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THROUGH THE LENS

Trends in Lenses & Materials:
Make Them Your Way

Rudy Project's durable ImpactX� lens.

Warning � To all the pessimistic, end-of-the-optical-world folks out there, this article will just make you feel worse.

I was born in the early sixties, and grew up in New Jersey, just across the river from New York City, the center of fresh ingredients of outstanding quality, fantastic cooking, and amazing baking. I like baked goods. If I stumble upon a good bakery, I can, quite literally, eat my way around one. I tell the server behind the counter to grab a big box. I start at one corner and start filling it: brownies, cream horns, elephant ears, cupcakes, doughnuts and cookies.

The base ingredient for all these baked goods is really the same: flour. Just a pinch of something more or something less, and a brownie becomes a cookie, and a muffin becomes a popover. These days, lenses are becoming a little like that, too. A little pinch of something more or less, and you have a hybrid lens that takes the base material and gives it something a little extra. One example is what Rudy Project does with Trivex�. Their ImpactX� Photochromic and Polarized and Photochromic Polarized lenses are all Trivex based hybrids offering superior strength and optical quality. The trend is towards tweaking an established base material to meet different needs.

In-house lens production using molding is making a comeback. These processing units produce lenses of a proprietary mid-index. Q-Spex offers their own 1.547 lens. Note that this is not an index that we are used to seeing, and not one we were forced to memorize in school. It is not 1.53, or 1.586, but 1.547. Instead of paying the royalty fees to produce a brand name material, they simply created their own.

We are entering an age of desktop lens production unhindered by material restrictions. Here, the trend is a DIY approach, where you create your own material to suit your needs.

Combining the DIY and in-house combination, Fastgrind 2200 by Super Systems brings desktop lens surfacing to a whole new level. Fast, simple, affordable and mechanically basic the Fast Grind 2200 can produce high quality surfaced lenses in under twelve minutes. The unit requires only a water supply and an ordinary electrical outlet. The Fastgrind 2200 can work in most popular lens types (SV, FT, progressive) and lens materials (CR-39, polycarbonate, 1.57) with AR and changeable tint versions available. Taking up as little space as dorm-room fridge the unit has a footprint smaller than some edgers and smaller than the blocking unit alone of a complete wholesale lab surfacing system. Taking this trend over time will we not see even the smallest independent shop doing all or at least some of their own lens surfacing? Heck, if the Fastgrind 2200 requires, �No previous surfacing experience to operate�, then there is nothing to stop a large family from buying one and doing their own surfacing at home!

Things are headed in a similar direction in lens design. Every day, you see articles and forum posts with titles like, �In House Free-Form Lens Production � Is It for Your Office?� Any medium-sized chain can buy into in-house lens production, purchase the rights to produce a known lens design, and brand it their own.

Given time and experience, this software will trickle down and trickle out to where a company can buy the hardware alone and produce a lens of its own design. I have been chastised in the past for saying this, but will say it again: �Glasses really are just a couple of curved pieces of plastic held in place with a couple of bent wires.�

Stop and think about those two paragraphs above. The industry is shifting slightly, and we are seeing the introduction of independent material design and independent lens design. This will not turn the industry upside-down tomorrow, or perhaps even in my lifetime.

However, it should also not be ignored. If �trends� means, �where the future is headed,� then we may see a departure from the current production processes that have ruled the industry for the last one hundred years. The time may come, soon, when a mid-sized store will produce its own lens materials, create their own lenses of every style, and then edge them all in-house without the need for a wholesale lab or outside lens manufacturer at all.

What, Me Worry?

If I put on my tin-foil hat and stare in to my crystal ball, I see the future. No, really I do, I swear. In fifteen to twenty years I see this: You will go online and order your complete DIY glasses kit. Twenty-five minutes later, the drone will drop it at your doorstep. You�ll grab it, head inside, and open the box, which will hold ten different colored blocks of an acetate-like material, twenty molds, one large bottle of clear monomer, and five smaller vials of various liquids simply marked A, B, C, D and E.

Next, you will go back online and design your own frame, using a user-friendly interactive program supplied by the DIY glasses kit provider. You will upload an image of your face, and, using drag-and-drop tools, create the frames of your dreams. Change the color, change the shape, change the size, symmetrical or asymmetrical, it will not matter. You�ll play to your heart�s content until you have what you want. Then, you�ll download the completed design from the Cloud to your 3D printer, load the indicated colored blocks from your kit, and hit �print.� In half an hour, you�ll have your finished frame.

In the meantime, while you wait for your frame to print, you�ll choose two molds and the large bottle of clear monomer. You�ll decide what properties you want your lens to have: AR, changeable tint, polarization, sun tint, impact resistance, all your choice! You�ll fill two molds with the monomer, add a few drops from the appropriate properties bottles, and allow the lens mold to cure to 3D printer material.

Let�s say you want this frame to have a great set of clear lenses with changeable tint and AR. You�ll use bottle A and bottle C, and add three drops of each to the mold. As easily as that, the finished product will have a lens-inherent changeable tint and AR too!

Then, you�ll smile for your tablet, and wait for it to read your prescription and instantly load it in the design program. You�ll place the monomer molds in the 3D printer and hit print. Your lenses will be ready in an hour. They will print in the correct prescription, already properly sized for the frame you just designed. You�ll pop in the lenses, and head on out the door. You will never need to step outside your home or office for an Rx and a great looking pair of glasses.

Think this fantasy is on the same level as a flying car? I, for one, sure doubt it!

John Seegers, M.Ed., LDO, owner - OpticianWorks.com

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