To be honest, this topic is a little scary to me, and maybe to you as well. There are a few reasons for this:
First, new technologies tend to be expensive, and in several ways. The cost of the equipment can easily run to seven figures, plus the cost to install the equipment and the cost to train your employees. If it takes you a while to get up to speed with the new technology, then you have additional costs in spoilage, labor and potential dissatisfied customers.
Second, new technologies don’t always end up working out. If you invest a lot of money into a new technology only to have it backfire on you, not only have you lost the money and time invested, you have also lost customers. We had this experience with a laboratory software system that we installed. It was the new beta version of what was a fairly well regarded company’s software that was in other labs in its previous versions. This was probably the most expensive mistake our lab ever made. After a year of customer service employees going home in tears and quitting, and losing many of our customers, we finally switched to another software vendor. It took us a while to recover, but after about three years we got back to where we were before the switch.
On the other hand, there are a lot of exciting new ideas out there for optical laboratories. One of the suppliers has introduced very automated systems that can produce 2,500 jobs per day with 10 people working two shifts. Back in the 1990’s our lab produced about 2,500 jobs per day… with 200 people! Another company has started 3D printing of optical lenses. Will this technology disrupt the industry or will it end up as just a curiosity in the annals of optical labs? Only time will tell.
One thing that will always be true is that we have to move towards “better, cheaper, faster” to stay in business. To the extent that new technology can help us do it, it will always be something we need to pursue.
Eric Rollins is a veteran of the optical retail, frame and lab industries. His firm, Rollins Consulting, LLC, consults with the three Os to improve profitability. Email him at EricRollins@Comcast.net.