Thanks to the proliferation of three-piece mounts, as well as smaller metal and plastic frames, lens mounting is now more labor-intensive than ever before. As a result, an innovative evolution is taking place in the bench area, particularly in the creation of new lens mounting tools and equipment. Manufacturers have introduced a host of skill- and productivity-enhancing drills, pliers, screwdrivers and frame warmers, generating excitement in an often overlooked product category. It may not be as glamorous as premium lenses, fashion frames or the introduction of computerized patternless edging systems currently redefining optical, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less important.
“You can use old tools for some new frame products, but it takes more time,” says Harold G. Card, III, optician and owner of Card’s Opticians in Winter Park, Fla. “The volume of fashion frames, which require more handwork, has multiplied. It is really impossible now for a finishing lab to do the work without these new tools.”
Drills have undergone the most noticeable upgrade. Since 2000, the introduction of newer drills ranging from mechanized units to more expensive computerized drills has heralded a new era for this product category. Unlike older hand-helds or stationary drills, many newer drills can be adjusted to the curve of the lens. Techs can now angle the drill bit to create a more exact hole so the screw can be flush to the lens—a crucial mounting issue, often making the difference between a durable mount and one less secure. Most of the new drills offer a greater variety of bits, conforming to new screw sizes now being used in three-piece mountings as well as slot and notch bits for the latest suspension mount systems.
Innovations such as these have come in direct response to changing frame trends. Three years ago, Eye Galleria in Wichita, Kan., had only a dozen or so rimless frames on display. Owner/optician Mehdi Charmchizadeh says the shop had to purchase one of the new drills because “now there’s at least 100 different drilled rimless styles on my frame boards.”
Like other opticians, Charmchizadeh worked with hand-held drills using manufacturer-supplied templates. In order to save time and keep from misplacing different bit sizes, he used three different drills, which are still hanging in his in-office lab. “I still use them once in a while, when one lens needs to be replaced,” he notes. For the skilled optician, accuracy is feasible with older drills, he adds, “but consistency is harder to maintain. The real factor is time. Edging and mounting a drilled rimless used to take about 45 minutes (start-to-finish). With the new drills and equipment, it’s about 15 minutes.”
More importantly, the once highly specialized task of assembling three-piece mounts can now be done in-house by many in-office labs, thanks to the introduction of new drill technology.
“We are selling so many rimless frames, plus my patients are real picky,” says James N. Hess, Jr., OD, of Columbia Family Eye Care in Clarksville, MD. “We added finishing with a patternless edger, but we were still sending out the rimless frames, which cost about $7 to $10 per job. With our new drill, we are assured accuracy and we can increase the turnaround time as well as our profits.”
Richard Chaves, optician and owner of Wizard of Eyes in New York, says he gained experience with drilling lenses during the faceted and sculpted lens craze of the 1980s and early 1990s. Compared to that bygone trend, Chaves believes today’s smaller lens shapes—larger lenses were trademarks of the faceted era—require more detail work.
“Lenses are so much smaller, if the hole placement is off by a fraction of a millimeter, that lens could be off axis, especially with the new progressives with short corridors,” he explains. “With the volume we are doing in rimless, not having one of the newer drills makes the spoilage risk high even for the most skilled opticians.”
DRIVERS AND PLIERS
While drilling errors can mean lens damage, lens breakage, poor fitting (i.e., off-axis) or unstable mounting, affixing the drilled lens to the frame assembly can also be a risky step. Tool manufacturers have recently introduced some simple enhancements to hand-held devices reducing potential spoilage. One of Card’s favorite new tools is a special rimless-mount screwdriver featuring a nylon sleeve surrounding the driver-head, which protects the eyewear from scratches if the driver-head slips.
“You can scratch the lens or an eye-piece with one slip of the screw driver,” says Card. “Even the most skilled optician can slip. Now that we are doing so many more rimless than before, the risk of it happening increases.”
Rimless bracing or alignment pliers, another new hand-held tool innovation, feature special grooves in the plier “jaws” to hold the screw head and the retain nut without scratching the lens when aligning frames—a risky procedure for rimless.
“After drilling, the most hand-work involved with three-piece mountings is adjusting the pantoscopic tilt,” says Larry Guess, director of national lab operations for Vista Optical in Orange, Calif. “Once I started using the new pliers, I realized some very common breakage could be avoided. With premium lens products, the cost of snapping or scratching one is more than the cost of the tool.”
METAL AND PLASTIC INNOVATIONS
Fashion trends have also changed tool dynamics for metal frames. Current small-and-light metal frames can be more challenging to adjust. In addition, the colors and variety of materials make the frame surface more delicate. In other words, the lab tech faces more meticulous hand-work and products with a higher risk for spoilage.
The crucial mounting tool for metal frames is the sizing plier, which holds the screw barrels during initial lens insertion. Patternless edgers may have made lens shaping a more accurate process, but the smaller metal frames make screw insertion more difficult. The latest sizing pliers have a “screw insertion” feature—a hollow anvil on the plier jaw where a screw can be slipped into an eyewire barrel. The tool eliminates a step by combining lens sizing with the insertion and tightening of the screw.
“It’s a real time saver,” Guess says. “Those new frames are just more difficult to mount and any tool that can streamline a part of the process makes the lab tech’s life a lot easier.”
In general, plastic frames require few mounting tools beyond the frame-warmer. Lab techs claim today’s more accurate patternless edgers reduce the need for frame heating. But the newer plastic materials—which can be more fragile—and the smaller size of the frames, means heat has to be regulated. There is also an increased need for spot-heating, where only a portion of the frame is exposed to heat. As a result, air warmers—which are more accurrate—have become a mandatory bench apparatus for certain plastic styles.
“Some frame materials can’t withstand the heat of the beads,” says Chaves. “You have to use the air warmer.”
REVIEWING TOOL NEEDS
Other recent tool introductions are more for repair work than mounting. Tool manufacturers have introduced a variety of spring hinge tools and kits that allow lab techs to brace the spring hinge open in order to remove and insert screws. Recent introductions also include “shoot-out” pliers, for removal of screws from metal frames, cutting and riveting pliers as well as nose-pad pliers, all available in smaller sizes to make an optician’s life easier when working on shrinking metal styles.
“The new tools are being made smaller to work with new frame sizes,” says Card. “There’s nothing more frustrating for an optician than when a simple task, like removing a screw, takes 20 minutes because the old tool is not the right size for a new frame.”
New frame styles and new tool introductions have motivated in-office finishing labs to upgrade their bench. The smarter frame buyers are synchronizing their activities with lab techs, realizing in-office finishing productivity—including operator time and spoilage rates—is as determined by mounting as it is by edging.
“You don’t want to edge a lens brand new to the system without testing it first,” says Guess. “There is an analogy with frames. Frames are becoming more diverse and complicated. The types of mounts and the sizes of screws and nuts are becoming more varied. If you are not using a specific pliers, screwdriver or other tool, you will not only waste time but also potentially damage the frame or lens.”