For time-crunched eyecare professionals, multitasking is no longer an option, it’s a requirement. Doctors and dispensers who juggle a full patient load, manage a staff and stay informed about new products and medical advances must function on several levels at once. These ECPs are always looking for ways to work smarter and faster.
The same is true for optical laboratory technicians. Whether they work in a solo practice, super optical or wholesale lab, lab techs must keep pace with patients’ service expectations. They often do more than one job at a time, blocking a pair of lenses while another are being edged and a third pair are being tinted.
Responding to the need for greater efficiency and increased productivity, several equipment manufacturers have recently introduced edging systems with multitasking capabilities. Just as some fax machines can now copy and scan documents as well, this new generation of edgers boasts functions such as blocking, drilling and grooving. Combining these functions in one or two versatile units, rather than assigning them to separate machines, can reduce lab costs and speed up job turnaround for better customer service and increased cash flow.
A recent example of multitasking technology is National Optronics’s 7E, a three-axis patternless drill-edger. It features an optimized drilling angle that fits the frame to produce an aesthetically pleasing product, according to Optronics. Fully compliant with the current OMA standards, the edger-resident drilling database of the 7E allows the operator to add and edit frame data.
The streamlined edger offers advanced features including grooving, polishing and a choice of pneumatic or electric chucking. A 15-inch color monitor features an adjustable hinge for multi-positioning of the viewing angle. Hole placement is displayed for viewing and/or adjustments. With a 20mm diameter cutter, the 7E is designed to edge and drill small lenses and complex shapes to accommodate all rimless eyewear styles.
At Southern Optical, an Essilor wholesale lab in Greensboro, N.C., the 7E has changed the way rimless eyewear is processed. “It’s a full-service edger that can groove and edge regular jobs, but our first priority is using it for drill mounts. We have it programmed for all Silhouette [frames],” says general manager Mike Lake. “It helps reduce our spoilage because there’s 50 percent less handling. Before, the whole process was to put the lens in the edger, take it out of edger, take to the drill table and wait until somebody drills it. Now everything is done in one machine.”
Finishing lab manager Charlie Brown says handling is also reduced because the 7E drills holes accurately, making lenses much easier to mount. “The holes are extremely clean,” he says. “You don’t have to use a deburring tool, which saves time and reduces a lot of breakage.”
The 7E has an “optimal” drilling angle, eliminating the need for a tilt table, which is a feature of some other drills, adds Brown. He also praised the unit’s ease of use and consistency. “You enter the patient’s information into the computer, go into the data base, enter the shape you want and the eyesize. The monitor will show you the shape of the lens and where you’re going to put the drill holes. Everything is uniform, so the lenses mount very well.”
The lab has less breakage resulting from undersizing lenses or having the lens slip and twist while being edged, notes Lake. He adds that using a single machine with a fixed chuck to hold the lens while it is being edged and drilled results in more consistent jobs, as opposed to edging and drilling with separate machines, especially if the machines are made by different manufacturers.
Another new entry in the multitasking finishing category is Briot USA’s Axcell CL-D. The totally automated system consists of two integrated machines. A tracer-blocker unit traces in 5-D, centers and blocks without using a lensmeter. An edger with a drill built into the edging chamber edges all materials, safety bevels, grooves and super polishes. The Axcell CL-D’s drilling function is totally computerized. The system automatically identifies the exact placement of up to 10 holes or slots, utilizing Briot’s proprietary PROS imaging technology. An image of the lens showing where the holes will be drilled is displayed on the Axcell’s LCD screen for verification, allowing the operator to make any adjustments prior to drilling.
Drill job information is communicated automatically to the edger via system software. Once the blocked lens is placed in the edging chamber, the machine completes the edging and drilling functions automatically.
“The camera is the greatest thing about this machine,” says Wayne Wilmsen, lab manager at Sonoma Eyeworks, a high-end shop in Santa Rosa, Calif., owned by Michael Harmon, OD. “You take a picture of the lens and can manipulate its total shape. You can change the A, B and ED dimensions on screen. The data is saved on the blocking unit and is then sent to the edger. With older systems, you had to trace the frame, make a pattern off that frame, cut the pattern large, edge it down by hand on a hand stone. Then you might have to deal with the axis being off. It would take a couple of hours to make a custom shape, but with this system it takes minutes.”
Wilmsen also likes that the CL-D’s automated features reduce errors. “You’re not manually measuring frame PDs. The machine does it all for you,” he notes. “It’s more efficient and more powerful. The drilling function alone can save you money. Most wholesale labs charge about $50 for a drill mount. If you do six a day, that’s $300. You can save even more if you do a single-vision job, where you can just pull the lens out of inventory and edge and drill it.”
The most feature-laden finishing system on the market is the ME-1000 Multi-Function Edger from Santinelli International and Nidek. It incorporates precision edging along with proprietary 3-D drilling and grooving, polish safety beveling and Santinelli’s Crystal Cut polish. The unit’s Flexible Tilting Function (FTF) mode creates 3-D drilling, by automatically adjusting the angle of the drill direction according to the lens surface. An auto-mode adjusts the drill angle for pantoscopic tilt; a manual mode allows for customized eyewear, including decorative lens edge designs and holes. Three-D grooving is achieved with a grooving cutter that automatically adjusts according to the lens curve, producing a highly accurate groove. The unit also has a high power/high speed direct drive main spindle motor with newly developed grinding modes and dual lens mapping probes for all lens materials.
Craig Chasnov has been using the ME-1000 for several months at his upscale boutique, Eyetopian Optical, in Ft. Myers, Fla. Drill mounts account for about 70 percent of sales, according to Chasnov, who says the ME-1000 has quickly become an essential component of his in-office lab.
“The machine’s efficiency and reproducibility saves us on average 20 to 30 minutes in drill time,” says Chasnov. “When you take the lens out of the chamber, it’s drilled and bench-aligned. Everything is drilled and grooved exactly to the base curve. It exceeds what humans do. You can do rimless jobs that you could never do before.”
The ME-1000 also enables the Eyetopia lab to easily groove a lens for a titanium frame. “With titanium frames, you often get some flexing, which can result in chipping the lens in the nasal area. Now the grooves are perpendicular to the base curve, so you’re not putting stress on the lens.”
Chasnov also uses the ME-1000 to drill polarized progressive lenses for wrap frames. “Progressives only come up to a seven base in polarized,” he notes. “But you can drill in eight base and preserve all the effect. There’s no slippage; the work comes out perfectly. By being so accurate and having the tolerances be so tight, we don’t get any more breakage on three-piece mounts.”
Chasnov says he used to use five different drills to do what the ME-1000 does. “It saves a whole staff person,” he explains. “Also, it’s not so physically demanding. We’re doing 20 drill jobs a day. Now we just program and assemble.
“This system changes the way we do business,” says Chasnov. “It’s a whole new era of eyewear.”