At some point, every optical business has to face the issue of whether it will add finishing equipment to fabricate eyewear in-house instead of having an optical laboratory do it. While some offices don’t do it, many others do. The following offices have discovered a number of good reasons for doing it. Their experiences can help you evaluate the merits of in-house finishing equipment.
Photo courtesy of Coburn.
Kevin Harrison, Owner, Heritage Vision Center, Hattiesburg, MS
Barry Santini, Co-owner, Long Island Opticians, Seaford, NY
Jay Blackburn, Co-owner, McBride Blackburn Opticians, Lynchburg, VA
Describe your finishing lab.
Kevin Harrison: Our finishing lab is very automated but changes in the industry have us looking at equipment that is even more automated. Our edger drills in-chamber, thereby eliminating the ancillary drilling equipment and reducing the additional space and mistakes made when drilling by hand. Our edger uses dry-cutting technology and has been quite maintenance-free.
Barry Santini: I like what automated equipment can provide in a finishing lab, so I have some very helpful pieces. While I have a conventional (manual) lensometer, I also have an automated one that has Abbe compensation and spectrometer features. I have an edger system that traces, edges all types of materials, grooves, drills (notches, etc.), and can handle high base curves as well as step bevels.
Jay Blackburn: Our finishing lab is moderately automated. We still check lenses in with a manual lensometer but use a computerized blocker. Our edger drills, grooves, applies a safety bevel, and polishes the edges. When the lenses come off of the edger, they are ready to be inspected and mounted in the frame.
Who runs the finishing equipment in your office?
KH: The equipment is so user-friendly, almost all of my staff can operate it, but the store manager has really taken over the lab operations. He handles all the trickier jobs too. This helps free me to do office work and sell. We also have a part-time person who started this past summer who had no optical experience and can now handle just about any job. The only mistakes we really see are operator errors, which is why they like to keep me out of the lab!
BS: My partner and I both dispense and do all the lab work. It doesn’t pay for us to have a lab tech. In between clients, we order our materials and process all of our lab work.
JB: Two of our opticians share time in the finishing lab. They have a rotating one-week-on and one-week-off schedule while still waiting on patients. This schedule works for us because the scheduled person knows what is going on in the lab. Lab work is done daily, and during busy times, the opticians come in early to finish any lab work.
Photo courtesy of Santinelli.
How much do you anticipate that you save each month on your lab bill by fabricating your own eyewear in your office?
KH: Since we sell a large number of drill-mounted frames—I imagine we easily save about 25%. With labs charging up to $40 for some drill work, and with other finishing charges such as edging and tinting, it just makes sense to have that equipment at our disposal. A local chain store moved all of their finishing to a central location, so we now see their patients who need faster service.
BS: It’s less about saving money than getting it done the way we want it done. The one exception to this is where we’ve found that having it done completely by an outside vendor is superior to what we can do in-house.
JB: Having an on-site lab gives us substantial savings along with a much faster turnaround time. We save on average 20% off our monthly lab. Most wholesale labs that we have dealt with charge $8 to $30 per pair to edge lenses, depending on the frame type and lens options. We also save a lot by ordering stock lenses and edging them in-house instead of doing this through a lab.
What features do you look for in an edger system these days?
KH: We want an edger with quick processing speeds that any staff member can learn to use with very little training. Drilling, safety beveling, and polishing in-chamber are a must. Auto blocking would be a nice addition as well. Anything that can keep the lens out of my hands to reduce the chance of error is a plus!
BS: Our edger is so good, we would settle for nothing less in the future. Work gets done better and faster with a top-of-the-line edger system, too, and you can do so much more with it. For example, we process about four to five magnetic clip-ons a week with this edger…all in-house. The frame-fit mode measures the eyewire curve and gives us an option to match the bevel. It’s invaluable and completely eliminates lens warpage and frame disfigurement. We also like the curve-bevel that reduces edge thickness on minus lenses and reduces frame splay and endpiece tension. The step bevel mode allows us to process wrap jobs in house too.
Photo courtesy of Essilor Instruments USA.
JB: Cutting accuracy is really important because it reduces time for resizing lenses. In-chamber drilling is another feature we were very interested in. We drilled by hand, which is very time consuming and not as accurate. Good safety beveling and edge polishing are great features too, so is our grooving function for semi-rimless frames. We basically wanted an edger that was fully automated so when the lens cycle was done, the lens would be ready to mount in the frame. What modifications did you have to make to your finishing shop in order to accommodate your new finishing equipment?
KH: We installed a dedicated circuit to our edger to reduce the chance of a power surge blowing the computer. I will probably look at an additional circuit for the tracer and blocker when we replace those as well. We have network cables throughout our store for the other computers so we will probably drop a line for the new system if it’s needed.
BS: We didn’t need to make many modifications. All we did was add special plumbing valves to control water flow. We already had what we needed in place for previous equipment.
JB: One adaptation we made was to modify our plumbing system by installing pressure valves in order to have an even flow instead of the constant fluctuations of city water. We did not have to make any electrical or bench modifications.
Photo courtesy of Briot.
How much help did you get from your equipment rep when deciding on your finishing equipment?
KH: The local rep for the equipment I bought is a friend of mine. He has worked with several systems over the years and has never steered me wrong. He also knows that I operate my business on a cash basis so I do not lease, rent, or finance equipment in my store. Having a local rep also helps, should I run into problems. He has always been quick to offer repair suggestions, even if the equipment wasn’t purchased from him.
BS: Our equipment rep helped us decide on getting the accessory deodorizer, which reduces the smell of high-index lenses. He also helped us during the “getting acquainted” phase of initial edger ownership. Our accountant advised us to buy the edger, not lease it.
JB: Although our equipment rep was very knowledgeable, we already knew what features we wanted as we had been researching for several years. We were already aware of the financial incentives of upgrading our existing edger to a faster, more automated system. We also did not utilize him for any equipment flow planning. We had been planning and saving for several years so that we could buy equipment outright and not have to finance or lease it.