Creating the Super Lab
As I mentioned in last month’s column, the free-form progressive lenses that several suppliers are now introducing into the U.S. represent a sophisticated new approach to lens manufacturing and design. These breakthrough products are changing our idea of what we thought was possible from a lens.
Free-form lens technology may also profoundly change our idea of what we thought was possible from an optical laboratory. Using high-tech lens surfacing and polishing equipment and a software “points file” containing lens design data supplied by a lens company, labs can produce their own free-form lenses. This technology, like the latest in-office lens casting systems, is still quite new. However, it allows labs to make the leap from lens processors to lens manufacturers. These “super labs” would have capabilities beyond those of conventional labs.
Once a lab starts producing lenses with either free-form surfacing or casting, it may be able do it more efficiently and at lower cost. For example, using free-form surfacing equipment, labs can cut complex curves onto the front and back surfaces of a semi-finished blank, turning a “hockey puck” into a prescription lens. This can be done on an as-needed basis when an account calls in an order. It will also allow labs to save money by significantly reducing lens inventories, since a small number of base curves would be required to produce a wide range of prescriptions.
Having labs produce lenses also has major implications for marketing, especially when it comes to brands. In one possible scenario a wholesale lab would use a points file to make name brand lenses under a license from a lens supplier. At least one lab, Soderberg, is already pursuing this approach.
Other options might be for a lab to produce its own, private-label lenses. Just as with the proliferation of “lab brand” AR lenses, we may see the introduction of “lab brand” progressives.
As more labs acquire manufacturing capabilities, eyecare practitioners will certainly benefit. They will have more product choices, more sources and better service.
This is just the beginning. None of these changes will happen overnight. But don’t be surprised if one day your local lab turns into a super lab.
Group Editor, Lenses and Technology