OLP talked to Tom Schroeder, president of Shroeder Optical in Roanoke, VA, Kenneth Lin, owner of X-tra Lite Optical in Huntington Beach, CA, and Neil Torgersen, national manager, AR coating operations at Walman Optical, about their coating equipment, operations and what advice they have for others who are considering purchasing or adding coating machines.
OLP: How long has your lab had coating operations? How many coatings jobs are done per day?
Schroeder: Since December 2007. We do 70 jobs per day.
Lin: We’ve had this equipment since June 2017. We do 50 jobs per day and growing.
Torgersen: Walman Optical has had an AR coating operation in some fashion as far back as the mid-1990s. At that time, we were solely doing in-house sputter coatings on a DAC Magnetron coater. Around 2000, we installed our first AR processes, partnering with Carl Zeiss. Our latest expansion was in 2015 when we became the second Shamir Glacier +UV lab in the U.S. We can currently process most branded AR coatings available in the market through one of our three processing centers. Between the three we currently process nearly 6,000 jobs on a daily basis.
OLP: What coating equipment do you currently use and when and what was your last equipment purchase?
Schroeder: We currently have a Buhler Boxer that we installed about two and a half years ago. We are in the middle of installing a Buhler MCS480 to run small batches for mirror coatings and for other coating jobs that we do in lower volumes.
Lin: We have the Schneider EBC 600 AR Vacuum Chamber and Schneider USC 100 Ultrasonic Cleaner. We also have the Essilor mini BSM coater. All were installed in mid-2017.
Torgersen: We utilize most of the major coating vendors’ equipment. We have AR coating chambers from Satisloh and Buhler, and our wash and hardcoating lines come from Buhler, SCL and Satisloh. Our last equipment purchase was in December 2018 when we upgraded a smaller AR chamber to the Buhler Syrus 1100.
OLP: Why did you choose this particular equipment?
Schroeder: Buhler has a great reputation, and the company is not owned by a company that competes against us.
Lin: We wanted AR equipment validated for the Essilor Crizal process. The equipment met our current needs and capacity and also allows for future growth in our lab. We’ve had good success with Schneider equipment and its customer service.
Torgersen: We decided on the Buhler platform because the facility that we installed it in already had another Buhler machine. By utilizing the same platform, we were able to consolidate spare parts, and it is also easier on technicians because they don’t have to learn multiple user interfaces.
OLP: What has it done for your business?
Schroeder: We can offer more in-house services, making us more full service, which attracts more customers. Also, coatings can be one of the more profitable services that a lab can offer.
Lin: We have more control of cost, quality and turnaround time for AR coatings. As a result, we have seen overall growth and profitability for our lab.
Torgersen: By processing AR coatings in-house, we were able to much better control quality and turnaround times to better serve our customers. It also allows us to manage costs much more effectively, which enhances profitability.
OLP: What technological advances have you seen that have made coating processes more efficient?
Schroeder: AR coatings have become so much more durable than they were 20 to 25 years ago. Better adhesion and better oleophobic and hydrophobic properties have made coatings work much better for the patient.
Lin: Easier user interfaces and more choices in vendors and capacity. With the newer machines, there are more options for AR recipes.
Torgersen: Over the years, moving away from wet etching lenses and utilizing in-chamber ion-assisted processes has increased coating durability and throughput; the same applies to in-chamber hydrophobic application. The installation of reflow tunnel ovens has drastically reduced hardcoat curing times: in some instances, it has reduced processing times by up to two and a half hours. In the future, I see automated lens loading becoming more mainstream, which will reduce labor requirements and increase overall lab efficiency.
OLP: What advice do you have for labs that are thinking of adding coating operations or purchasing and installing updated equipment?
Schroeder: It is an expensive investment that is well worth it. Today, a lab has to have AR if they plan to stay in the game. It has become an essential service for wholesale laboratories, and my advice would be to get in the game.
Lin: Do not underestimate the learning curve and prepare for the unexpected. Plan on extra capacity for growth. Do the homework.
Torgersen: Do your research. If you’re considering installing a branded AR process, know which equipment platforms are supported by each vendor and which process-specific hardware modifications are needed before purchasing equipment. Service in this segment of the market is also crucial. If possible, speak with other labs that have equipment from the manufacturers that you’re considering and discuss with them the pros and cons of working with specific vendors. Finally, developing processes that are documented and followed is essential to maintain consistent, high quality coatings. There are so many variables in the AR coating process that it makes troubleshooting issues nearly impossible if there is no consistent adherence to standard work instructions.