Recounting the installation of one of the first digital surfacing labs in the U.S. shows how doing the same might be just what your practice and your patients need.
It was 2005, I was business manager of eye services for a large multispecialty medical practice, and my team was tasked to assess the feasibility of building a surfacing lab for our nine retail optical locations. We were skeptical because a surfacing lab seemed like additional responsibility for little return, especially since we had no experience.
However, the cost benefit analysis using digital free-form equipment made sense. The equipment was more user friendly than standard equipment thus making it easier to staff. The equipment was also more efficient than its predecessors because it eliminated the fining process and reduced the amount of space needed, requiring less equipment, fewer tools and no laps. Our administration gave us the go ahead, and we moved forward building one of the first all-digital free-form surfacing labs in the U.S.
Approval happened because of the project’s opportunities: 1) improving profit margins by reducing the cost of goods sold; 2) providing total control of quality, turnaround time and outcomes; and 3) allowing the practice to further its brand by creating private label lens products and adding an additional service line.
The project paid for itself in 15 months. Considering this was over a decade ago, technology has continued to advance, and equipment options have expanded and require less room.
Still, there are factors to consider when installing a surfacing lab. The practice must have at least a few hundred square feet available for the equipment, there must be enough volume to justify the expense, and there are multiple vendors from which to choose both progressive and single vision designs. Finally, a Lab Management System (LMS) will allow the equipment to communicate with each other and ideally to the practice POS system. Vendors will provide guidance, recommendations and specs for all of this.
Here are a few manufacturers that a practice can consider for surfacing equipment:
Schneider offers three lines depending on the practice size and volume. The Nano Line is perfect for the small practice that needs to produce 30 to 50 jobs per day. It can fit into a small footprint of a few hundred square feet. The ProLab combines a generator, polisher, laser marker and measuring unit in an all-in-one compact system. It can also fit in a small footprint and produce 40 to 60 jobs per day. The Sprint line is a great option for a larger practice that needs to produce 100 to 120 jobs per day.
Satisloh’s Micro Lab fits in about 270 square feet and surfaces up to 70 to 80 jobs per day, depending on the lens material mix. The Satisloh Macro line is also manually operated but suited for higher volume, multi-location practices. It has a largerfoot print and can accommodate practice volume growth, producing 150 plus jobs per day. For larger labs, Satisloh also offers fully automated alloy-free digital surfacing lines.
With Satisloh’s automated ART-Line: the operator places the job tray on a conveyor system that moves the tray and the lenses through all the appropriate processes. All machines in this set-up (blocker, generator, polisher, engraver, hardcoater and deblocker) are automated as well. This line is for high volume and provides consistent productivity.
Coburn Technologies is a U.S.-based manufacturer. Its Cobalt LTE Generator, made for the small to medium sized practice, features “Cold-Mist” generating without the need for a water management system. It requires only 20 sq. ft., which includes enough space for its external vacuum. The Cobalt DS Generator is a great option for larger practices or medium sized practices that are continuing to grow. It features the same “Cold-Mist” generating but with more robust components that make it larger than its little brother.
The Cobalt DP soft tool polisher has isolated polishing chambers that allow two different jobs composed of different materials to be polished simultaneously. Its variable axis control allows for more precision and customizable control of the polishing process.
Equipment manufacturers and software providers have user groups and meetings, a great way to connect and learn more about equipment, processes, hurdles and solutions. A couple of popular conferences are Schneider’s DigiCon and Satisloh’s SlugFest.
ENVIRONMENTALLY CONSCIOUS SURFACING
Considering the environment, equipment manufacturers offer blocking alternatives that keep metals such as lead and cadmium out of wastewater.
Satisloh’s Micro Lab uses lenses blocked with Satisloh’s environmentally friendly alloy replacement technology (ART), which uses recyclable plastic blocks and a UV-curable adhesive. ART blocking can be done with a manual blocker in the Micro Lab (for highest flexibility), or pre-blocked blanks can be used (for highest speed). In both cases, blanks are already AR coated on the front. The lab only has to surface and coat the back of the lens.
Coburn uses Onyx-Bond in place of alloy. This lightweight material eliminates the harmful effects of alloy and does not have the residue issues attributed to wax. This material is biodegradable and non-toxic, contains no lead, cadmium or indium, and requires no wastewater management.
Schneider has Connex, a non-alloy material used along with the CB Connect blocker in conjunction with the Proline.
Mark Johnson, ABOC, NCLC, LDO, is the director of optical services at Virginia Eye Institute in Richmond, VA.
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