Photos by Samuel Hoffman | The Journal Gazette Carol Kensill grinds blank “pucks” into lenses before passing them on to her son Craig, rear, for polishing at the Longe Optical laboratory on North Anthony Boulevard.
After polishing a lens Craig Kensill gives it a visual check for imperfections and flaws before it is coated and cut to fit the frames.
Stuart May of Longe Optical holds the traditional phoropter, left, with the new digital Visuphor at right.
Saturday, May 14, 2016 10:02 pm
Digital lenses: Best vision she's ever had
Sherry Slater | The Journal Gazette
Kim Mojtahedi didn’t need new eyeglasses … not really.
But after the 42-year-old Huntertown woman realized how clearly her son could see with his new prescription, she couldn’t resist getting fitted for an updated pair.
"There is a huge difference," Mojtahedi said, adding that her vision now is the best she’s ever had while wearing glasses.
Longe Optical officials credit that difference to digital technology manufactured by Zeiss, the 170-year-old German company that also made the corrective lenses for NASA’s Hubble telescope.
Sweetwater Sound founder Chuck Surack acquired Longe, which employed about 20, four years ago. Since then, Surack has invested about $1.4 million in state-of-the-art technology from Zeiss.
The Longe laboratory, where lenses are made, was upgraded first. The technology, which Longe officials first encountered at a technology expo in Las Vegas, is being installed in the four Longe retail vision centers through mid-June.
Bennett Howe, a Zeiss key account manager, said fewer than seven offices in North America have the Zeiss ClearVu Experience technology.
Longe is the one of that select few to offer digital exams, digital fittings and digital lenses that are manufactured in a local laboratory, he said. Other vision centers send away to have the specialty lenses made. Howe believes having the operation all in one place improves accuracy and speed.
Sight relies on light. Lightwaves bounce off an object and travel to the eye. The pupil dilates larger or smaller to allow in the proper amount of light. The cornea, which acts like a camera lens, focuses the image on the retina at the back of the eye. Anything that interferes with the light’s path interferes with vision, making an image blurry or worse.
The CleaVu Experience system looks for physical imperfections in the eye, anything that can interfere with light, and compensates.
The patient’s eyes are examined by both a machine and a doctor of optometry.
The patient simply stares into a machine for about one minute. The Zeiss technology determines the proper prescription and creates a computerized topographical map of the surface of the eyeball. The patented system can compensate for tiny imperfections later when it grinds the lenses.
During this step, the system measures moisture on the eyeball, which is important for contact lens wearers. It also calculates the eye’s ability to see in bright light and low light.
The result, Zeiss says, is a prescription that’s 25 times more accurate than one created with traditional equipment.
Several other local optometrist offices declined to comment for this story, saying they were either unfamiliar with the digital technology or too busy for an interview.
Chris Pataluch, an optometrist for 25 years, sees patients in the Longe location at 6709 W. Jefferson Blvd. He performs a separate examination, looking for eye diseases.
The doctor personalizes the final prescription by offering the typical series of options – "Which is better? One or two? Which is better, two or three?" – as he flips through lenses of varying strengths.
The result might not seem significantly different from what a patient is accustomed to.
"The real magic is in the lens manufacturing itself," Pataluch said. "That’s where the technology comes in."
The Longe staff compares the visual difference to the wow many experience when going from standard TV reception to a high-definition picture.
Even so, Pataluch cautions patients not to expect miraculous healing. Even the best pair of glasses can’t correct the vision of someone with a cataract or neurological damage, he said.
Lenses created with the technology, Pataluch said, give wearers "the best (vision) your eyes are capable of."
Before the lenses are ordered and custom-made, the patient choses a pair of frames. An optical technician takes a digital image of how those frames sit on the patient’s face from front and side views.
The Zeiss system measures and remembers where the pupils are in relation to the lenses, ensuring the lenses are ground to focus the light to the correct spot in the eyeball. At other optical centers, this step may typically be manually by a technician who draws a dot on the chosen frame’s plastic lenses.
All that information is transmitted to the Longe optical lab at 3409 N. Anthony Blvd., where the lenses are ground and glasses are assembled.
Taking it all in
At the digital lab, Mark Kensill oversees six workers, some of whom have been making Longe eyeglasses for 35 years.
Kensill, who has been in the industry for years, was previously accustomed to lens accuracy within 1 millimeter. The Zeiss system provides accuracy to within one-one-hundredth of a millimeter, he said.
The local operation crafts 30 to 50 pairs of glasses a day, a pace that allows the workers to carefully monitor quality, said Stuart May, Longe’s district manager.
"The comments we get when people put them on is, ‘I can see too much now. It’s going to take me a minute to take it all in,’ " Kensill said.
May had another description. "You almost have this feeling that you can see through walls," he said.
Zeiss employs more than 3,000 in the U.S., where it sells to the semiconductor, automotive and mechanical engineering industries. The company’s products are also used by biomedical researchers, filmmakers, planetariums … and 40-year-old Fort Wayne residents who just want to see better.
"As soon as you put them on, there is no strain. It’s extremely relaxed," Harvist Higgins said. "Everything is extremely sharp."