Article Date: 3/1/2001

SIXTH ANNUAL IN-OFFICE LAB UPDATE
State of the Industry Report
Our update reveals some interesting trends in this market.
By Joseph L. Bruneni,  Torrence, Calif.

If you have an in-office lab, you still can't help but be aware of all of the rapidly changing dynamics of the wholesale lab industry. The equipment trends are having a trickle down affect on the in-office lab market, as well. The industry is experiencing a technological boom. We're seeing increased automation, computerization, space-saving units and better looking equipment.

We'll take a look at new equipment and trends in the in-office lab market. But first, here's a quick look at the ophthalmic lab market overall to see what could affect on the in-office lab industry down the road.

For the last 18 months, lab equipment sales have been flat and may even be down from previous figures. This stagnancy has led to speculation about why sales are flat during a period of considerable innovation and technological advances in equipment design.

One influence has been consolidations of wholesale laboratories. Two of the world's major lens producers established company-owned lab networks recently, primarily by acquiring larger and more successful independent laboratories. Factory-owned labs are a trend this country hasn't seen for 50 years. As a result, decisions regarding lab equipment budgets, usually the responsibility of a manager or individual owner, are now made in a remote boardroom.

Other issues affecting lab equipment purchases include the increased cost for more sophisticated equipment. Labs have considerable interest in automated equipment that can be tied into and controlled by the lab's master computer software. There's also considerable interest in robotic production lines in wholesale labs and some labs have already invested in robotic equipment. This equipment comes with very hefty price tags.

Lens generators, traditionally the most expensive unit in a lab, once represented a $30,000 to $40,000 investment. Today, many generators are priced at more than $100,000. The more complex high-production lab edgers can cost labs more than what was once paid for generators. The rapid increase in popularity for anti-reflection coatings created a major expense for wholesale labs. Labs normally were never involved with thin-film coating systems. Today, many labs have installed in-house anti-reflective (AR) coating equipment that represents investments ranging from $300,000 to $1,000,000.

What this means for in-office labs

What does this trend toward expensive, automated lab equipment mean for you? For those of you who don't have in-office labs, it simply means you'll have access to faster, more accurate lab work from your wholesale lab. If you have an in-office lab, this means lab equipment costs are going up but the return from lab investments is improving.

Retail in-office labs are benefiting from the technology explosion in lab equipment in two primary ways.

First, many equipment manufacturers are scaling down their more sophisticated high production equipment and creating versions suited to the smaller scale of production in a retail lab.

Second, wholesale labs buy automated lab equipment because it saves manpower hours. Reducing employee time is just as important in a one-person retail lab as it is in a lab employing a hundred people. Labs buy highly technical lab equipment because they find it produces more accurate, better looking eyewear.

Obviously, improving the end product (eyewear) is equally important in a doctor-owned lab. With equipment sales to wholesale labs somewhat slow, manufacturers are paying more attention to retail labs, as evident by the equipment they offer.

Here are examples of in-office lab equipment that have become available in the last year or so.

Edgers

Edging equipment is the backbone of in-office labs. Lens edges are the most noticeable aspect of finished eyewear and is also where most spoilage occurs.

Newer edgers reduce much of the risk and require fewer operator skills to produce attractive, accurate edged lenses. Some new edgers process all materials (glass, plastic, polycarbonate and high index), while others incorporate special features such as tracing, blocking, grooving and even drilling. Most units are computerized, providing greater operator control than before.

Two other trends in retail lab equipment to note are: space-saving compactness and cosmetically attractive designs.

Remote Frame Tracing

Remote tracing technology is becoming increasingly important to the industry.

Specialty lab equipment

Use of a wafer system permits edging labs to produce a range of multifocal lenses from a relatively small inventory of wafers without surfacing.

Weighing the benefits

Equipment manufacturers have effectively addressed the needs of in-office labs and have produced innovative equipment.

Faster turn-around delivery for finished eyewear is a critical issue for optometrists. The newer finishing equipment specifically addresses this issue. Also, with this equipment, lens spoilage is reduced and more accurate eyewear produced in a shorter time.

Even with the higher costs associated with the more sophisticated computer-controlled equipment, the benefits from purchasing these advanced units make them a prudent investment for in-office labs.

Joe Bruneni is an Assistant Professor teaching ophthalmic optics at So. California College of Optometry and serves as a Director of the National Academy of Opticianry. He has written books on the subjects of managed care, a dispensing guide and a history of the optical industry. Contact him at joe@bruneni.com.

 

COMPANY 

PRODUCT/SERVICE OFFERED

TELEPHONE

AIT INDUSTRIES (Division of Opti-Vue, Inc.)

Full-service finishing equipment

(800) 729-1959

BRAIN POWER INCORPORATED

Optical tints, chemicals and instruments

(800) 327-2250

BRIOT

Complete lens finishing laboratory equipment and accessories

(800) 292-7468

DAC VISION

Full-line of consumable lab supplies for processing spectacle lenses

(800) 800-1550

DENTON VACUUM, LLC.

Full-coating lab, setups and coating processes; complete AR coating lab, process and installation

(888) 336-8661 

GERBER COBURN

Complete lens processing laboratory equipment,software and consumables

 (800) 843-1479 

HUNTER DELATOUR

Tinting and lens processing supplies and equipment

(800) 227-4695

LOH OPTICAL MACHINERY

Finishing, tracing, blockers & edgers; office systems

(800) 866-5640

NATIONAL OPTRONICS, INC.

Finishing and surfacing equipment

 (800) 247-9796

NOVAMATIC SYSTEMS, INC

Complete line of finishing equipment

(800) 822-4343

OPTEK 

Surfacing labs -- generators, blockers and equipment

 (800) 524-5454

OPTICAL DYNAMICS CORP

In-office lens fabrication equipment and accessories

(800) 797-2743

OPTOVISION TECHNOLOGIES

Vacuum coating systems

(800) 688-7575

POLYVISION

In-office multi-focal delivery systems

 (888) 645-7788

PRO-LASER NORTH AMERICA

Complete in-office finishing lab equipment 

(214) 221-4267

SANTINELLI INTERNATIONAL

Complete in-office finishing lab equipment 

 (800) 644-3343

SOLA OPTICAL

Lens manufacturing and lens delivery systems

 (800) 358-8258

SUPER SYSTEMS OPTICAL TECHNOLOGIES

Surfacing, edging, lab supplies

 (800) 543-7376 

TOPCON

Computerized lensmeters, remote tracing software and Finishing room equipment and supplies

 (888) 551-2020 

WALACH INDUSTRIES Tools for generators and lens shaping  (727) 581-4100


Optometric Management, Issue: March 2001