Through My Lens

Plan a Field Trip
The relationship between most eyecare professionals and their wholesale optical laboratory is typically multifaceted and complex. On any given day, labs are called upon to play a variety of roles for their customers: supplier, business consultant, optics expert, teacher and friend.

Because of these multiple and often overlapping roles, ECPs and their staffs often become very familiar with their lab. (I should say labs, since ECPs use an average of 2.5 labs, according to 20/20’s 2002 Lab Usage Survey.) The doctor, dispenser or assistant may speak with the lab’s customer service rep regularly. The lab’s sales reps may stop by for a visit, or the ECP may attend a seminar sponsored by the lab. And your office computer, fax machine or remote tracer may be in constant electronic communication with the lab.

Despite all these points of contact, just how well do you know your lab? When was the last time you or anyone on your staff visited the lab?
If you haven’t taken a tour of your lab lately, now’s the time to do it. What you see might surprise you. To stay competitive, many labs are adding such improvements as sophisticated remote order entry systems, robotic lens surfacing and finishing equipment, and, in some cases, advanced coating systems. A handful of wholesalers have even begun casting lenses on-site, including a couple of the Essilor labs and, most recently, the Minnesota-based wholesaler Soderberg. It won’t be long before other labs follow suit.

“How well do you know your lab? When was the last time
you or anyone on your staff visited the lab?”

Freeform surfacing, also known as direct surfacing, is another technology that has the potential to transform labs into lens manufacturers. Currently used in Europe by Rodenstock, Carl Zeiss and Essilor to make aspheric, atoric and progressive lenses, the technology is just beginning to filter into U.S. labs. (See Dan Katzman’s comments in this month’s Eye Opener interview.)

These technological developments are enabling wholesalers to reduce their turnaround time and deliver better quality prescriptions. That’s good news for dispensers, because patients often judge them by the quality of the eyeglasses they dispense. The better the lab, the better the dispenser.

Go visit your wholesale lab soon. Ask the manager to show you the latest improvements they’ve made. (If they haven’t made too many improvements, it might be time to switch labs.) By seeing first-hand what your lab’s capabilities are, you’ll be in a better position to take advantage of them and help your patients as well.

—Andrew Karp
Group Editor, Lenses and Technology