What lies ahead for you

What lies ahead for you

DeFranco, Liz Martinez

Reviewing industy changes, compact technology and coating advances.

The movement toward total in-office prescription fabrication and processing is picking up speed, and trend-watchers see it barreling into optometric offices. Advances in technology have resulted in laboratory equipment and processes that are more streamlined, compact and economical than ever, moving many functions that used to be the province of the wholesale laboratory to the doctor’s office.

Experts say convenience, service and cost-effectiveness are convincing many doctors to relocate laboratory functions to their back rooms. By bringing lens fabrication, finishing and treatments into your practice, you can control the entire job from refraction to dispensing, rather than depending on a third party – or parties – to provide timely work of acceptable quality and cost. These systems let office personnel create single-vision, flattop and progressive addition lenses (PALs); apply tints, ultraviolet (UV) protection, scratch-resistant (SR) and anti-reflective (AR) coatings; edge, bevel, polish and groove the lenses; and dispense them the same day sometimes within an hour.

Breakthroughs in the in-office lens fabrication processes, for example, allow independent practices to compete with large chain stores on quick service, low cost and one-stop shopping. Today’s choices are greater than ever before: lens blanks can be produced in-house through molding, casting and surfacing processes.

The growing in-office lab market is also very dynamic. As new firms offer innovations, established companies consolidate to do the same. For example, a little over a year ago, Gerber Optical purchased Coburn to form Gerber Coburn, South Windsor, Conn. The result, in part, has been the introduction of such new products as the Vector surface generator, for processing glass lenses, and the Step One All Material surface blocker.

(See “What’s New” on page 89 for details. Also, see our manufacturer index on page 90 for the phone numbers of companies mentioned in the Fourth Annual In-office Lab Update.)

Essilor has also merged operations to produce innovations.

What O.D.s are talking about

The hottest story in the market now, of course, is Johnson & Johnson’s recent decision to close its Innotech in-office lens casting division. Two other companies are helping Innotech customers adjust to new lens fabrication products. Super Systems of Cincinnati, Ohio, has initiated a conversion plan for Innotech users, letting them transition to its Fast Grind 2000 system.

While Innotech was for lens casting, Fast Grind is a surfacing system that has been modified to eliminate certain pieces of equipment associated with traditional surfacing processes, such as the generator, layout marker, blocker, reclaim tanks and polisher. Fast Grind occupies only 6 square feet of space.

Using diamond- and polishimpregnated pads as well as patented blocks that are pre-attached to the lenses, the system can surface 80% of all prescriptions and lens styles, including CR-39 and mid-index flat-tops and PALs, in about 10 minutes per pair. You order lenses directly from Super Systems and they arrive at the dispensary with the Fast Grind blocks attached.

Tricky items, such as slab-offs and front-side torics, can’t be produced. But the system permits thinner plus lenses than traditional surfacing does. The initial cost for Fast Grind is slightly less than $19,000. The diamond- and polish-impregnated pads need to be replaced regularly.

Optical Dynamics’ role

Alternatively, Louisville, Kentucky-based Optical Dynamics (previously FastCast Corp.) formed an agreement to distribute Innotech “consumables” to users from April through December 1999. The Innotech system will cease to exist in 2000. However, Optical Dynamics will convert interested customers to its Q-2100 lens casting system, which the company is unveiling at Vision Expo East in March.

The Q-2100 forms lens blanks by trapping liquid monomer between two glass molds and exposing the product to LTV light in a curing chamber, then transferring the lenses to the post-cure unit. The process takes about 16 minutes, and up to six pairs can be formed per hour.

Single-vision (SV), aspheric, SV and FT lenses, plus PALs, can be cast in the hard-resin monomer, which has an index of refraction of 1.56. The proprietary Phases photochromic lenses can also be made with the Q-2100. The two-chamber system uses the same amount of room as two microwave ovens.

Optical Molding Systems, Ada, Ohio, makes the Opticast UV Lens Manufacturing System, which can cast aspheric SVs, FTs and PALs in mid-index clear or photochromic plastic. Optical Molding System’s lenses are gray and red, green, yellow or blue. Photochromic color comes from injecting dye into the monomer, so the shades can be mixed.

The initial $25,000 for the system gets you a set of front and back lens molds, an inventory of gaskets, an air hood and five syringes filled with starter “shots” of colored photochromic dye.

How optical molding works

The lenses are manufactured using a gasket design that facilitates casting between the front and back glass molds. The system operator manually marks the axis on a protractor, assembles the molds, fills the gap with the monomer and places the molds into the curing chamber.

The casting process takes about 10 minutes. Two pairs can be cured at once. Disposable gaskets are supplied with each quart of monomer, which sells for $187 and produces 25 pairs of lenses. Casting takes place beneath the 2-by-3-foot air hood An optional 5-foot countertop comes with the system.

An alternative to lens molding is Diversified Optics’ Instalens EZ II wafer system. The Oviedo, Florida-based company’s equipment creates adhesive-form lens blanks by combining a thin front wafer with a thicker back wafer. These lenses require 3 minutes of UV curing. The EZ II produces SVs, FTs and PALs in CR-39, polarized gray 3 or Polarchange photochromic lenses.

