Automated lens finishing is state of the art

February 15, 2006

Industrial robots—computer-controlled machines that lift, place, move, or perform specific tasks—have been performing repetitive and even dangerous jobs for several decades. Examples of such machines are found in automobile production lines, spraying paints, transporting assemblies between workstations, and welding frames and bodies with great speed, accuracy, and repeatability.

Industrial robots-computer-controlled machines that lift, place, move, or perform specific tasks-have been performing repetitive and even dangerous jobs for several decades. Examples of such machines are found in automobile production lines, spraying paints, transporting assemblies between workstations, and welding frames and bodies with great speed, accuracy, and repeatability.

Boosting efficiency

Before investing in industrial lens robotics, one needs a sense of perspective. According to Steve Swalgen, national director-lab business for Santinelli International of Hauppauge, NY, retail-scale lens machines are capable of handling 20 to 30 jobs (pairs of lenses) per day. An industrial machine, on the other hand, will complete 150 to 250 jobs in a day. Additionally, such a machine is designed to operate 24 hours per day, 7 days per week where needed.

Moreover, wholesale industrial-grade equipment tends to be designed stronger than their retail counterparts, with added durability that's crucial to steady production flow and reduced waste costs because of a stoppage in the middle of a process.

Swalgen emphasized, "You can't have downtime."

Certainly not in the case of Wal-Mart's four U.S. labs, with total production throughput averaging 20,000 to 25,000 jobs per week.

Another example is the lab supporting San Antonio, TX-based Eye Care Centers of America Inc. (ECCA). While many of the company's stores can provide "lenses in 1 hour" service, ECCA also operates a lab in Schertz, TX, that has seven automated and five non-automated machines.

According to Brian Gamble, ECCA lab manager, the first automated machine was installed in December 2003, with several more added over the next few months. In the ensuing 2 years, the lab has doubled its edging capacity without affecting the size of the labor force. The machines handle about 85% of the frame sizes that come through the lab. Most of the remaining 15% of the orders have high minus or high plus values that exceed the clearance capacity of the automated equipment, thus justifying the retention of employees skilled on the manual edge finishing machines.