CANDID CONVERSATIONS BETWEEN VCPN’S ED DE GENNARO AND LEADING OPTICAL EXECUTIVES ABOUT THEIR PRODUCT STRATEGIES.
ANDY HUTHOEFER is the CEO of National Optronics, Previously he was Satisloh North America’s vice president of business development. Andy, a licensed optician, also has experience as director of strategic planning for Carl Zeiss Vision International, marketing VP at Carl Zeiss Optical, and lenses product manager for Carl Zeiss in Germany. Here, Andy talks about the latest trends in edging and edging equipment.
Ed De Gennaro: Why does National Optronics only make dry edging equipment?
Andy Huthoefer: David Beach was the founder of National Optronics. He had a chance to buy a patent for dry edger technology and his instincts told him this was a unique opportunity so he went ahead and purchased it. This was the time polycarbonate lenses were beginning to take off for ophthalmic lens use and David saw the potential of dry edging in this area.
Among other advantages, dry edging cuts polycarbonate lenses faster and more efficiently than other edging methods. With polycarbonate growing in the U.S. exponentially, National Optronics’ edger and surfacing business started growing very quickly, and the company stayed with that particular method of production.
National Optronics is also now a sister company of Satisloh and Essilor Instruments USA, both owned by Essilor of America, Inc. Both companies have a full line of wet edgers so it makes sense for National Optronics to stay focused on its own specialty, the dry edging technology.
EDG: What are the advantages of dry edging over wet edging?
AH: Dry edging is well suited for all organic materials and is hard to beat when it comes to polycarbonate edging speed and efficiency. Dry edging includes dry milling processes with smaller tools that allow cutting hooks, shelves, notches, odd shapes, odd bevel angles, etc.—all capabilities required to cut lenses in specialty shapes for products like sports frames. You just can’t do these things with the large wheels of a wet edger. When five-axis technology is added, like we have with the ES Curve Edging System, a joint development between National Optronics and Satisloh, then Rx lenses can be put into virtually any pair of fashionable sports frames. You can also process higher base curve lenses with dry edging technology than you can with wet.
EDG: What does the joint venture with Satisloh mean for customers?
AH: We’ve integrated the operations of those two companies. That means National Optronics is focused on the development, manufacturing, and service of its equipment while Satisloh handles customer service and sales for National Optronics. We’ve created a one-stop shop for our customers. Whether you need surfacing or coating equipment from Satisloh or edging equipment from National Optronics or Satisloh, you call the same phone number and deal with the same people. And you get one consolidated statement at the end of the month.
EDG: What’s the next step for the new combined operation?
AH: We’ve created a new, separate division called Essilor Instruments USA. This division will sell the full line of Essilor Instruments’ edging equipment with a dedicated sales and service team. In this division, we’ll have ground-breaking products like the Mr. Blue edger that combines wet and dry edging capability in a hybrid setup. This essentially means Essilor Instruments will distribute directly in the U.S. Essilor Instruments’ product line is targeted towards the ECP, which complements National Optronics and Satisloh nicely.
EDG: Some commercial edgers mill lenses instead of edge grind. Is this the future of edgers in ECPs’ offices?
AH: To some degree, it’s already here. Really sharp corners can’t be cut with a large wheel but there are methods that don’t require a huge commercial edger. For example, our 7E edger has a milling tool that cuts sharp corners. The Mr. Blue system also has large wheels for cutting most standard lenses and a smaller tool pack based on dry edging technology. ECPs can do simple bevels to odd and unusual shapes.
EDG: What’s the next trend in edger equipment?
AH: The major trend right now is five-axis edging. With this technology, the lens or the tool package can be tilted in order to have the optimum positioning of your bevel or your shelf or whatever you wish to do with the lens, regardless of the lens’ base curve. When you have a higher base curve and you can’t tilt the lens or tool package to accommodate its curvature, you’re not going to get the optimum angle for the bevel or the optimum fit in the frame bezel. This even happens with lower base curves but to a lesser degree.
Another exciting technology is EOB or “Edging On the Block.” This means the lens stays on the same machineable block throughout surfacing, coating, and edging. And this eliminates a lot of room for error and breakage.
Both five-axis technology and EOB require volume to reach a fast return on investment. At least initially, these technologies will be most attractive to high-volume wholesale and retail chain customers, but ECPs will benefit from increased quality and service levels from day one.