Tint & UV revolution

Traditional tinting is also being reinvented. Since the beginning of the year, Chemko Optical Supplies of Hudson, Fla. has offered lens dye in capsule form. The capsule is dropped into a quart of distilled water in the dye tank. Upon dissolving, one capsule tints about 150 pairs of lenses. Fifteen colors plus UV treatment are available.

Nu-Chem Laboratories of Port Jefferson, N.Y., offers 30 new dyes with dye-stabilizing technology and pH buffers that abolish tint breakdown and increase tint absorption speed.

These dyes save time by eliminating the color shift that can cause red to creep into black dyes. Additionally, Nu-Chem’s Milky Way UV, applied to lenses in the tint unit, is a white UV solution that leaves treated lenses crystal-clear, eradicating yellow coloration. Because of the pH buffers, distilled or filtered water isn’t necessary for tinting.

OMS Opto-Chemicals of Montreal, Canada, recently unveiled its Micro-Tinting System, which dyes lenses in the microwave. In a container, lenses absorb a light-density color within the first 2 seconds in the oven and achieve a full sunglass shade within a minute. In less than 2 minutes, the company’s Micro-LTV 400 Solution treats lenses to block up to 99% of light transmission up to 400 nm

The inability of increasingly popular polycarbonate lenses to be tinted with traditional dyes has been frustrating to dispensers. Tint manufacturers, like Action Services of Knoxville, Tenn., and BPI of Miami, Fla., have introduced dyes to tint polycarbonate lenses. Nu-Chem also makes polycarbonate dyes, which, like its other dyes, work with tap water. The Micro-Tinting System from OMS OptoChemicals tints polycarbonate, CR-39 and high-index materials.

Scratch-coating options The tint unit has expanded beyond coloring, UV-treating and neutralizing lenses to include scratch-resistant coatings (SRCs). Chemko’s SRT (Scratch-Resistant Treatment) Lens Protector can be applied to CR-39 lenses in the tint unit, as can Action Services’ Protecta-Coat.

Action Services also offers a two-in-one LTV and SRC combination for the tint unit. OMS Opto-Chemicals offers the fourin-one Solution, which provides SRC plus UV 400, antifog and antistatic treatments in less than 2 minutes in the microwave.

Hunter Delatour of Roanoke, Va., markets a cold-dip waterbased SRC formula. After 60 seconds in the SRC bath at room temperature, CR-39, polycarbonate and high-index lenses are hard-coated. Action Services offers a 10-minute cold-dip SRC.

SR and other coatings also can be applied with equipment. Gerber Coburn markets the LensCoater EX, a self-contained automated system that applies a tintable hard coating to plastic lens materials. With the press of a button, the system cleans, coats and cures lenses automatically in 35-second cycles.

Minneapolis, Minnesotabased Ultra Optics UOC Mini 2 Coating Machine is a two-unit system that applies a hard-coat to CR-39 lenses. Only one side can be coated at a time.

Specifically designed to add a protective coating to polycarbonate lenses, Chemko’s L-100 Coating System requires a few square feet of lab space. Cured with UV light, this hard coating system handles the softer polycarbonate lens that hasn’t been back-side coated. The L-100 also adds SRC to CR-39 lenses.

In-house AR options

Perhaps a greater breakthrough than in-office scratch-resistant coatings is reduced time needed to apply AR coatings.

Lenses can be AR-coated without being sent to an outside lab. DAC Vision of Garland, Texas, has assumed distribution of PlasmaCoat Plus II from British-based Applied Vision. This machine sputter-coats three pairs of lenses on both sides in 30 minutes. One-side coating takes 15 minutes.

The AR coating is applied inside a vacuum chamber system for maximum adhesion and effectiveness on glass and plastic. The turn-key package costs about $200,000.

Another way to provide in-office AR products is with the Matrix from Sola Optical of Petaluma, Calif. This system, helping doctors provide short turn-arounds on premium coated lenses, primarily produces profitable AR-coated PALs. The Matrix bonds two AR-coated lens wafers together and ITV-cures the result in less than an hour.

Beginning early this summer, the company will release frontand back-side AR-coated Transitions, as well as mirror-coated lenses. The Matrix measures about 4 by 2 feet and weighs about 80 lbs. An investment of $20,000 covers the equipment and an initial supply of 420 pieces of lens inventory.

Revolution on the horizon

Now that technology has progressed to make lab operations compact enough to fit inside a doctor’s office, a revolution in optometric practice is on the horizon. Advances in the in-office fabrication of lens blanks, plus quicker and more effective tints and back-room application of SR and AR coatings, open the door for improvements at all levels, from the exam chair to the lab and out into the dispensary.

Optometrists have a previously unknown amount of control over the elements that contribute to a high level of patient satisfaction. By keeping quality high, costs low and service quick, you can assure yourself of repeat visits, referrals and a boost to the bottom line.

Copyright Boucher Communications, Inc. Mar 1999

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