Well Equipped: Dressed to Drill

By Andy Karp

Responding to the ever-increasing demand for rimless eyewear, manufacturers of lens processing equipment have developed a new generation of optical drills that greatly simplify one of the last remaining high-skilled jobs in the lab. Suppliers such as Santinelli International, Berkshire Ophthalmic, Briot, Weco, Smart Lab, Practical Systems, Lab-Tech, Inland Diamond have recently introduced drills that incorporate advanced features to aid in processing this delicate, eye-catching eyewear.

The most sophisticated of these drills incorporate high-tech performance features such as CNC technology, on-board frame data storage, adjustable tilt mechanisms that offer unprecedented precision, accuracy and flexibility.
To learn how this equipment is being used to produce rimless eyewear with greater speed and less breakage than ever before, L&T spoke with some optical pros who “know the drill.”

Throwing Curves
Drilling high-curve lenses is one of the more challenging aspects of fabricating rimless eyewear. Fortunately, several drill makers offer adjustable mechanisms that allow the lenses to be tilted at different angles to facilitate accurate hole placement. For example, Santinelli’s new LessStress drill, incorporates a pantoscopic tilt table that enables the drill, not the lens, to tilt. “If you’re making a rimless frame for someone who has a very wide face and you have a lens with a high-base curve, there’s more chance of breaking the frame or cracking the lenses,” explains Bill Picillo, an optician with Picillo Brothers Opticians in North Arlington, N.J. “The tilt feature on the LessStress lets you do all different base curves.

“With the LessStress, we’ve been doing a lot of eight-base sunlenses as well as a lot of the custom Silhouette frames,” continues Picillo. “Once you get away from the shape that the manufacturer gives you, it’s very hard to drill the lenses with a Dremel. We do a lot of custom shapes now, where people will come in and say, ‘I want that shape, but I want it in rimless. With this drill, you can any shape.”

Since purchasing the LessStress drill about six months ago, Picillo Opticians has increased its rimless frame sales. “Before, we were using a regular Dremel drill that I got at Home Depot for $49,” says Picillo. “We had been doing rimless the old way, where a frame company sends the film with the lens markings. When we started doing more rimless, it took too long. Plus, there was more room for error. Now we sell about five to eight rimless frames a week.”

Different Drills for Different Skills
When it comes to fabricating rimless eyewear, Bob Wallner is particularly demanding. As owner of The Cutting Edge, a wholesale lab in Wallkill, N.Y. where rimless accounts for 99 percent of the jobs, Wallner’s business depends upon how well his drills perform.

“I look for a drill that’s consistent, user-friendly and versatile,” says Wallner. “Because of the diversity of the hardware that you’re mounting these lenses into, the drill has to be able to adapt. For instance, some hardware mounts on the front of lens and some on the back. Because of that, the drilling will be significantly different. A drill that only has limited adjustment for drill angle or hole placement isn’t the best choice.”

The Cutting Edge uses as many as eight different drills for different types of rimless jobs. Among Wallner’s favorites is the Weco 450 Drill and Edge, a versatile unit that combines drilling and edging functions. “I like the fact that it does wet cutting, which is good for polycarbonate and Trivex,” says Wallner.
The most sophisticated drill at The Cutting Edge and a mainstay of the lab is the OptiDrill CNC, a high-volume drilling system manufactured by Berkshire Ophthalmic Labs Ltd. and distributed by Salem Vision Group. Using computer numerical control, the OptiDrill system offers accurate hole, slot or notch location, size and alignment with a single 1mm router-type drill bit. The lenses are precisely positioned utilizing the edging blocks already mounted on the lenses. The OptiDrill also features a “tilt table” that automatically positions the lenses at the proper angle to ensure precise hole alignment for a stress-free fit on wrap-around frames.

Walking Down Memory Lane
For labs or retail shops that produce a lot of rimless jobs, it’s essential for a drill to have a memory that can store frame styles and frame manufacturers’ model number and size. The OptiDrill, for example, comes with a pre-loaded, built-in database of frames. Users can also input their own frame data, as Wallner did. “I wiped out the database that came with it and loaded in my own,” says Wallner. “Now I have information for about 500 different frames.”

Labs can update the database by downloading information gathered by OptiDrill users that is posted on Berkshire’s web site,
Another computerized drilling system is Briot’s ProLens Industrial Drill. Though Wallner doesn’t own a ProLens, he has used it and says it compares favorably with the OptiDrill. The high-speed machine can notch, mill and drill round or oval holes from 1.2mm to 3mm. Rimless lenses can be positioned on the drill lens holder without removing the edging blocks, allowing for quick processing.

The ProLens’s database stores patterns and drill positions; relative movements are programmed in x, y and z coordinates to within 5/100 of a millimeter. Drilling coordinates are entered via keypad or with a computer mouse.

Many retailers who don’t want to spend thousands on a computerized drill but still need to process a wide range of frame styles use the Smart Drilling System from Smart Lab. The Smart Drill uses “formula charts” that provide drilling position, drill bit sizes, bridge dimensions and other data in an easy-to-follow format. The unit allows angling of the lenses, so the drill holes will be perpendicular to the front surface. The system ships with 10 different size drill bits; the company stocks 25 additional bit sizes for unique needs.