Leybold’s five-paddle “flip-over” carrier in its all-in-one Mini Coating System has the ability to hold up to 10 lenses.
Satisloh’s VFT-macro, being launched this month, can process up to 60 lenses per hour.
Schneider’s DSC Prolab, an all-in-one generator, polisher, and laser engraver, is designed for a small lab area.
Coburn ‘s Cobalt-DS surfacer uses a unique ‘cold misting’ system.

While only a handful of companies manufacture free-form surfacing equipment for the retail lab, their offerings are feature-rich.  

Free-form surfacing-also known as digital surfacing or direct surfacing-has grown over the past 10 years. The process, which has recently made its way into eyecare professionals’ (ECP) practices, allows any lens style to be highly and precisely finished as progressive addition lenses (PALs). While the decision for ECPs to install free-form hardware in their storefronts may seem like a major outlay, the cost and convenience soon present themselves. Here are some offerings from the major players in the field today.

Continuous innovations and developments have made Satisloh North America, Inc. one of the market leaders in the field of free-form surfacing. Its offerings for the ECP market include the Micro-Line range, which features an integrated three-unit system of blocker, VFT-micro generator, and polisher, designed to work with Satisloh’s SP-200 coating machine.

The VFT-micro unit, with a barrel-shaped chamber, is a departure from traditional flat-bed configurations where the cutting components are mounted above the lens. In the new setup, all components are bolted into a single piece inside the chamber, providing far greater thermal stability and negligible movement which would cause calibration to shift. Another advantage of this micro unit is that it has a small footprint and is about two-thirds lighter than a traditional 3,500-lb. unit. The VFT-micro has a throughput of 20-30 lenses per hour, while its sister VFT-macro unit, being launched this month, can process 40-60 lenses per hour, depending on the settings and materials used.


The Cobalt-DS high speed generators from Coburn Technologies, Inc. have been well-received for their mist-cut technology, that is used for high-volume free-form and traditional Rx lenses. This “cold misting” system, which provides wet-cut generating results without the need for a water management system, is allied to Coburn’s unique single point diamond turning lathe, a feature that the company has patented. The misting system creates a wet core for the cut by atomizing a water-based lubricant that is aimed precisely at the cutting point, thus eliminating extraneous moisture-and the internal unit mold that can plague operators-from the process or the system itself. Another bonus of the system is that it can also work independently with compatible free-form and soft tool polishers.

Until now, this mist-cut generating system has only been available to larger high-volume wholesale labs; however, the company is currently working on methods to adapt this technology for use in smaller labs. This would allow greater lens quality to be produced in a package small enough for a retail lab space. The latest, compact version of the Cobalt lens generator is set to be unveiled at next month’s International Vision Expo East in New York. Coburn’s goals of manufacturing machines that have the ability to produce pristine lenses, allied to faster generating, faster polishing, all in high production environments, appear to have been achieved with the Cobalt series.

Another market leader in the free-form surfacing field is Schneider Optical Machines, Inc.

Schneider has expanded its surfacing range and its Sprint Line now consists of a number of separate machines. Unlike its larger sister product, the popular HSC Smart XP line, Schneider’s DSC Prolab is an all-in-one generator, polisher, and laser engraver with non-alloy blocking (CB Connect) designed for the micro lab (18 sq. ft.) or for an ECP thinking of embarking on in-office free-form surfacing. Throughput of up to 80 pairs of lenses-free-form or traditional-is possible during an eight-hour shift, making next-day, or even same-day, turnaround of premium lenses possible without the need for outsourcing.

The CB Bond can block up to 100 lenses per hour while its HSC Sprint Generator can handle about 40 lenses per hour, and features automated calibration of the generator to save time and increase accuracy over manual calibration. Uniquely in the industry, all milling and turning is carried out on this single generator. It is fully capable of cutting all free-form, digital, and traditional lenses with equal ease, and the universality of the platform allows ECPs to pick and choose which lens and lens design partners to work with.

Schneider’s modular line works well for retail labs that are expanding and want to ensure that they can meet the demands of tomorrow without overspending today. The throughput of the Sprint Line is about 160 pairs per eight-hour day. The Sprint Line is one of the most popular digital line setups in the U.S. as it allows for maximum flexibility and throughput with minimal investment. Layout can be done in a space of approximately 150 sq. ft.

A company which features the widest range of anti-reflective (AR) hardware on the market today is Leybold Optics, Inc. It prides itself on perfect matching of cleaning lines and hardcoating lines to AR machines. Its processes have been fine-tuned over years of specialization in this area, from cleaning and hardcoating (spin and dipping) to AR and topcoat. Its flagship product is its Micro Lab (occupying a mere 250-300 sq. ft.) as is the all-in-one Mini Coating System MCS unit (22 in. W x 80 in. H x 54 in. D), which allows for up to five pairs of lenses to be finished per shift. The five-paddle “flip-over” carrier has the ability to hold up to 10 lenses (65mm, 70mm, or 75 mm) and, subject to size, up to 20 edged lenses, allowing for an even and smooth finish throughout.

For its AR coatings on CR-39, polycarbonate, high-index, and photochromic lenses, Leybold Optics uses four processes, delivering reflectance from 0.8 (for its Eminent process) to 1.1 (the Jade Plus process) in three different colors. Coatings are based on titanium oxide high-index material, using a wide range of coatable substrates, which are further specialized for spin hardcoat, in-mold hardcoat, and high-index lenses.

Leybold’s hardware, manufactured in Germany, the U.S., and China, forms part of the Micro Lab that includes a sand blaster, oven, and ultrasonic cleaning system, the push-button-operated UCS 40, which can handle up to 160 pairs of lenses per day, and features fully automated ultrasonic cleaning for all lens types through its on-board de-ionized water filtration system.

The FastGrind 2200, a compact and easy-to-use in-office surfacing system from Super Systems Optical Technologies, can help ECPs save about 50% on their lab bills, according to the company. The FastGrind offers a modified surfacing system that is a different process than free-form but offers the same finished quality. The company provides generated and preblocked lenses to its customers, thus cutting down on space, time, and the experience needed by the user. Users then finish surfacing the prescription on the FastGrind in their office, which takes about 12 minutes per pair, ready to edge. The FastGrind has newly updated software which can handle most prescriptions and lens materials and it takes up less than 5 sq. ft. (28 in. x 27 in.) Later this year, Super Systems will introduce a hardcoating system to complement the FastGrind system.

The precision levels, features, and innovations of today’s machinery make the operation and maintenance of surfacing and coating equipment far more manageable and efficient than in the past. With a range of manufacturers offering units for every sized space and depth of pocket, it’s never been a better time to start looking to expand the services your practice offers.

Paul Power is a freelance writer and editor based in New York City.


Coburn Technologies, Inc.
800-262-8761 • coburntechnologies.com

Leybold Optics USA, Inc.
919-657-7100 • leyboldoptics.com

Satisloh North America, Inc.
800-866-5640 • satisloh.com

Schneider Optical Machines, Inc.
972-247-4000 • schneider-om.com

Super Systems Optical Technologies
800-543-7376 • superoptical.com


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