By Barry Santini
A few years ago, when the idea of online-sourced prescription eyewear getting shipped to a consumer’s home without the assistance of an eyecare professional was first making inroads, many people’s initial reaction was “Do you honestly think that acceptable eyewear quality can be capably delivered in this fashion?” Fast forward to today, where both consumer and eyecare professional are finally facing the fact that alternate delivery channels of Rx eyewear many thought would never prove successful are not only possible, but are both appealing successful with eyewear consumers.
Now that ECPs have gotten past their initial shock and denial, the question of how this all came to be begs to be answered. And the answer lies in the increased trust engendered by advancements in technology which are rapidly allowing the process of making and fitting glasses, starting with the ability to both measure and determine your prescription and PD, possibly right from the comfort of your own home. A la carte refraction, via pioneering companies like Opternative, combined with the increasing sophistication and power of the latest smartphone cameras and apps, are both reducing the perception of risk and increasing the appeal of convenience, all of which further ramps up trust in the eyes of eyewear consumers. There’s no getting around it any longer: The daily life as it was known by optical professionals is gone forever.
While most of the paradigm changes outlined above are beyond the scope of an ECP to completely control, the areas that can be controlled are becoming more and more important to control. And today’s dynamic and ultra-competitive optical environment makes controlling glazing and workmanship quality—the number one area consumers point to when judging eyewear quality and rating their overall eyewear experience—a number one priority for every independent local optical office. This means if you’re not doing in-office edging at present, now would be a good time to start. If you are presently doing in-office edging, now is a perfect time to replace and upgrade your five- to 10-year-old edger and tracer to one of the latest state-of-the-art units.
PRIDE, PASSION AND PURPOSE
Nothing in a consumer’s eyewear ownership experience has a more negative impact than when their lenses become scratched. In a world filled with mostly resin materials, this is all but unavoidable. That’s why we have lens warranties, even with their attendant higher wholesale costs.
However, right behind scratching in the consumer eyewear experience is the inconvenience of having a lens fall out at an inopportune time. (Let’s face it: Anytime a lens dislodgment occurs is by definition, inopportune.) That’s why besides the advantage of increased convenience via quick delivery, having an in-office edging system allows you, the one who is directly getting paid by the consumer for their eyewear, to finally and fully control the quality of the finished eyeglasses your customers receive. I say “customers” instead of patients for a reason: You don’t have to have a vision error for consumers to seek out a local optical to replace or upgrade the lenses in their nonprescription sunglasses. With many quality lens manufacturers tremendously expanding their portfolio of sunglass colors, photochromics, mirrors, polarizing and even new matte finishes, it makes sense to be known as a place where these types of upgrades can be done quickly and conveniently, perhaps even “while you wait.” By conspicuously establishing yourself a “plano upgrade” shop can help pay a large chunk of the monthly tab on a new state-of-the-art finishing system. And since edging planos involves no medical risk, any staff member can begin to enjoy the pride, passion and sense of purpose that only making your own lenses can engender.
CONVENIENCE, CONFIDENCE AND COST
In an age when you can literally find any product you want in minutes and have it delivered to your door in hours, convenience is being elevated to ever higher levels of importance in a consumer’s mind. Therefore, although one and two-week delivery intervals for prescription eyewear has been the norm for almost three quarters of a century, it is no longer a valid yardstick to use when assessing consumer expectations with their eyewear purchase. Even as vision care plans have been able to implement requirements mandating participants use their own labs along with their attendant long wait times, many progressive practices are offering alternatives to these too-long two-week wait times. Sure, edging expensive Rx lenses can be a risky proposition at first, but today’s advanced tracers are reducing this risk of spoilage to an all-time low. This increases the confidence of every staff member in their ability to support the office’s promise of prompt delivery of a quality product. It goes without saying that the costs saved through in-office edging are compounded across all the eyewear you make. In addition, being able to answer “sure,” realizing those last second impulse sales that occur just before clients go off on vacation, can add enough to your bottom line to make you question how you neglected fertile areas like these in the past.
