Through My Lens

Avoiding a Free-form Free-for-all
The hottest buzzword in lens and tech circles this year is free-form. It keeps popping up in conversations with optical lab executives and manufacturers of lenses and lab equipment. At Mido this spring, several companies were introducing new free-form generating and polishing systems or demonstrating prototypes.

Though free-form technology has been used in Europe for several years, it is only beginning to reach the U.S. (Free-form progressive lenses such as the Rodenstock ILT and Carl Zeiss Gradal Individual have been produced and sold in Europe and other international markets for the past couple of years.) Until now, these lenses have only been available on a limited basis in the U.S. Consequently, ECPs here have had limited exposure to free-form lenses.
That is rapidly changing, though, as a growing number of U.S. labs and lens suppliers are installing free-form surfacing equipment. Companies such as Johnson & Johnson, Shamir Insight and Carl Zeiss are beginning to introduce free-form progressive lenses into the U.S.

“Free-form is an umbrella term that describes an
almost unlimited variety of lens designs.
That’s why it’s important to educate ECPs about features and benefits.”

So what exactly is free-form? Simply put, it’s a more versatile method of surfacing semi-finished lens blanks. Traditional lens surfacing is restricted to toric and spheric surfaces. Free-form surfacing can produce more complex curves on the front and back surface of a lens. These surfaces can be toric-prismatic, atoric, aspheric or progressive. They can be applied in various combinations and even customized to fit an individual wearer’s visual requirements or facial shape. This personalization of the lens design represents the ultimate application of free-form technology.

The point is, free-form is an umbrella term that describes an almost unlimited variety of lens designs. That’s why it’s important for labs and lens manufacturers to educate ECPs about the features and benefits of each free-form lens they introduce. Not only do free-form lens designs differ, but with some products, such as with the new customized progressives, dispensers may even need to learn new fitting techniques. If suppliers take the time now to explain this sophisticated new approach to lens manufacturing and design, we can avoid a free-form free-for-all.

Andrew Karp
Group Editor, Lenses and Technology