In-Office Lab Update
Retail Lab Equipment
Consider an investment in in-office equipment
to provide faster service and remain competitive.
BY SUSAN P. TARRANT, Contributing editor
Today's in-office labs allow O.D.s to offer faster turnaround than wholesale labs, and to compete with 1-hour labs. Let's look at some of the design trends in retail lens processing and the latest offerings from equipment manufacturers.
A new trend
Most manufacturers we spoke to agreed that while the market and economy may be causing some eyecare professionals to be cautious about upgrading or expanding their lab setups, others who had previously sent all their jobs out to wholesale labs are seeing an investment in equipment as a way to provide faster service to their patients and stay competitive. Here's how.
The evolution of equipment has made it easier for O.D.s to establish in-house finishing labs. Propelled by the same forces at work in wholesale labs, equipment companies have been adapting industrial technology to fit the retail lab situation.
"Today's 'smart' technology reduces both the skill and time required to process jobs in-house, a big advantage for independent practices whose employees can easily learn to operate the edger and handle other tasks, such as working with custom-ers," says Joe DeLapp, president and CEO of Briot-Weco USA.
Integration. "I think we're looking at a more mainstreaming of features," says Matt Vulich, vice president, sales, of AIT Technologies. "The cost of high-end patternless edgers may turn off the first-time buyer in these times, or customers may hold off on an upgrade."
Several of our experts pointed to computer technology allowing a greater opportunity for remote tracing as a trend that's growing in retail practices. It's already a mandatory component of multi-location practices, where satellite offices send the frame trace to the central location to edge the lens. But a remote tracer in even a single-location practice allows a doctor to trace a frame and transmit all the necessary information to his wholesale lab.
Remote tracing also allows practitioners to save time on the turnaround by eliminating the need to package the frame and send it to the lab. They retain more control over the process, and can offer their patients a speedy alternative to the 1-hour facilities. Many wholesale labs are supporting the move to remote tracing by financing (or helping to finance) tracers in their customers' offices.
Automation. As industrial systems become even more robotic and automatic, so too do retail systems, as companies are adapting the automation of one into the other.
Automated machinery is suitable for any practice setting because it doesn't require special skill. And because the equipment handles more processes automatically, the need to "handle" the lenses is reduced. With a reduction in operator handling comes a reduction in errors and re-dos.
Service, please. Many equipment companies act as consultants for a practice. Equipment manufacturers have
incorporated all of these trends into their product lines. While some offer completely new systems, others offer upgrades or smaller machines to use with existing machines to increase output.
Here's what's new in the retail finishing category:
(www.aitindustries.com) recently debuted its newest offering, Practica, comprised of the Practica Edger and the CNC 3D Tracer/Blocker. This system is designed specifically for low- to medium-volume retail lab operations on a budget. It has all the major features that allow practitioners to process all lens types and materials, but omits certain "bells and whistles" to stay in a low price range. AIT is also releasing a new tracer and edger combination that will work with its Speedy Blocker.
(www.briotusa.com), a company formed last year through the merger of Briot and Pro-Laser Ltd., now has two Briot edger lines: the new Briot Axcell CL edging system (two machines) and the Accura all-in-one edger.
The Axcell CL offers totally automatic centering and blocking with a touch screen and new 5-D tracing. It automatically identifies the optical center and axis alignment for most single vision, bifocal and progressive lenses. It reads lens power, detects the bifocal segment and reads progressive lens markings automatically, eliminating the need to use a lensometer or mark the optical center manually.
The Briot Accura performs all finishing steps in one machine, eliminating the need for tracers, blockers, hand edgers and groovers. This system is available in three models, each designed for specific job volumes and varying levels of automation.
The company's Weco division is offering the Weco 450 Drill and Edge to handle those popular three-piece mounts. The drill works for all plastic lens materials and the unit edges all materials, and grooves and polishes in the same machine to speed up the finishing process.
