A few years ago, a now-defunct plastic lens manufacturer ran a series of TV commercials touting the scratch-resistant properties of its lens products. In the spots, an actor rubbed the surface of one of the company’s lenses with a piece of steel wool. Lo and behold, a close-up shot revealed the spectacle surface escaped without a scratch.
The advertising campaign had little impact on the lens market overall, of course, as the company went out of business soon after it was launched. But, the airing of these spots—in select markets across the U.S.—did signal a major change for the optical industry. It marked the first time a plastic lens manufacturer centered a product-marketing message to consumers on scratch-resistance.
Historically, plastic lenses have had their share of difficulties in this area—especially when compared with their glass counterparts. Hence the advent of scratch-resistant (a.k.a., “hard”) coatings.
These coatings—applied in wholesale and/or retail surfacing labs—were considered an “add-on” treatment for spectacle lenses, an “extra” dispensers could offer their patients to assuage concerns their new plastic specs would scratch during everyday wear. In recent years, these scratch-resistant coatings have retailed for roughly $10 to $15 per lens pair and the coatings have been used on a significant percentage of the plastic lenses dispensed.
Unfortunately, too often patients misunderstood the nature of these products. According to dispensary managers such as H. Jay Carney, chief development officer for Eye Health Vision Center, a multi-location ophthalmology practice based in North Dartmouth, Mass., “The biggest misconception some patients have is ‘scratch-resistant’ means ‘scratch proof.’ And that’s a result of getting bad information from their dispenser.” Worse yet, the quality of these coating products—and the processes used to apply them—varied widely from dispenser to dispenser, lab to lab.
Although these coatings remain in use as a valuable “add-on” to commodity-level plastic lens products (i.e., conventional hard-resin plastic), several major lens manufacturers have in recent years taken a different direction when it comes to scratch-resistance for their premium products.
Today, dispensers say the majority of the plastic lenses they dispense (72.7 percent in 2001, according to the 20/20 MarketPulsePremium Lens Survey of Independents conducted last spring) feature some form of scratch-resistant/hard coating.
Lens manufacturers have been co-branding premium lens products (usually in the high-index or ultra-high-index categories) with premium, factory-installed scratch-resistant treatments. These scratch-resistant coatings are frequently combined with anti-reflective (A-R) coatings to form what several manufacturers have dubbed “durable A-R coatings.”
“Most of the hard-coated lenses we dispense feature factory-applied [hard coats],” says Carney. “We do not sell lenses without scratch-resistant coating. It’s become so commonplace you really have to go out of your way to find lenses without it.” The only exception to this rule in some dispensaries may be lens sales involving managed care or Medicare/Medicaid patients. Not all plans cover scratch-resistant lens treatments.
Factory-applied lens coating “systems” differ from manufacturer to manufacturer, but the basic chemistry remains the same. Each of the elements—the scratch-resistant coating and the A-R coating, as well as the “hydrophobic” coating for easy cleaning and the “cushion” or “primer” coating for increased impact-resistance (on high-index only)—are applied to the surface of a lens to form what is known in the industry as a multi-layer coating. These new coatings, manufacturers say, have been optimally engineered so the coating elements (the A-R, the hydrophobic, the scratch-resistant coating, etc.) are more compatible with each other and the lens substrate to which they are applied.
“Years ago, we used to have patient after patient bringing their eyeglasses back and expecting a free lens replacement because they had some scratches on their lenses six or nine months after purchase,” says Carney. “That doesn’t happen anymore. But I don’t care how good a coating is, it will not eliminate the possibility of scratching.” To keep returns at minimum with any scratch-resistant treatment, Carney suggests dispensers implement a warranty policy covering lens replacement for scratching only when the scratches are “in the line of sight.”
Whether they are stand-alone treatments or part of a multi-layer “stack,” contemporary scratch-resistant coatings are made from an acrylic-based compound similar to those found in artificial cosmetic fingernails. Experts say all of the newer factory-coated lenses available in the marketplace offer improved scratch-resistance because the new chemistries used in their formation have created “harder” coatings that are more “glass-like” in their scratch-resistant qualities (though some are still designed to be “softer” for easier tinting). The coatings, they say, also adhere better to the surface of the lens through a process some call “substrate” or “index” matching, meaning there is less delamination.
