Joel Johnson is national sales manager at
Ultra Optics in Minneapolis.

Optical Lab Products (OLP) interviews Joel Johnson, national sales manager, Ultra Optics.

OLP: What makes Ultra Optics unique?

JOHNSON: We only work with UV-cured backside spincoating systems and lacquers, and this allows us to have a broad view of the industry as well as a sharp focus just on backside hardcoating. That’s a challenge for other companies that also have their names on dipcoating and lens processing machinery. So backside spincoating is not always their top priority; that’s all we do, and we feel we do it the best of all.

In engineering, sales, tech, customer service, our chemical and machinery manufacturing, our employee owners have a vested interest in the outcome of Ultra Optics. That is truly unique in the industry.

Lastly, we’re a full American company. Everything is done right here in Minneapolis. We build our machines, design our chemistries and provide all the parts and service right out of our building here in Minneapolis.

OLP: Can you describe the Ultra Optics Ultra Care Program?

JOHNSON: It allows our customers to obtain a piece of machinery with a very low cost and pay a price per lens once a month, including all consumables, service visits and any repair parts. They know exactly what their backside coating operation will cost per lens every month.

OLP: What makes the 44R, backside coater unique?

JOHNSON: It’s fully automated. It has a conveyor and tray movers, and the lenses are robotically fed to the machine. The 44R communicates with the lab management system to let the coater know if it’s to coat, not to coat, pass right through, wash the lens or wash and dry the lens. This takes away the sorting aspect before it goes into the machinery, eliminating the need for another person.

The 44R will coat 125 lenses an hour, so it’s the fastest coater on the market. The machine runs on the block or off the block to fit into a variety of different lab scenarios. It can run either left to right or right to left. A tray turner ensures that the trays are going in the machine in the proper workflow.

All of these options make the 44R the most advanced and versatile coater in the market.

OLP: What types of customers are particularly effective at using Ultra Optics products?

JOHNSON: The vast majority of our customers are very successful, and if they’re not happy, we have a very lenient return policy and will do almost anything to help them succeed. Most importantly we try to achieve their success through education. Our suite of online videos offer an expansive array of repair and training opportunities that also are designed to ensure the success of our customers. Currently, we have 30 videos on our YouTube site. We have seven training videos, 12 repair videos and even 10 different tutorials that walk you through different steps of the process.

To make it as easy as we can on the customer, with tablets, laptops and even your phone you can be right at the machine, pull up those videos and get that expertise at your fingertips. We’re trying to mastermind the overall success of the customer, reducing down time in production, which helps to increase the yield of the machinery.

We continually re-evaluate the videos and try to come up with at least one video every quarter year.

We also have 7am-7pm Central time tech support, and 99.9% of all orders placed by 5pm Central time are shipped the same day.

OLP: You recently introduced the Ultra Optics XBT. What makes this a breakthrough in coating technology?

JOHNSON: UV-XBT adheres to all substrates. When we first designed UV-NV in 1996, the two predominant coated lenses were polycarbonate and 1.60, and that’s not even the same monomer used today for a 1.60 product. With the changes in lens technologies out there, it’s not that our coatings didn’t stick; they just didn’t have the adhesion we felt would give our customers the optimal solution. So XBT adheres better to all substrates, better than any of the other spincoats on the market. The trick is one coating for all substrates, and we’ve really been able to accomplish this. One of our customers said that they are looking for the Holy Grail and they’re in testing of it currently. So we’ll see if we reach the Holy Grail spot, at least according to one of our customers.

The other part about the XBT, it drastically reduces AR crazing on high index lenses. The XBT is a more flexible coating. It expands and contracts with the AR stack to minimize any crazing due to the extreme temperature variations that the lens goes through. So that was yet another benchmark that we wanted to hit, higher index lenses. It has a higher volume of crazing opportunities, so we wanted to minimize that for our customers as well.

The third advantage of the XBT is that it maintains a very thin film thickness yet  has surfacing coverage characteristics that will, even with thinner film coating, help hide any light scratches and swirls you might see in the lens.

Lastly, with UV-XBT Coating we have been able to maintain a high hardness level while keeping the dark tinting ability of the coating.

OLP: What was the reason for changing the look of the bottles?

JOHNSON: We decided to embrace the Global Harmonized Labeling System requirements. Instead of it becoming something that we had to do, we decided to go with a different bottle type, an induction seal instead of a seal tape that goes around the edge of the bottle. We haven’t had a label change on our bottles for 20 years, so it was time to update. We also went through a whole new company branding and a new logo back in the beginning of 2015. This project allowed us to bring it all together.

OLP: You touched on the fact that Ultra Optics is an employee-owned company. How does that impact the company?

JOHNSON: Being a part of Ultra Optics since 1989, I have seen through the years that our employees have a higher level of engagement than what I see elsewhere. The care given and the service we provide is how we, as owners, reap the benefits of hard work. Our quality is better, and our customer service and technical service levels are outstanding. Our employees take that extra care in their jobs because they understand the need to keep the focus on the customer. The only way we are going to see our business grow is to put our best foot forward, work hard and do the best job we possibly can.

OLP: Finally, can you tell us a little bit about your background in this business?

JOHNSON: Coming out of college back in 1989, I had an uncle who worked for Walman Optical, and he told me, “Hey, if you’re looking for a job, I know that there’s a new company, Ultra Optics, that is looking for somebody to help work in the lab.” So I gave them a call. I was only looking at it as just in between coming out of college and getting this job so that I could look for my “real” job. I was employee number three, and I’m still here.

I started running cylinder machines and the backside coater. I was also filling orders and doing the shipping in the afternoon. So I was working in the lab in the morning, doing shipments in the afternoon, and then I moved into the chemistry lab, working with the chemist making the coating. I moved into operations management, worked with our inventory and got into sales. Then we split off the sales and operations departments years ago, and I’ve been managing our worldwide sales team ever since.

OLP: That’s the perfect experience, working your way up from the bottom.

JOHNSON: Right, exactly. I’m very lucky to have had a couple of very good mentors who put me where I am today.


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