How would you describe your role with The Vision Council?
The title of my job is Lab Division Liaison, and the role is exactly that: I represent the interest of the Lab Division members. That includes the development of programs that benefit our members, helping them to utilize those benefits, answering questions, responding to concerns and working to bring members the direction they need to navigate industry issues.
OLP: How have things changed since The Vision Council took over the Lab Division (formerly the Optical Lab Association)?
SUTHERLIN: I like to think that we have taken advantage of the best of both worlds. The Vision Council has so many resources that labs didn’t have access to as the OLA. We can offer a long list of member benefits, including marketing programs, shipping discounts, customer service training and much more. We call it the Lab Toolkit. Members are amazed when they look at the long list of services that we provide for them.
We also lead the industry in creating and maintaining standards, and we advocate for legal and regulatory issues that our members face.
One of the best things about the merger is that we are now able to work hand-in-hand with all The Vision Council divisions to advance the cause of our members. As the manufacturing side of our industry continues to evolve, the need for all our members to work together increases every day. We are working on joint projects with both the Lens Processing & Technology Division (LPT) and the Lens Division right now that will bring a tremendous synergy.
OLP: How is the Lab Division continuing to evolve?
SUTHERLIN: We have a steering committee that helps us to plan for the future, as well as the direction of our chairman Drake McLean and vice chair Swen Carlson. They do a terrific job in their advisory roles.
We continue to add member benefits all the time. The latest addition is our shipping discount program that we offer in conjunction with Allied Growth Partners and Transportation Impact. Members are reporting savings approaching 30% off rates they had negotiated hard for previously.
We’re also very involved in helping our members deal with legal and regulatory challenges like California Prop 65 and the FDA’s Unique Device Identification (UDI) mandate. I’m tremendously proud of what our organization has done to help labs navigate the former, and be exempted from the latter.
What services does The Vision Council’s Lab Division offer its member optical labs?
SUTHERLIN: As mentioned earlier, we developed a comprehensive list of benefits called the Lab Toolkit. It covers a wide array of services including:
• marketing assistance
• sales and customer service training
• premier industry events such as the Lab Division meetings at both Vision Expos and the Executive Summit, the California Optical Laboratories Association (COLA) meeting and The Hall of Fame dinner
• lab performance benchmarks
• production standards and technical assistance
• workplace regulatory compliance, legal assistance and organizational resources
• resources for our members’ customers, including the very popular Progressive Identifier book (which will soon go digital), the Clear Choices patient education brochure and the Indispensable Dispensing Guide
• regulations and business advocacy
• consumer education and outreach
• reduced shipping cost
• cyber security resources
• local and national discounts for members’ employees through PerkSpot
• free access to industry-leading market research reports and access to custom research at a steeply discounted rate
• raising the tide for the industry at-large through the Think About Your Eyes campaign
OLP: How many members are there? And what direction is the membership headed?
SUTHERLIN: We currently have well over 400 members in our division. There are new players opening every day, and I see that number continuing to grow because of that. We work closely with our LPT members to identify new labs that could enhance their business by becoming a member.
OLP: What does The Vision Council have in store for the Lab Division during Vision Expo West?
SUTHERLIN: We have an incredibly exciting program in the works for Vision Expo West. We’ll kick it off on Wednesday with a session on Industry 4.0/Smart Manufacturing. It’s a red-hot topic that we featured at COLA. There has been so much buzz following that meeting that we decided it would be great to present it to the entire membership.
On Thursday morning, we will have a session on cyber security for labs. It’s another hot topic right now with lots of twists and turns that labs have given little or no thought to.
We will also have presentations from Michael Vitale, The Vision Council’s Technical Director, and Rick Van Arnam, our Regulatory Affairs Counsel.
It should be a great meeting, and I hope to see a standing-room-only crowd.
OLP: Other than Vision Expo West, what new initiatives is the Lab Division working on now and into the future?
SUTHERLIN: We will soon release the Progressive Identifier Book in digital format. The popularity of this publication is unbelievable. Going digital will allow the lens companies to keep their styles updated in real time. Our member labs will also be able to put their own brands in the catalog.
We will also be working with our LPT & Lens Divisions to lead the way on Smart Manufacturing Processes. There is a tremendous opportunity to enhance the way lenses are made, providing far greater efficiencies for labs.
We will soon release the Progressive Identifier Book in digital format, which will allow lens companies to keep their styles updated in real time.
“We’re also very involved in helping our members deal with legal and regulatory challenges like California Prop 65 and the FDA’s Unique Device Identification (UDI) mandate,” said Steve Sutherlin, Lab Division Liaison to The Vision Council. Here’s what the organization has done to help labs navigate the former and be exempted from the latter.
Proposition 65 has been a California state law since 1986. Passed as the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act, “Prop 65” regulates the presence of certain chemical substances found in products sold in California or present in the workplace in California. On May 11, 2015, the State of California relisted Bisphenol A (BpA) on its Proposition 65 list of substances known to the state to cause cancer, birth defects or reproductive toxicity. The chemical is of note to members of the optical industry because it is used as a starting material in the manufacture of polycarbonate. On June 17, 2016, California’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment published its Maximum Allowable Dose Level for BpA (effective Oct. 1, 2016) as less than 3 micrograms per day. To assist members of The Vision Council and their partner retailers with the BpA labeling requirements established by Prop 65, the organization created the California Proposition 65—BpA Labeling Guide, which is available on its website.
The Unique Device Identifier (UDI) System of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires manufacturers to assign and affix a UDI to each medical device they offer in interstate commerce, but The Vision Council convinced the FDA to exempt optical lenses from these regulations. As a result of advocacy brought forward by The Vision Council, the FDA has exempted optical lenses from the scope of the UDI regulations.