send out a complete job, including finishing, to an outside lab. For orders specifying authentic prescription sunglass lenses, such as Oakley, Maui Jim, Nike and the like, sending the entire order directly to their authorized lab will often result in the best quality and service. These labs have spent the time to program and optimize sophisticated lens millers with their OEM library of frame shapes. But there are often prescription powers or lens designs that lie outside of their Rx offerings, and you can save money, time and even salvage the sale by doing them in-house with the newer, digital finishing technology. Let’s take a look at some of the advanced technologies offered by today’s edging systems.

OPTIMIZED BEVEL MATCHING: When eyewear lenses were finished primary by hand, only the most skilled opticians could correctly bevel lenses of different base curves to frames with non-matching eye wire curves. With digital 3D tracing and finishing, the operator can now specify the lens bevel curve to exactly match the frame’s eye wire curve. This results in prescription lenses that ideally fit the frame in a manner preserving the style’s off-the-shelf shape and fit. Frames require less bench alignment after lens insertion because of unwanted temple splay or inward tilt. Frame-matched beveling enables more tolerance in frame sizing, thereby allowing easier and more confident transfers in the event a frame has to be replaced.

OPTIMIZED WRAP CENTRATION: With all the contemporary discussion about the importance of accurate PDs, most lab technicians remain unaware that conventional blockers and older frame tracers do not take into account or compensate for the need to modify the blocking PD value with eyewear having wrap angle greater than 6 degrees. This is because as frame wrap angles increase, the effective finished job PD decreases. Therefore, a wider PD must be entered when blocking wrap eyewear to compensate for the narrowing effect that moderate to severe wrap angles have on the finished eyewear PD. Today’s sophisticated digital tracers measure both the frame eye wire curve and overall wrap angle, and recalculate a new value optimized to compensate for the effect on finished PD. One of the lesser-appreciated secrets to success with wrap progressives is accurately performing this compensatory calculation.

HIGH CURVE BEVELING: The techniques needed to make rimless glasses used to be what distinguished a good lab tech from an average one. Today, it is the knowledge of how to properly edge steeply-curved, wrap-style lenses into plastic and metal frames that separates the men from the boys. Advanced digital CNC edgers now have dedicated high-curve and step-bevel modes that allow a less-experienced operator to look like a master. In addition to optimizing fit, these wrap beveling modes trim excess thickness from both the nasal and temporal areas of stronger Rx lenses, reducing notepad interference and temple misalignment.

ADVANCED INTERFACING WITH PRACTICE MANAGEMENT SYSTEMS: If you employ an advanced PMS, you can interface today’s finishing systems directly to them, allowing individual Rx, PD and height values to auto-populate the fields of the digital tracer blocker. This means that most lenses only have to be cleaned, placed on the blocking table, and, at the push of a button, your system will auto neutralize and block the lenses with the correct PD, height and bevel placement already auto-calculated for optimal placement. An office therefore need not employ an experienced operator to create a pair of quality eyeglasses.

ADVANCED CAPABILITIES: Beyond those listed above, the ability to set jeweled crystals, add magnetic sunglass and powered prescription layers will further distinguish yourself from the competition as well as and add to your bottom line.

One of the most unrecognized advantages of using an advanced digital tracer is the ability to upload and attach a precise lens tracing to your electronic lens orders (ELO). The main benefits of this are as follows:

OPTIMIZED THICKNESS: Especially for higher plus jobs, a lab can only properly optimize lens thickness when their lab management system precisely knows the lens’s shape, size and circumferential data. An uploaded tracing can be the difference between a the delay caused by a lab call back to say your job won’t cut out, and one received on time and with perfect thickness.

OPTIMIZED OPTICS: Even if you’re currently supply pantoscopic tilt, wrap angle and vertex distance, most sophisticated free-form, position of wear lens designs will not fully optimize the entire lens surface without the actual lens tracing. If you pride yourself on dispensing top of the line optics, then uploading an individual lens tracing is essential in delivering everything you’ve promised and your customer is paying for.

OPTIMIZED CONVENIENCE: In the latest digital finishing systems, a job memory makes prepping lenses for a COF an easy task. But don’t stop there. You can further save any custom shapes, modifications or a client’s frame information in your equipment’s addressable memory, making it easy to process a telephoned lens replacement, or even a lost complete pair. Now I call that convenience with a capital C!

Of course you don’t. But the new reality today is, perhaps you do. Yes, it’s expensive. And it’s very easy to fall into the trap of thinking “I’ve been successful without all these new gadgets, with their bells and whistles. Why should I need them now?” The best answer I have is a quote from multi-millionaire Chris Kirubi, a noted authority on navigating today’s rapidly evolving marketplace: “You can’t do today’s job with yesterday’s methods and be in businesses tomorrow.”

This advice has never been more true. Every eyecare professional today seriously needs to consider the advantages of having a state of the art, in-office finishing lab in order to remain in today’s optical marketplace.