Known to provide improved visual acuity, free form lenses are made from a digital manufacturing process. Optometrist Radhika Kowtha-Rao explores the subject in greater detail
In every form of business where catering to a person’s comfort is of utmost importance, there is a saying that is gospel truth which tells us that customer is king. There aren’t very many businesses or professionals who do not abide by this adage. A happy customer is not only a repeat customer but is also a strong endorsement of our product. Paying attention to what a customer ultimately requires and providing it is the goal and the hallmark of growth. By that regard, if customer is the king, then “Customisation is the Emperor”!
WHAT IS CUSTOMISATION?
Customisation is all about the customer. It is catering to not only the needs of the customer, but also to the wants of that specific customer. It is a specialised art form, one that values each patient/customer uniquely, identifies their requests and makes a unique piece of lens that is only suited for them alone. If we had to draw a parallel, it would be like ordering a suit or a blouse for yourself. Custom-made. Complete with specific colour and shade, the cut, the material, the specific type of buttons and frills, the length and comfort of the fit, and so on. When it is finally done, one has a piece that is completely special. It defines the customer as much as the customer defines it.
WHY IS CUSTOMISATION IMPORTANT?
We are at an age and time in society when we can demand satisfaction to the highest degree and expect it to be fulfilled. The degree at which the industries (mainly fashion, food, travel) have developed the niche and the ability to cater to a specific person’s tastes and wants has increased tremendously over the past 10 years. Because of this, the consumers are also willing to pay that little extra for the luxury of getting something that brings most comfort while not compromising on quality.
Yes, and you guessed it, the optical industry is certainly not far behind! Customisation (not to be confused with personalisation) has always been there in the form of frames, style, colour, and fit, but now the new trend that is sweeping the industry is the customisation of the lenses! It is called Free-Form Lenses (also a form of High-Definition lenses).
WHAT EXACTLY IS A FREE FORM LENS?
As the name suggests, it is a digitally advanced form of a high definition lens that can be free formed using particular manufacturing technology.
It is a method of designing lenses that optimises the customer’s vision while also providing the highest level of clarity and comfort that conventional lenses do not provide. Every patient (customer), once corrected is absolutely delighted with how clear and glare-free they can see (as opposed to their uncorrected vision). The more accurate the correction, the better the vision. The type of lens material that is chosen affects the clarity of vision by a large extent. Now, we even have superior ways of making the lens so that the corrected vision is even more digitally enhanced.
It’s like watching sports on highdefinition TV. The regular TV worked just fine, but a high-definition is a class apart, isn’t it?
WHAT IS FREE FORM TECHNOLOGY?
Free form is a process, not the end result. It is a method which is applicable to all kinds of lenses: Spheric, Aspheric, Progressive, Toric, Bifocals, etc. Originally used to enhance the experience of a wearer of progressive lens prescription, free form technology now extends to all kinds of lenses and prescription strengths, based on the customer’s visual needs. The equipment, measurements, corrected vision and lens design all aided by specific software is what makes the free form technology.
Conventional lenses can be surfaced at intervals of 0.125 D to 0.25 D, while with free form equipment, the surface tooling can be as precise as 0.01 D, thereby ensuring as accurate a prescription filling as possible. The equipment has the ability for greater precision (three axes and more) and to produce smoother curvatures.
The equipment alone cannot produce a high definition lens that fits the definition of free form. There is specialised software that helps enable to push a regular cut lens to what can be defined as free form lens. Lens Design System (LDS) and the Surface Definition File (SDF) are the two pieces of the software that help with narrowing down the axes by coordinating the X, Y and Z axes for the height across the lens surface. This gives a highly accurate 3D level picture of the lens surface. The LDS has produced a revolutionary and exciting method by which even the back surface of the lens can be customised instead of sticking to the regular circular surface.
This combined process along with software-backed technology helps the most in reducing even the minimal spherical aberrations that conventional lenses may produce. Other factors that differentiate a free form- high definition lens is the angle at which the lenses are fitted on the frame, the angle between the back of the lens and the wearer’s eye and at different gazes, and also the position of the pupil within the frame.
WHO BENEFITS FROM THESE LENSES?
Pretty much every customer who needs correction is a good candidate. That said, the ones who will most benefit are:
Customers who have high eyeglass prescriptions will benefit most, for obvious reasons including the comfort, fit and feel of the lens, and also with the reduction of glares and aberrations that are produced by the spherical conventionally made lenses. Customers whose occupations require them to be on the road or outside and especially ones who work at night times will also benefit hugely as the glares and flares from lights (either desk or on the roads against automobiles). These lenses would benefit regardless of how low the prescription power is.
Surgeons and professionals who work in the Micro-Industries (like gem and jewellery makers/polishers, watch makers) using micro–tools would benefit greatly because of the accuracy that their profession demands.
Artists and writers (and as an extension, students) would also benefit from free form technology as the demands of their profession will tax and tire their eyes and making use of the availability of this kind of precision will only help them do better.
WHO MAKES THESE LENSES?
Popular lens makers in the US and Asia have adopted this technology seeing not only the benefits but also the demands of the customers’ lifestyle and needs. However, making and then testing requires special lab equipment, so it is with caution that lens manufactures invest in this area. The most popular and established ones are:
Hoya Nulux EP (Hoya Vision Care): Hoya has an exclusive range of single vision lenses that are made with this Free Form technology. After seeing the benefits this brings to progressive lenses, single vision lenses were implemented similarly and with impressive benefits, including cosmetic improvements apart from visual corrections.
Essilor 360 DS: In 2009, Essilor introduced breakthrough range of single vision lenses called the Essilor 360˚™. They used W.A.V.E (Waterfront Advanced Vision Enhancement) technology, which used the same parameters for the free form to provide sharper, clearer vision.
Zeiss Single Vision (Carl Zeiss Vision): Zeiss has a range of single vision lenses, called “Individual” which are a specialised form of high definition lenses for the single vision high demand customer.
All of the above listed lenses provide better peripheral vision, sharper contrast, and colour enhancement ultimately leading to a better quality of life!
PROGRESSIVE LENS MAKERS:
Zeiss Progressive Individual 2 (Carl Zeiss Vision): The IndividualFit™ Technology takes into account an individual’s main daily activities while Luminance Design™ Technology ensures pupil size optimisation. This in turn facilitates good quality natural vision for day and night.
Hoyalux iD MyStyle (Hoya Vision Care): Hoya claims to offer 15 personalisation options with this new lens technology which has been developed after taking into consideration, the various visual aspects of our daily life.
Impression FreeSign® 3 (Rodenstock): This patented Eye Lens Technology by Rodenstock claims to provide spectacle wearers customised solutions matched to their personal lifestyles with which they can exploit the complete potential of their vision.
HOW MUCH DO THEY COST THE CONSUMER?
Now that we see how much of a value a single vision lens wearer can derive from using the higher precise choice available, how much does this really cost a consumer? Is it an affordable enough range that they would be willing to pay for the added benefits? Is there a cost VS. benefit that can be explained and justified? Yes, we think so.
Free form high definition lenses cost on an average 20 – 30 percent of the conventional lenses. Paying an extra fraction of the cost of what a customer would normally pay is something that can easily be justified and convinced. The payoffs between cost and the comfort and quality of vision (and hence life) is always a personal decision. One that can sway either way depending on the customer’s needs, wants and demands on their lifestyle.