1) Meet the man who’s using 3D printing technology in optics
A professional dispensing optician by training, Rob Barrow is living proof of how innovation can turn one’s vocational training into a career that brings pragmatic solutions to long-standing problems.
Tucked away in a quiet corner of the hall, Mr Barrow’s booth showcased a small selection of frames plus some little props used as attachments to the frames. And sitting on the showcase was a 3D printer. Those were not normal frames. In fact, they were bespoke frames that were specifically designed for people with special optical requirements.
Mr Barrow’s company, Spec-Care specialized in repairing and modifying glasses to meet some special needs of the wearers. He explained to me that 3D printing has allowed bespoke modifications to existing glasses to be done with high precision. This is especially important to achieve best fit in people with special requirements like having irregular facial features. He went on and showed me a number of customized props that could be attached to the glasses and some modified sides created using a 3D printer that could perfectly fit people having issues with regular frame designs.
One such group of people are Down’s syndrome sufferers who often have a more flattened facial profile, and thus making regular frames harder to wear. Since its inception, Mr Barrow’s company has worked with a number of hospital clinics and practices to tackle often-neglected fitting challenges faced by people with special optical needs.
2) Multiples are championing eye care
‘The optical landscape has changed tremendously over the last few decades’, said Doug Perkins, co-founder of Specsavers. It’s a no-brainer that glasses as well as contact lenses are the bread and butter of any optometric practice. However, it may come as a bit of a surprise to some people that the scope of optometric practice has long been evolved into primary eye care. Primary eye care, simply put, means that optometrists are the FIRST PORT OF CALL for every vision/eye-related problem. And this is really what I am hoping to see in countries like Malaysia and Singapore in the near future as the number of new graduate optometrists is rising year by year.
Coming back to the main topic, in the UK (not relevant in Malaysia and Singapore), multiples like Specsavers have over the years shifted their advertising from those of merely affordable glasses to eye care. This is especially evident as the director of optometry advancement at Specsavers, Paul Morris, stated at 100% Optical that they had invested hundreds of millions of pounds on advertisements in order to get the message of the importance of eye tests across.
Besides, Specsavers will soon roll out optical coherence tomographies (OCTs) in its every practice in the UK within the next 2 years. For the uninitiated, an OCT, in layman’s terms, is effectively ‘optical ultrasound’ that allows the back of the eye to be examined at a near-microscopic level. And each of these fancy machines can easily cost 40,000£.
The implication is clear: You should always remember that an eye exam carried out by an optometrist is NOT SOLELY to determine the power of any glasses you might need. Rather, it REALLY also includes a number of other checks and tests to examine the health of your eyes! And the big players in the industry are ramping up their efforts in conveying this message to everyone more clearly over the years.
If you are reading this, and you are from either Malaysia or Singapore, remember that the ‘modern-day’ optometrists are no longer the ones that just ‘sell glasses’. In fact, optometrists are your primary eye care providers who carry out comprehensive eye examinations. The profession has changed tremendously and will continue to evolve over the next few decades, if not years.
3) Digitalization in optometric and optical industries
Long gone are the days when everything was in black and white. Businesses around the world are changing in tandem with the Digital Age. So are optometric and optical practices today. We’ve come a long from using a ruler to an optical digital ruler, from just brick and mortar stores to having to build an online presence, from using a trial frame and lenses to a phoropter and so on.
Dear readers, my apologies if you’re lost here because of the jargons used. But I just want to illustrate what Lyndsay Dickens, one of the speakers at 100%, said about digilatization in optics. She encouraged independent practices to embrace technology as a way to differentiate themselves.