For its annual “Modern Lab” survey, Vision Monday asked optical lab executives about their equipment investment strategies to get a sense of how they are re-inventing their facilities to best serve their customer ECPs. In all, 50 active optical laboratory leaders responded to the online survey over a two-month period this summer, and perhaps the most striking finding is that some 80 percent of labs said they have increased their investment in equipment and/or systems over the past year, with 30 percent reporting that they increased their investment by more than 25 percent.
Overall, 14 percent of respondents said they invested more than $1 million in equipment over the past year, while 24 percent reported that they spent that amount over the past three years. Much of this investment was made in cash, with 40 percent of survey respondents indicating that they financed less than 25 percent of their equipment purchases.
Although roughly two thirds of the respondents said they have also increased spending allocated to their workforce (by 5 percent to 10 percent for most) over the past year (primarily in staff training and salary/benefits), much of this new spending has been earmarked toward automating processes historically performed by hand, by lab technicians themselves. Indeed, “modern” lens processing facilities run on lab management software (LMS) purchased separately or as part of a linked production line developed by an equipment lender. In many labs, lenses are selected from inventory and loaded into job trays for processing using robotics, and a patient’s individual prescription information is entered once, and accessed by machines at each step of the process. Job trays are cycled through the production line via conveyors and robotics, although technicians are usually there to troubleshoot problems and ensure quality control.
In all, 64 percent of responding labs have automated finishing, while 56 percent have done the same with surfacing. More than 30 percent of respondents have automated hard coating. Roughly one fourth of all labs use automated job loading technology. For most labs, the goal with automation is to increase throughput (72 percent) or yields (48 percent). Additionally, 40 percent responding labs noted that automation enabled them to redeploy skilled workers to other tasks.
However, it’s worth noting that full automation isn’t for every lab. Indeed, more than half (56 percent) of executives responding to the Modern Lab survey believe there is a threshold for automating a lab, based on size and production capacity, and for 32 percent of them, that threshold is 500 jobs per day.
What a Year
Lab executives were asked which facets of their facilities they invested in over the prior 12 months. Even with automation, consumables (76.3 percent) and workforce (68.1 percent) still account for high levels of spending among responding labs. However, notably, the majority (59.5 percent) of responding labs said they have invested in on-site AR coating technology over the past year.
Overall, 14 percent of lab executives said they spent more than $1 million on new equipment over the past year, while 24 percent reported investing that amount over the past three years.
When asked to gauge the importance of various investments in lab infrastructure, the vast majority of responding executives highlighted spends on AR coating technology, finishing/surfacing equipment and workforce (87.9 percent, 80.4 percent/81.4 percent, and 81.1 percent, respectively) as “very important.” It could be argued that these areas have the biggest impact on quality and turnaround time.
Rate of Return
Perhaps not surprisingly, lab executives also expect to see the highest return from investments in AR coating, finishing and surfacing equipment. In all, 67.4 percent of respondents to the survey said they expect “very high” return on investments in finishing, while 60.6 percent and 60.5 percent, respectively, forecast similar yields on spending on AR coating and surfacing systems.
Over the Hill
As important as service to customer ECPs is to labs, executives, like most business owners, are concerned about revenues, operating costs and, thus, profits. These priorities were reflected in the survey responses. When asked to cite the main factors driving investment decisions equipment age and maintenance costs (44 percent) and overall profit and loss (32 percent) both ranked ahead of “quality of the end product” (26 percent).
In all, 64 percent of responding labs have automated finishing work, while 56 percent have done the same with surfacing. More than 30 percent of respondents have automated hard coating. Roughly one fourth of all labs use automated job loading technology.
When deciding whether or not to automate aspects of lens processing in their facilities, 72 percent of survey respondents said their ultimate goal is to increase throughput, while 48 percent cited increased yields as the most important factor. Additionally, 40 percent emphasized that automation enabled them to redeploy skilled workers to other tasks.
Department of Redundancy Department
Even with automation, 68 percent of responding lab executives said that a level of equipment redundancy is necessary during “down” situations, with surfacing and finishing (88.2 percent), hard coating (61.8 percent) and AR coating (55.9 percent) cited as the primary processes requiring redundancy.