How Digital Lens Processing ‘Democratized’ the PAL Business

Bob Niemiec is a keen observer of the optical lab industry, having managed labs for major retail and managed care companies during the course of his career. Now working as a consultant, Niemiec offered his perspective on how digital spectacle lens surfacing and automated finishing processes have reshaped the lab business.

“More strategically, digital processing has ‘democratized’ the progressive lens business. In the digital world, producing a digital, backside progressive lens is a primarily a matter of creating a design and the accompanying points files to feed the LMS for downloading directly to the lab for manufacturing. It no longer requires the lengthy, expensive sometimes variable process of designing, producing and maintaining the thousands of molds that were required in the old, progressive lens blank production process, all of which favored larger, more heavily resourced lens producers. In the lab, instead of dealing scores of front side progressive designs, creating a backside progressive means just dealing with comparatively few materials and base curves.

Another more recent development which has had a significant impact in the finishing area has been the advent and widespread adoption of high capacity automated finishing/edging systems. While not as transformative in terms of the strategic upstream and downstream effects as the conversion from analog to digital surfacing, automated edging systems have had a huge impact in terms of streamlining the finishing process and in doing so improving quality, reducing costs and broadening capabilities.”

Many of the benefits of these advances tend to favor the larger, more technically sophisticated labs. These industry players first, have the capital to purchase the equipment, second, the means to hire and train the talent needed to effectively operate these systems and finally the volume to fully leverage the throughput these technologies provide. This trend favoring larger, more technically adept players is expected to continue, as existing technologies mature and as new technologies emerge.” n