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Designing an In-Office Lab

Editors of 20/20 and Vision Monday


Designing a safe, efficient finishing or bench lab in an eye care practice or retail store does not have to be a difficult task. An in-office bench lab can be very cost effective and will pay for itself over time with some careful planning. A lab run by a capable optician can do financially well and provide quick turnaround time for your patients’ eyewear.

When starting a lab from scratch, some factors that need to be considered are:

  • financial resources available
  • space available
  • available electrical service and plumbing
  • quantity of work done per day, week and month
  • types of finishing work that you want or need to do on-premises
  • skill of your lab personnel

The space needed for an in-office lab could range from a large back room to a small store room, provided these are well ventilated areas with sufficient electrical power. Whatever size room you use, it’s a good idea to have it first checked by an electrician. A bench lab typically has one or more machines running at a time. If the lab is going to be in a doctor’s office, the lab equipment might be competing for power with the doctor’s instruments. You’ll need a big enough power supply to handle the larger equipment such as a patternless edger or tinter as well as enough outlets to plug in smaller equipment such as a rimless groover, frame warmer, drill, vacuum or lensometer. Surge protection is always a must in any lab today in order to accommodate computer and fax machines.

The budget for such a project could range from $10,000 to $50,000 depending upon the type of equipment you want in your lab. When purchasing equipment, keep in mind the number and type of prescriptions your lab must produce in order to make it profitable.

The most expensive purchase is usually the edger. The choice of edger depends on how many jobs per day you expect your lab to do. Numerous options are available ranging from basic mechanical or automated units to the latest digital, multi-function patternless edging systems. These systems may incorporate tracing, blocking, drilling, grooving and polishing functions.

The layout of a basic bench lab is normally a simple square or rectangle depending on room size. The work flow in the bench lab should be smooth so the lab technician won’t have to jump from one station to another across the room.

You’ll also need a supply of single-vision stock lenses. Most lens companies offer a modest range of lenses: plano to plus or minus four diopter spheres with sphero-cylinder lenses ranging from a quarter cylinder to a minus two cylinder is usually a good start in hard resin, polycarbonate and perhaps a photochromic or mid-index option, which is usually more expensive to stock. Stocking high-index lenses with or without AR coating is not necessary as these lenses can be ordered by vendors and are usually sent the next business day.

Along with furnishing your lab with the right equipment and creating a good work flow, it is just as important to provide your employees with a comfortable and safe workspace. This should include floor mats that reduce stress on back muscles, ergonomic chairs for the lensometry area, adequate lighting and a specific lab safety policy. Lab personnel should all be wearing A.N.S.I. approved safety eyewear, should seriously consider ear protection and consider wearing a dust or particle mask.

When designing your lab, it’s essential that your lab technicians have significant input into the design. That additional input will assist you in designing the best lab space for your individual needs.

—Compiled by the editors of 20/20 and Vision Monday

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