“We have had great success with the new scratch-resistant treatments,” says Amy Endo, optician and optical manager for the practice of her husband—Edwin Y. Endo, OD—in Aiea, Hawaii. “We recommend them to every patient who comes in.”
With so many innovations on or coming to market, lens industry experts expect manufacturers to devote more marketing dollars to messages involving the scratch-resistance capabilities of their products in 2003. No word yet on whether any TV commercials are in works.
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INDO INITIATES US DISTRIBUTION Indo, a Spain-based lens manufacturer, has started distributing ophthalmic lenses to the U.S. wholesale-lab market through a new subsidiary based in California called Indo Lens U.S. The U.S. outfit is distributing both single-vision and progressive lenses using Indo’s proprietary Superfin material; the progressives are sold under the branch name Admira.
ESSILOR EXPANDS NEXT GENERATION LINE Essilor Lenses has extended the product range of its 1.50-index Next Generation Transitions
finished single-vision gray to an Rx range of +4.00D to –4.00D, out to –2.00D cylinder. Next Generation Transitions is also available in Varilux Comfort, Varilux Panamic and other Essilor progressives (including Essilor Natural, Adaptar and Ovation), as well as in semi-finished single-vision and straight-top bifocal.
All are available with Crizal A-R.
NASSAU INTROS NALCO Nassau Vision Group Laboratories has launched its Nalco progressive as a semi-finished blank. Available in an Rx range of +6.00D to –9.00D with adds from +0.75D to +3.50D in 0.25D steps, Nalco lenses are made of conventional hard-resin plastic.
The lens features a 19mm fitting height.
VISION-EASE, LENSCRAFTERS RELEASE MELANIN LENS Vision-Ease Lens has released a polarized melanin sunlens exclusively through LensCrafters. These lenses combine the natural, UV and blue light-absorbing properties of melanin with Vision-Ease’s patented polarization process, according to the company. LensCrafters has launched the product in its FeatherWates polycarbonate line.
AO-SOLA EXPANDS SOLAMAX AO-Sola has expanded to its Solamax progressive lens line to include Next Generation Transitions (conventional plastic) and polycarbonate Transitions. The new products augment AOSola’s Solamax Spectralite Velocity Transitions mid-index lens line.
SOMO STARTS SEMI-FINISHED Somo Optical has introduced a complete line of semi-finished lenses to complement its line of finished products. The new semi-finished products available include 1.56 single-vision (both spheric and aspheric), 1.56 flat-top 28, 1.60 single-vision aspheric, 1.67 single-vision aspheric, polycarbonate single-vision and polycarbonate progressive.
HOYA RELEASES SUNTECH Hoya Vision Care has released SunTech photochromics in its high-index plastic lens lines. A coating added to the lens after the prescription has been processed, SunTech is available in Hoya’s 1.60-index Eyas material and will soon be released in the company’s 1.70-index Eyry material. The lenses are made to order in Hoya’s Bethel, Conn. processing facility, according to the company.
POLYCORE RELEASES SUNSENSORS Polycore Optical has released its semi-finished flat-top 28 in Corning SunSensors photochromic technology. Polycore SunSensors are available in finished single-vision, finished single-vision with A-R, semi-finished single-vision, semi-finished flat-top and progressive (in both gray and brown). The new SunSensor Flat-Top 28 is available in base curves of 2.00D, 4.25D, 5.25D, 6.25D and 8.50D, with adds from 1.00D to 3.00D.
GARGOYLES GOES POLARIZED Gargoyles has released the Gargoyles Polarized Eyewear sunglass collection. According to the company, the collection features GXP lens engineering, which integrates a patented multi-layer mirror technology and anti-reflective and anti-smudge coatings with the its polycarbonate polarizing lens system.