Digital technology is all around us and helping the way we work every day. From faster networks for our mobile devices and computers, to more fuel efficient automobiles for our daily commutes, digital technology is always improving the way we do things.

In optical laboratories, this is no different. Digital upgrades are happening, and many have begun to ask, what is the difference between traditional and digital surfacing, and why should I make the switch?


What is the difference between traditional and digital lens processing?


Traditional lens processing has been around for some time now, and is what everyone has known. This is a multi-step, labor-intensive process that requires a lot of time and multiple pieces of equipment to produce a lens.

Before processing, lab employees pull the correct lens blank from a large inventory consisting of a wide array of base curves and multifocal/progressive add values that have been molded on the front of the lens by the manufacturer. Then, the technicians prepare the prescription to be developed into the back surface of the lens. The lens must go through layout, marking and blocking procedures before being generated. After this, the lens is then generated using a diamond-encrusted cutting wheel on older generation surfacing machines, or a ball or fluted cutter for more updated traditional machines. The lens then goes through fining and polishing, and finally through finishing completing the process.

Digital surfacing on the other hand, known as “free-form” or “all-format” processing, is newer to the industry. With this technology, a computer controlled digital generator creates the lens surface to a prescribed x,y,z set of numerical digitized points. The lens is then polished using a soft tool system to ensure optical quality while maintaining the integrity of the surface curve.


This then leads us into the next question,
why should I make the switch to digital lens processing equipment?


Here are the top 3 reasons why you should purchase digital lens processing equipment.


  1. Reduce inventory

Rather than keeping boxes and boxes of different progressive blanks in-house when using traditional processing equipment, by converting to digital equipment, ECPs with small labs, or retailers with small labs, can now produce those lenses from a small array of single vision blanks by letting the free-form generator sculpt the progressive design and prescription on the lens.


  1. Simpler and faster

From the above section comparing traditional and digital lens processing, it is clear that digital has fewer steps than traditional. With a less labor-intensive process, ECPs can save time by working on other jobs simultaneously.


  1. Lower costs

If you compare the cost of equipment, digital equipment will be more expensive than traditional equipment, but where the real cost savings lie, are in the cost per lens. With traditional surfacing equipment, producing a progressive lens requires a progressive blank from one of the leading manufacturers, which is more expensive. However, with digital equipment, producing a progressive lens requires only an inexpensive single vision blank from which a free-form generator can make a back-sided progressive.


In the end, the main goal for labs and ECPs today is to eliminate hard lap tools and labor, while still making profits. This is now possible with digital lens processing machines, making the process simpler, cheaper and more profitable.

Check out our latest free-form generator, Cobalt NXT, which is certified by Essilor for branded lenses. Cobalt NXT offers complete automation, on board engraving of semi-visible marks, and auto calibration. Download the brochure or contact us to get more information.