KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany – For Ursula Gagne and her optical fabrication team at the U.S. Army Medical Materiel Center-Europe, a busy month can mean 6,000 new orders for glasses.
USAMMCE, a direct reporting unit to Army Medical Logistics Command, supports 26 clinics and three field units with optical fabrication needs, one of its many lines of support as the theater lead agent for medical materiel, or TLAMM, for U.S. European Command (EUCOM), U.S. African Command (AFRICOM) and U.S. Department of State activities in the region.
Gagne said she has been with USAMMCE for nearly 35 years, starting with seven years in the Assembly Readiness Division. Moving into optical management in 1994, she served as a management assistant. She has been the production controller supervisor of the facility since 2012.
USAMMCE’s optical manufacturing facility can produce glasses that are single vision or multi-vision, such as bifocals, and provide a number of tint options.
Yvonne Gortner, who has served with USAMMCE since 2003, explained the production process.
“When an order comes in, our customer support office sorts it and gets out the right lenses so they can be blocked,” Gortner said.
Blocking finds the optical center of the lens, she said. This process is performed by an automatic blocking machine.
Gortner said she first learned optometry at the Berufsbildende Schule in Bad Durkheim. She started with USAMMCE as an optician in 2003. She is now the prescription eyeglass maker supervisor and has served in that position since 2009.
She said uncut lenses come from a supply room extensively stocked with round lenses in common prescriptions that can be cut to the shape of eyeglass frames.
According to Gortner, once the lenses are blocked, 75 percent of them are taken to one of the unit’s eight edging machines to be cut to shape, allowing them to be fitted into frames.
Tammy Schaefer, a quality control specialist in the facility, said the edging machines work from a menu of digitally stored frame shapes to cut the lenses to order.
“We always cut them just a little bigger then we can adjust it if needed,” she said.
After edging, a typical set of glasses then move over to tinting, a process in which the lenses are coated either in different shades of tint or simply left clear.
They are then fitted into frames. The frames are warmed and then “shrink” while cooling to hold them in place, Gagne said. For metal frames, the technicians must loosen screws beside the lenses to fit them.
The glasses then go to quality control for a final check before they are wrapped and shipped to the unit.
But not every prescription that comes in can be accommodated from the stock. For that, newly acquired digital equipment can be used to make custom lenses.
Gortner explained the process.
“It starts with a lens blank,” she said.
The blanks are either concave, or “minus,” for those who need correction for distance vision or convex, or “plus,” which can be used to correct both distance vision and reading vision.
The blank is blocked, then it is taken to precision, computer-numerical controlled machines that shape it in two stages before it is polished.
“The planed plastics take very little time to polish, but other materials take longer,” Gortner said. “After polishing the lens is then rinsed to remove polishing compound, unblocked and sent for final finishing and insertion into frames.”
Gagne said single vision lenses generally take one to two days to complete and ship. Multi-vision lenses take up to four days.
“Our turnaround time can take longer when we exceed an average of 300 orders daily,” she said.