EDGING TECHNOLOGY TODAY: INTEREST, SKILL AND INVOLVEMENT
With automatic wheel-based abrasion edgers about to enter their sixth decade of development, pioneered by Arthur LeMay’s use of the microswitch in the 1960s, you might not be faulted for asking, “What could be new?” In a word, plenty. Advances in the technology of abrasive wheels are being driven by the constant introduction of newer lens materials, such as nylon, and Trivex and Tribrid from PPG. And with many of the improvements to the “brains” of an edger being facilitated by advancements in the sophistication of its software, we’ve arrived at the enviable juncture where novice, intermediate and expert optician can all find today’s equipment tailor made to their level of interest, skill and involvement. For example: In my office, both my partner and I are arguably master glazing opticians. We not only enjoy all the sophistication of our new equipment, we are also constantly surprised at the serendipitous discovery of some nuance of bevel processing that lets us make our eyewear just that little bit better than we made it before. At the same time, it is also not uncommon for me to invite a client or family into the shop to participate in the making of their own eyewear. With some minor assistance, we show them how lenses are marked, centered, blocked and edged, all automated by the push of a few buttons. They love being allowed in the lab, and they leave with an experience that helps to differentiate the Long Island Opticians eyewear experience from all others.
Here’s a review of the latest capabilities in today’s advanced finishing equipment:
- Memory of exact bevel placement for individual jobs.
- Individual computation of frame bevel groove depth and slope.
- Memory of individual jobs by name, number or record ID.
- Ability to set front and rear, aka ascending and descending, bevel height and slope angle independently from each other.
- Ability to program shelf-bevel mode to tackle interchangeable-lens sport frames, such as those from Oakley, Wiley X and others.
- The ability to transfer today’s high precision crafting capabilities to the world of glass lenses, allowing even less experienced techs the ability to edge glass lenses quickly, precisely and with far less “breakage” than in my father’s day.
While abrasive-wheel edgers have been enjoying over a century of steady progress, culminating in the super sophisticated topline models we enjoy today, another edging modality has been quietly infiltrating the offices of Main Street optical over the last 50 years. Starting with the Essilor Profimil in the early 1970s—the world’s first router bit ophthalmic lens edger—the development of miller-style lens grinders had to wait until the broader industry adoption of resin lenses to gain a foothold into the ophthalmic lab environment. (I worked on a Profamil early in my career, and I can tell you that they were loud, noisy, made lots of dust and required frequent bit changes because the metallurgy of the time was not advanced enough to retain a sharp cutting edge for more than approximately 500 cuts.) Because of their noise and the need for edgers of the 1970s to also be able to handle glass lenses, most practices did not adopt router bit style miller edgers. However, in the 1980s, large-scale sunglass manufacturers began to realize the efficiencies possible in router edgers for the production of mass market sunglasses, which were rapidly switching over to resin lenses for weight savings and impact resistance. And as the larger-sized sunglasses became all the rage in the fashion of the 1980s, gradient tints became standard, further accelerating the trend away from glass toward resin lenses, including CR-39 monomer from PPG, polycarbonate, nylon and acrylic. With these materials, router and milling edger technology dramatically reduced cycle tines. It is during this period that companies like National Optronics and MEI Systems got their start supplying their miller and router technologies to the growing sunglass industry and some progressive private practices.
In the 1990s and 2000s, together with the development of patternless edging and 3D tracers, the importance, sophistication and greater range of lens profile possibilities these milling-style edgers delivered significantly advanced the state of the art in plano and ophthalmic lens finishing. Further, because of their emphasis on software-based programming, this technology helped pioneer revolutionary finishing advancements such as blockless lens handling. My dad used a lens chucking plier and lived long enough to see the beginning of adhesive tape finishing blocks. I cannot imagine what he would say to the idea that no block would be necessary in a finishing system allowing lens removal for size and bevel evaluation while maintaining 0.05 mm retouching capability. As I have mentioned previously, he would have been as amazed as he was when we put a man on the moon.
WHEELS IN MOTION
No matter which type of edging system you prefer, abrasive wheel or miller, there has never been a better time to put in or upgrade an in-office finishing system. Between the top of the line and the entry level model, today’s equipment offerings are more advanced, robust, easier to use and require less maintenance than any lens processing equipment in the history of the optical industry. And it was only a couple of years ago that my partner Bob began hinting at his plans for retirement. But with two advanced edgers now in house, I have noticed a rekindling of interest on his part to again take up the daily challenge of marrying lens to frame. If you are passionate about being in the optical industry, you will find yourself smiling every day when you say “good morning” to your new, state-of-the-art lens finishing system, along with your daily morning coffee. I often feel I would be half the optician I am without it. And neither should you.
Contributing editor Barry Santini is a New York State licensed optician based in Seaford, N.Y.