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NEW YORK—In today’s ultra-competitive service economy, the pressure to deliver products and services when, where and how consumers want them—the so-called “Amazon effect”—impacts all suppliers. Eyecare professionals and optical retailers are feeling the heat, and so are the labs they depend on.

Owners and operators of optical laboratories are responding to this new service mandate in a variety of ways. Many have implemented modern manufacturing methods to cut turnaround time on Rx orders and reduce remakes. Some are also embracing a set of principles and procedures known in the digital tech world as “Industry 4.0”. This technology-focused approach requires highly automated production facilities where real-time performance data is constantly collected and reported to the lab’s management. The data is then analyzed by managers and skilled technicians who use it to control quality, instantly diagnose and fix problems and even predict where and when production delays will occur.

Other labs are employing new business models designed to strengthen their supply chain to ensure a rapid, consistent flow of products to customers. Several of the biggest lab operators have added capacity and enhanced service levels by building huge, high volume production facilities, some of which operate around the clock.

Still other labs have developed profitable niche products and services that help them and their customers differentiate themselves from competitors.

No matter what approach a lab may take, the goal is to produce a finished pair of eyeglasses faster and more accurately than ever before, and get those glasses to customers on demand. The labs that do it well, and do it consistently, are on a par with modern manufacturing and distribution companies in other industries. These Modern Labs power the optical industry and enable ECPs and retailers to meet the increasingly stringent service requirements of their customers.

Vision Monday’s Modern Lab series of articles spotlights the changes that leading labs are undergoing, and examines the reasons for the success of these important and influential companies. Previous articles explored the recent emergence of several startups, and the ways in which labs are using integrated production systems to improve operations.

This article, the third in the series, explores some major forces affecting Modern Labs, including new production and distribution strategies, the effects of automation and smart systems and new approaches to customer service. Lab owners, lab managers and suppliers discuss how these successful companies are managing to grow despite a relatively flat optical market and position themselves to better serve their accounts.

The final article in the series will look at how changing technology is impacting the lab workforce.