(www.gerbercoburn.com) just released its latest edging system, the Kappa SP, which has all the features of the Kappa XL (e.g., all-material edging, edge polishing, six automatic and controlled bevel options), plus several new features.
Among the new features is a patented, soft pin beveling feature, using a flexible, soft cutting tool that enables pin beveling on thin, high minus or plus curved lenses, and increases the processing range on small diameter lenses. The malleable features were designed to replicate the movement of hand beveling. It helps reduce lens handling, spoilage or breakage while improving consistency and quality.
(www.nationaloptronics.com) has updated its 6E Patternless Edger, which is a three-axis, dry cutting edger that grooves, has multi-positional bevel placement and the ability to edge and polish all plastic, polycarbonate and acrylic lens material. The 6E can now be equipped with a modem card that will allow the company's service technicians to access the edger remotely for diagnostic and service assistance.
Each 6E Edger is outfitted with the company's special lens clamp for AR-coated lenses, and can interface fully with all major optical software programs or can be set up in stand-alone mode with its companion 4T Tracer.
(www.topcon.com) Ultima 500 Lens Finishing System features all-material edging, a large color LCD screen, 3-D frame tracing, safety beveling polishing, grooving and Diamond Luster polishing. The Windows-formatted operating system allows for easy processing of all materials and the optional DS-5000 Integrated Blocker automatically displays the correct blocking position for all lenses.
(www.santinelli.com) LE-9000 features automatic beveling and grooving, all-material edging and a variety of edging speeds. Remote communication is possible with the LT-900SX Tracer and IntelliTrace software. Combine the LE-9000 with the new ICE-2000 to create a lensometer/blocker that automatically recognizes the position of the optical center and 180-degree axis of the lens, and communicates that information to the edger to determine the blocking point. Santinelli is offering a trade-in program to owners of the LE-7070 3D Fit patternless edger who want the LE-9000.
SuperSystems Optical Technologies
(www.superoptical.com) offers SuperFast Grind 2200 as a way to economically surface lenses to prescription. The lenses are ready for edging in less than 12 minutes.
Optical Dynamics Corporation
(www.opticaldynamics.com) offers a lens fabrication system called the Q-2100. It's computer-controlled and can create single and multifocal lenses, including aspheric and photochromic designs. A smaller version is also available for in-office use.
The future is bright
With so many options available, there's literally a retail lab setup for everyone. And with so many advances coming down the pike, in-office finishing is providing a way for practitioners to compete with the 1-hour facilities, provide their patients with quality lens products, and recognize cost savings from seeing a reduced (or eliminated) wholesale lab bill.
What to Consider
Thinking of bringing your lab work under your roof instead of paying a wholesale lab to do it? Consider the following before making a commitment.
- Does the company have a solid reputation for customer service? Ask what it will do for you if you experience equipment problems. Will a company representative work with you over the phone, send a technician out or put you on the "waiting to be serviced" list?
- What kind of training does the company offer? Will it mail you a manual, or will it provide on-premises training, on-going telephone support and future training when necessary?
- What are your processing needs? Will you be doing all jobs in-house, or will you do the simple, single-vision jobs and send the premium jobs out to the lab? How much volume do you have? Ask equipment vendors to show you tables and formulas that illustrate the return on investment and savings realized from doing the work yourself. Leave flexibility for future growth.
- Are you physically set up for a lab? Modern finishing equipment is designed for small spaces, so generally this isn't a problem. But will the company work with you before installation to make sure you've addressed all issues regarding your lab space (e.g., water needs, special electrical needs, workspace needs)? Many companies offer lab design services as well. Ask about them.
- Does the vendor offer financing options and do those options meet your needs? Are they fully explained? Is the vendor interested in working within your financial abilities?
Remember, most equipment vendors act as partners in a retail lab. They'll make sure that your needs are met and that you have the flexibility to grow in the future. If you're not getting this kind of service and commitment, search for another vendor.
Optometric Management, Issue: March 2002