Cathy and I were speakers and attendees at the recent California Optical Labs Association (COLA) meeting and one of the topics was Free Form lenses where there was a panel discussion which was very interesting. Most of the discussion was geared towards labs involvement but a lot of it was very relevant to retail as well so we thought we would share some of what we learned.
First of all lets explain what free form really means as there is some “mystery” involved and it really isn’t that mysterious when you are in the know! There are many different companies and brands making different claims and using different technology and processes. Zeiss has a different process to Shamir as does Hoya for example, but they are all a combination of design, software and equipment and all have excellent products. Free form is often referred to as digital design as well.
In its simplest sense, free form technology is a combination of design, software, and equipment. Each of these elements makes the free form process capable of producing lenses that conform perfectly to each patient’s unique prescription. For example rather than processing a lens to 1/12th diopter, free form allows processing to be withing 1/100th of a diopter. Usually a single-vision lens is selected as the “donor” lens and then the patients specific prescription taking account of the many different measurements including the frame shape are used to produce a unique lens for that specific person. However, free form technology only provides the potential for this precision. If the design is poor, the other elements cannot make it better or if the surfacing process is poor, the lens will not achieve its full potential.
From listening to the Free Form Lens Panel Discussion it is evident that it is expensive for a lab to invest in free form and there is quite a learning curve involved. According to DVI there are at least 114 digital designs on the market today. Therefore, it is important to make sure that you have absolute confidence in both your lab and the brands you select. Private label free form designs are coming into their own from several optical labs and they have excellent products, Laramy K has a complete line of free form designs with their Integrity Series and MJ Optical Group recently introduced Platinum HD. Both optical labs private label designs are receiving rave reviews from their customers.
We thank all of the panel for sharing, there are too many names to list them all but we would especially like to thank the opticallabs that volunteered to share their experience, Empire Optical and Perfect Optics as well as Bernadette Hiskey from Zeiss, Ryan Markey from Hoya as they helped us better understand the process.