CrystalChrome Spin Coater and Coatings - Photochromic Lenses on DemandPhotochromic is a growing segment in the industry. Since the major introduction of plastic photochromic lenses in 1990, the category has captured the enthusiasm of the optical industry—and spectacles wearers—in dramatic fashion. The category produced nearly $6 billion in U.S. sales in 2020, a number that is projected to increase 77%, to nearly $10 billion, by 2028. However, the options for sourcing photochromic lenses have not been plentiful. Apart from the market leader, the remaining share has been relegated to smaller suppliers and private-label providers. Of course, laboratories generally want to make photochromic lenses a key aspect of their product offerings, but again, availability and accessibility can be problematic. Labs have been known to wait weeks, or even months, to obtain inventory and then pay premium wholesale prices to stock them. 

Traditionally, labs that offer these products maintain a substantial inventory of photochromic semi-finished blanks in a variety of materials and colors to provide timely delivery to their customers. To offer this premium product, though, drives up costs and renders the lab completely dependent on their supplier. No one in the industry has developed a successful solution for labs to produce their very own photochromic coated lenses, until now.

In partnership with SDC Technologies (SDC), a recognized global leader in the development and manufacturing of high-performance specialty coatings, Coburn Technologies introduced the new CrystalChrome® Photochromic Spin Coating System, a breakthrough photochromic system for optical labs in September of 2023. This novel lens coating technology brings an exciting dimension to Coburn’s acclaimed spin coating offering and represents the first major product development collaboration with its new parent, SDC, combining Coburn’s spin coating know how with SDC’s coating expertise.

CrystalChrome allows optical labs the ability to transform any clear semi-finished blank or surfaced lens into a high-quality photochromic lens. 

Coating application is carried out through spin coatinga method that Coburn has perfected over the yearsand has made them an authority on both manual and automated spin coating systems, like the Velocity Spin Coater which was introduced nearly 10 years ago. It was just a matter of time until labs would be motivated to take photochromic coating into their own hands, as they do with various other hard coatings, AR coatings, anti-fog coatings, and more. This innovative technology in the spin coating category gives labs the freedom to do just that. Coburn has now made it possible for labs to incorporate on-demand production of photochromic lenses, reducing costs of delivering these premium products and cutting out inventory of semi-finished blanks while still allowing for quick turn-around.

CrystalChrome Coatings - Photochromic Lenses on Demand

The result: quality, high performance photochromic lenses 

  • Best-in-class photochromic performance on all lens materials. 
  • Fast darkening and fading capabilities 
  • Exceptional optical clarity 
  • Excellent product durability and stability 
  • Compatibility with anti-reflective and metalizing treatments 
  • Fast drying, thermal cure 
  • Superior abrasion and chemical resistance 
  • Available in CrystalChrome GY for gray color and CrystalChrome BN for brown color tint versions. 

Labs can expect to deliver an exceptional product that competes with the current market leaders in photochromic lenses. Customers will not be able to tell the difference between a CrystalChrome lens and outsourced lens, as CrystalChrome lenses are highly comparable in terms of quality and performance. 

Photochromic Activation Performance Chart

 

Is there a learning curve to running a photochromic lens coater? 

Being novel technology in the industry, labs may be hesitant to take on photochromic coating themselves and abandon the expensive processes of the past. But the CrystalChrome system is very user friendly and can be mastered by simple instruction through the initial training and installation process. Freshly coated photochromic lenses do require careful handling in environments with specific conditions – but once run through several times, becomes an effortless process. 

For example, once lenses are unloaded from CrystalChrome, they must be “staged” in a completely dry environment, maintaining a lens temperature of 80° C, then cured, then AR coated. The entire process is remarkably quick and results in much quicker turnaround for customer orders. 

The CrystalChrome coating process

 

Flow chart showing the process of CrystalChrome® Spin Coating System - Photochromic Lenses on Demand

 

What do labs think of spin-coating photochromic lenses on demand? 

“Being able to spin-coat photochromic coatings is a game changer!”

Through its development, CrystalChrome was placed in several labs on a trial basis. One of the key test drivers was Philadelphia, USA-based lab, FEA Industries, Inc. Bill Hefner, FEA’s President and CEO, called the new system a game changer! 

“I highly recommend the CrystalChrome machine from Coburn Technologies to anyone who is looking for a superior photochromic coating system,” he added. “Coburn Technologies is a trusted and reputable company that makes great machines. And SDC Technologies is a leader in the coatings industry. Their photochromic product produces high-quality results in the CrystalChrome system. This is a smart investment for any sized lab.” 

The CrystalChrome system can be easily integrated into any lab and can meet dynamic production needs, regardless of lens material. Photochromic lenses on-demand are certain to benefit labs and their customers and offer immense value. With CrystalChrome in a lab’s arsenal, expensive photochromic inventories will soon be unnecessary, while also providing a distinct marketing advantage that will set participating labs apart. 

What are the experts saying about CrystalChrome? 

Richard Chang, President and CEO of SDS Technologies, pointed out that CrystalChrome is the result of the perfect collaboration between SDS and Coburn. “We ensured that the final product would offer high performance through our patented proprietary coatings which are tailored for front-side spin coating. The CrystalChrome system will streamline lab processes and enhance profitability.” 

“CrystalChrome represents what the Coburn and SDS partnership is all about,” added Alex Incera, President of Coburn Technologies. “That is providing innovative solutions for optical lens treatments that capitalize on each company’s unique expertise.” 

This on-demand photochromic coating solution has undoubtedly met the enthusiasm of the optical industry and gained the interest of labs across the globe. Labs that are ready to explore photochromic lenses on demand will benefit from lower outside costs, increased profitability, more independence, a high quality premium product offering, and a distinct advantage that will set them apart from their competition. Those who are ready to start can contact Coburn Technologies at 1-800-262-8761 or submit a request online.