When Harvey and Lewis Opticians decided to insource their free-form lenses, it chose Coburn’s OAC AR coater because of the level of support Coburn offers.
Schneider offers ECPs equipment, parts, and support through its U.S. warehouse (HSC Sprint Line system shown here).
Grand Rapids Ophthalmology provides ECPs with a branded lens through Seiko.
Satisloh’s SP-200, a backside AR coating machine, allows Devlyn Optical to achieve its main objective of controlling the entire process.

Optical retailers are beginning to incorporate free-form surfacing into their offices to improve profitability and customer service. 

Optical laboratory equipment manufacturers have expanded their offerings beyond the heavy duty equipment they provide to large commercial surfacing labs. They are now providing smaller footprint digital surfacing labs with lower volume capacity for the retail office environment. These more affordable units are durable, easy to maintain and operate, and fit perfectly into the retail environment. To learn about this trend, I interviewed three retailers who shared their thinking and experiences:

Jim Lewis, LDO, president of Harvey and Lewis Opticians.

Tim Wasko, ABOC, lab manager at Grand Rapids Ophthalmology.

Jesse Devlyn, MBA, CEO of Devlyn Optical.

When did you install your digital surfacing equipment?

Lewis: We put in a DTL200 from Coburn Technologies, Inc. in the spring of 2011 and Coburn’s OAC anti-reflective (AR) coating chamber in the fall of 2011.

Wasko: We installed Leybold Optics’ CCS line of AR coating equipment in December 2012 and applied it to our conventional surfacing laboratory. In January 2013, Schneider Optical Machines, Inc. installed the HSC Sprint Line and we began free-form progressives several months later.

Devlyn: We added Satisloh North America, Inc.’s equipment in July 2012 and finalized the Lab Management System (LMS) and digital lens software in October 2012. We supplemented with a Satisloh backside AR coater several months ago.

What did you consider as you explored the possibility of adding digital surfacing?

Lewis: Our opticians were selling more digital progressives that translated to outsourcing more lens and lab work and reduced profit. When the costs of insourcing became less than outsourcing, we were assured a good return on investment. Coburn was the obvious choice for us because we knew their goods and services and we were familiar with the level of support they supplied.

Wasko: The biggest question for us was: does digital surfacing alone justify the implementation of it? We really broke down what it cost us to outsource our free-form jobs. We chose known equipment suppliers who supported us as an independent and were known to be reliable in their technical support. We also wanted an equipment supplier that had a U.S. warehouse for parts and support.

Some equipment providers seemed more interested in the products we would use and how we intended to grow our business. Some even offered us a buyer’s assistance program that was to be paid back by click fees, giving them further involvement with our products and offerings. We wanted to be independent of that so we opted to go with our own private label progressive and a branded lens through Seiko Optical Products of America, Inc.

Devlyn: We had a very old lab prior to switching to digital surfacing. We were opening stores and the increased volume in the lab was causing much higher maintenance, breakage, and our labor cost was also increasing. The three benefits to us for going to digital surfacing were: reduction in breakage, more production with less labor, and the ability to sell more expensive progressives with better options and a big reduction in our lens inventory.

What decisions did you have to make with regard to space, manufacturers, progressives, and training staff?

Lewis: In 2011, free-form surfacing was still very new so we considered if we had the institutional knowledge to do it. We added more informed staff who enjoyed the challenge and the evolving technology. We didn’t have to increase our physical space but we redesigned it more efficiently and built an AR clean room and reconfigured the electricity.

We carefully considered who to partner with on the LMS and our progressives lens designers. We chose Ocuco and Indizen Optical Technologies (IOT) because of their performance and service history, ease of use, designs, and click fees. We had some push back from staff due to changing progressives. When they gained experience with the products and realized an almost non-existent progressive non-adapt in our patients, it really increased their confidence.

Wasko: We had a 500-sq.-ft. dedicated in-store lab that we needed to move out of the retail office. We moved into a 2,500-sq.-ft. space that accommodated both anti-reflective treatments and free-form surfacing with room for growth. We took our existing lab staff and taught them both. Our original staff of four grew to six.

I went to Schneider for one week of training and we were already using Omics Software Inc. as our LMS software. We offer four progressives, a computer lens, and two single vision offerings, all under our private label. Our stores were a Variluxsubdistributor before the switch so we had some issues with our opticians over switching from a known brand to our private label.

Devlyn: Space was not a concern as digital lens surfacing fits in our existing lab. Training was not difficult for my staff but there was a learning curve on the digital process. We also needed to make sure the LMS picked the correct lenses. We decided to brand our progressives using the Crossbows Optical design and branded it the Devlyn Digital Design in 3D. Our retail opticians were quick to embrace our private label after we explained their benefits. Breakage went down considerably and non-adapts were nominal.

How has using free-form equipment benefited you and your stores?

Lewis: From a marketing standpoint, people have come to expect the best from us being a high-end retailer and now we make and sell the latest in lens technology. Greater profit margins and reduced non-adapts have greatly benefited our stores.

Wasko: The revenue stream is great and it is much easier to accommodate our opticians with their color and lens option choices and produce those lenses in free-form.

Devlyn: From 60% to 70% of my lenses are free-form. We have a budget patient so it is tougher to sell digital lenses but now my opticians are seeing the patients love these progressives. We have distinguished ourselves from competitors because of digital and our in-house lab makes it more affordable to sell digital than our competitors.

Is there any downside to having free-form surfacing on the premises?

Lewis: I was initially concerned because we always had process redundancy in all our operations. After two years of continuous operation, we have experienced very little downtime. We outsource some difficult jobs that are out of our free-form range.

Wasko: Occasionally, we get a high power Rx or a high prism job that does not work well with a free-form lens. On those rare occasions, I go back to a conventional progressive lens.

Devlyn: No downsides at all. We just added a backside AR coating machine from Satisloh in the last few months. We are getting semi-finished frontside AR lenses from Essilor of America, Inc. This will allow us to complete our main objective where we can now control the entire process.

Free-form surfacing and retail optical are slowly merging. It will be interesting to see where this trend leads.

Brian Boddy is a second-generation optician owner of Acoma Optical stores in Santa Fe, NM.

Coburn Technologies, Inc.
Crossbows Optical, Ltd.
Leybold Optics USA, Inc.
Indizen Optical Technologies (IOT)
877- 414-7809
OMICS Software, Inc.
Satisloh North America, Inc.
Schneider Optical Machines, Inc.
SEIKO Optical Products of America, Inc.

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