To paraphrase Lennon and McCartney, it was 20 years ago today I took my first step inside an optical lab. Under the glare of bare fluorescent lights, I saw men in stained work shirts surfacing lenses on old Coburn 108 generators. Other lenses were spinning around on a cylinder machine that had chalky white slurry sloshing around inside it. Another man was putting metal laps on a big, revolving cylindrical wooden rack. Young women sat in black enclosures inspecting lenses. Classic rock music was playing on a boom box.

Despite the noise and the mess, the lab seemed friendly and inviting. Most of the people I observed seemed happy to be there. There was an easy camaraderie among them. Also, they were absorbed in their work, making sure the finished product was something they could all be proud of. I later learned that the people working in the bench room actually signed their names to the job order, both out of pride and as a means of quality control.

Since then, I’ve visited dozens of labs in the U.S. and in various parts of the world. Even if some of the machinery and products are the same from lab to lab, the layout of each one is different, as are some of the manufacturing procedures. That’s because labs are always in a state of flux, reinventing themselves as they adapt to new technology and processes.

Our annual “Lab Usage Survey,” published in this issue, reflects the labs’ constant evolution. Each year, we track the emergence of new lens and lens processing technologies and learn more about how ECPs access them through their labs. The survey reminds us that although the “lenscape” may change, the labs and their commitment to servicing their accounts remains constant.

—Andrew Karp