A fringe benefit of using a free-form lab is that your regular jobs also improve because the lens comes out of the generator already polished.

Eyecare professionals should know by now that free-form is the utmost in lens technology these days, but how do they decide which labs can get the job done?

Once you’ve concluded that “the best lens you can buy is a digital design produced on a digital generator,” as observed by Dale Parmenteri, V.P. of Balester Optical Co. in Wilkes-Barre, PA, the next step is to determine which lab will provide you with that “best lens.”

While there are many variables to consider, experience is one of the most important. However, since free-form lenses are relatively new, there are a limited number of labs to consider. Still, as more eyecare professionals (ECPs) fit their patients with these lenses, more labs are offering them.

“The number of labs manufacturing free-form lenses is increasing,” said Mike Sutton, V.P. of Sales and Marketing for Rite-Style Optical Co. in Omaha, NE. “Right now, about a dozen or so are doing free-form.” But ECPs are in luck. Because free-form technology is highly sophisticated, lens manufacturers leave nothing to chance and require that labs are certified to produce their designs to their standards. “We made over 5,000 pairs without selling a pair,” said Lloyd Yazbek, President & CEO of Central Optical in Youngstown, OH. “We had to send some to Shamir and Seiko for validation.”

According to Jeff Hopkins, Senior Manager of Customer Communications and Professional Affairs at Carl Zeiss Lens Inc., “It’s important that the manufacturer has signed off on the lab’s ability to do its products. Free-form is a very new world, and every lens company is using a very different approach for its free-form lenses. It’s important that the lab has been thoroughly trained in each company’s process. The fact that you can do one company’s lens does not mean you can do another to the same level.”

While this may be true, most of the labs I spoke with agreed that it’s important that the lab you choose should be capable of processing many types of free-form lenses. “The ECP needs to understand that there are different types of free-form lenses out there,” said Sutton.

Lens manufacturers certify labs that produce their designs to their standards.

“The best advice I can give ECPs is to investigate a lab’s availability of free-form products, how many levels they have, and what variety they can get,” said Chris Millet, Northwest Sales Manager of HOYA VISION CARE, North America.

Patrick Muglia, Product Manager of Kaenon Polarized, agreed. “De-signs are constantly being revised and updated, so having a choice helps to evaluate what is working and where the designs are going,” he said.

For just this reason, labs such as Balester, Central, Soderberg Oph-thalmic Services in Minneapolis, MN, and others make it a point of offering a range of free-form designs from different lens manufacturers.

ProFit Optix is a different kind of company that also has a wide range of free-form lenses. What makes it unique is that the company offers not only its own private label free-form lens, Acuity®, but also represents free-form lenses from Optixx AG; Rodenstock; Signet Armorlite, Inc.; HOYA; and ILT.

Alan Yuster Executive V.P. of Operations for ProFit explained that the products available from this wide range of companies represent three different types of free-form lenses—optimized (which accounts for the prescription), frametized (which factors in both the prescription and the dimensions of the frame), and customized (which considers the prescription, the frame, and the patient’s facial geometry).

It’s this range of available products that enables ECPs to base their lens choices on the needs of their patients. “The patient’s specific needs are a determining factor,” said Yazbek. “Certain products have certain char-acteristics—good, bad, or ugly. That’s why having a complete menu of products is critical to the decision-making process.”

Craig Giles, V.P./General Manager of Soderberg, agreed that important determining factors are “the needs of the patient relative to the design they pick. Is the patient looking for better distance or better near? There are some free-form lenses in which the corridor changes.”

That’s when the design of the frame comes into play. Sutton pointed out that ECPs “need

Even those not experiencing the wow factor from free-form lenses enjoy more relaxed vision because the eye and mind don’t have to work as hard.

to be aware of the B measurement and the seg height, especially if using fixed corridors with a narrow B frame. In a fixed short corridor, when you get into narrow B measurements, you’re running out of lens at the bottom. When you shorten the corridor to retain more of the reading zone, you’re going from distance to near more quickly. A variable corridor lengthens or shortens in relation to the B measurement and the seg height.”

While all patients will benefit from better visual acuity from free-form lenses, some will experience the wow factor more than others. For example, Parmenteri said, “It really applies to people with a prescription over plus or minus 3.00D with a -2.00D cylinder.” However, even without the wow factor, this “high definition” technology is beneficial to all who wear glasses.

“It’s the eye and the mind,” said Sutton, “The lens is de-signed where the eye and the mind don’t have to work as hard to see through the lens. We call it relaxed. If you want truly relaxed vision, go digital, go free-form.”

Others compare the experience of viewing through a free-form progressive addition lens to using a single vision lens. “Fields of vision are 30% wider, transitions are softer, and people are getting more of a single vision experience with these products,” said Parmenteri.

Of course, incorporating anti-reflective (AR) treatments into these lenses assists with visual acuity. Once an ECP has selected a particular free-form design, it’s important to choose a lab that can apply AR to that lens in-house. “No free-form should be sold without AR,” said Yazbek. If you do, “you’re taking out a very important component, AR, from the greatest technology to come down the pike of lens manufacturing.”

When choosing the lab, ECPs should ask themselves, “Does it do the AR in-house that’s compatible with my lens?” said Parmenteri. “You need to know the brand done in-house and that the in-house AR are compatible,” he said. “All digital products are pretty much AR coated because all have to be dip scratch coated. A lot of companies only sell it with AR.”

One of the fringe benefits of using a lab that produces free-form lenses is that the quality of your regular jobs improves as well. That is, if they use the digital generator to produce cut-to-polish lenses that are not necessarily free-form designs. “When the lens comes out of the generator, the backside is nice and polished,” said Sutton. “A conventionally processed lens is clouded and has to go to the finer and then to the polisher.”

Once you’ve determined that fitting your patient with free-form is the way to go, and which lens is the perfect fit for your patient, it’s equally important to find the best lab to get the job done, so choose wisely.

John Sailer is Senior Editor of Vision Care Product News.

Balester Optical Co.
800-233-8373 •

Carl Zeiss Vision Inc.
800-358-8258 •

Central Optical
800-322-6678 •

877-528-1939 •

Kaenon Polarized
866-KAENON-1 •

ProFit Optix
866-996-7849 •

Rite-Style Optical Co.
800-477-9291 •

Seiko Optical Products of America, Inc.
800-235-5367 •

Shamir Insight, Inc.
877-514-8330 •

Signet Armorlite, Inc
800-950-5367 •

Soderberg Ophthalmic Services
800-755-5655 •


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