Installing an on-site surfacing lab can be a major endeavor; this guide will help you build one from scratch.
An eyecare practice with its own surfacing lab controls quality and has confidence in its product. With the ease of purchasing a compact digital lens-generating system, practices can make their own uncut lenses while reducing costs and increasing profits. With a surfacing lab, you can also offer private label lenses and premium service for even faster turnaround, such as same-day or next-day service.
Once your practice has made the strategic decision to build a surfacing lab, you need a plan. From the layout to the logistics of managing supplies, there’s a lot of work to be done.
SIZE AND LOCATION
What is the current volume you will put through the lab? What is the expected lens volume in the next five years? How much inventory do you want to have on hand in both semi-finished lens blanks and finished stock lenses? Do you plan to own an anti-reflective (AR) unit, or do you plan to outsource it? The answers to these questions will help determine your necessary lab size.
If you plan to do your own AR, work with the equipment manufacturer to determine what size coater you need and the amount of space it will require. Keep in mind the amount of space to prep the lens and where the space will be so it has the least amount of dust and/or debris around. The best AR is done in a clean room environment. Many practices have had great success outsourcing their AR work, and there are many AR providers that will negotiate great prices and turnaround times with quality results.
Make sure you have all the appropriate utilities required, including electrical, plumbing, water, compressed air and IT.
Data lines run throughout the facility for all the machines to communicate. Wi-Fi can be sensitive in the lab environment so get some professional advice. An IT closet or cabinet to keep the servers in may be needed to run certain equipment. It is important to have proper airflow and air conditioning in this area as well as in the lab.
The air compressor should be large enough and have a good filtering system to limit moisture and particles. Make sure an industrial sink is available and that plenty of air lines run through the facility.
BUDGET FOR WORKFLOW
Once you’ve figured out the amount of space you need and the budget for it, shop around for the best price. Be sure to include enough space for growth while maintaining a comfortable workflow.
Some equipment may need to be put in place by special riggers and may need to maneuver through difficult spaces. You must also plan for the storage of consumables and tools, with consideration for continued growth. Worktables and counters come in handy for several tasks, including equipment maintenance. If the surfacing lab plan does not have a conveyer system, consider rollers and pushcarts.
Work with the equipment provider to determine the workflow. Equipment suppliers are among your best resources as they have robust experience and examples to share. While most newer equipment is plug and play, it only works if you have the appropriate plugs. Also be sure to get feedback from your staff and, if feasible, bring in a consultant.
Include dedicated space for people to go behind closed doors, such as offices for high-level employees and a break room for meals and downtime.
EQUIPMENT AND SUPPLIES
Do the research, shop around, and buy top-quality equipment and consumables from manufacturers who will stand behind them, such as Coburn Technologies, Inc.; DAC Vision; Optek International; Optotech Optical Machinery Inc.; Satisloh North America, Inc.; Schneider Optical Machines; and Super Optical International.
Lab management software will help run the lab smoothly. This system will keep track of your orders, manage your inventory, and allow all the equipment to communicate with each other and the lens design software.
There are a few lab management software applications to consider. ECPs want to find one that consistently meets their needs. Talk with different manufacturers including the equipment manufacturer to see what they have to offer. Find out if they are familiar with your practice’s other software applications in case the different applications need to communicate. Ask what services they offer and check their references.
Lens blanks can be sourced easily and quickly from different places. If the practice has a same- or next-day turnaround promise, it will need to carry more inventory. Another factor is what you want to focus on for materials and lens types. If the practice has a goal of selling more backside free-form progressives, then the inventory will be simpler to manage. If the practice does a large number of lined multifocals, you’ll need to decide how much of that product to stock. Keep in mind that the more inventory you move, the better negotiating power you’ll have with lens suppliers.
One of the most exciting aspects of starting a digital surfacing lab is determining what progressive lens designs you’ll offer. The practice can have brand name designs, private label designs, or both.
You’ll also need consumables such as polishing pads, compound and alloy. Another consideration will be spare parts and diamond cutting tools for the generator. Certain parts need replacement sooner than others. Having the part on hand reduces the risk of the lab being shut down while waiting for a part from the manufacturer.
THE DOTTED LINE
It’s important to find the right manufacturers and suppliers and have formalized, written agreements with them. Also, create policies and procedures for all of your lab processes, as it’s very important to document them in print. If there is a change in staff, the new employee can reference the plan to know how something should be done or how a relationship with a manufacturer or supplier is constructed. Remember that even though they are in print, these documents can be adapted if needed.
Hiring the right staff can be one of the biggest hurdles for any business, but especially for a new surfacing lab. Write clear job descriptions, then look for the right individuals. You’ll want experienced surfacing personnel from either wholesale labs or retail optical offices with surfacing departments. Individuals with technical experience and military backgrounds can be a good fit. Keep in mind that digital equipment is very user-friendly, so a technically skilled and self-disciplined person can be easily trained.
Every practice is unique, so you may need to add other elements to your plan to suit your requirements. Remember that a formal project plan is crucial to ensure that no aspect of your lab has been overlooked and to easily track the status of the project and modify it as needed.
Training is one of the most important components of starting a surfacing lab. When ECPs don’t invest in training, they often ultimately pay for it in mistakes and inefficiencies after implementation. A strong, well-thought-out training program is essential, and manufacturers can help plan the process.
Don’t forget to let everyone know what you can now offer. Marketing can be fun and doesn’t have to be expensive. Consider social media marketing to get the word out for minimal expense.
Once your in-office surfacing lab is set up and the word is out, it will be time to watch your practice grow.
Coburn Technologies, Inc. 800.262.8761 CoburnTechnologies.com CustomerCareCenter@CoburnTechnologies.com DAC Technologies 800.800.1550 DACTechnologies.com DACTech.NA@DACTechnologies.com Optek International 727.522.2301 OptekInternational.com Sales@OptekInternational.com OptoTech Technologies Inc. 877.412.8350 OptoTech.de/En/En InfoRx@OptoTechUS.com
Satisloh North America, Inc. 800.866.5640 Satisloh.com Info.USA@Satisloh.com Schneider Optical Machines 972.247.4000 Schneider-om.com Info-USA@Schneider-Om.com Super Optical International/FastGrind 800.543.7376 SuperOptical.com