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Monday / June 27.
HomemieyecareLens factory: a real eye-opener

Lens factory: a real eye-opener

A recent invitation to tour the state-of-the-art facilities at Ciba Vision’s new lens manufacturing plants in Singapore and Malaysia was truly instructional for eight optometrists from Australia and New Zealand. Kiwi optometrist John Adam tells of his experience.

Let me start by stating at the outset that the Ciba Vision Air Optix plant is a truly impressive facility.

Situated in Johor Baharu, just across the border from Singapore, the plant is brand new, having only commenced production last year after finally getting the required health clearances.

Efficiency is the key word in this part of the world and it’s incredible to think that from the construction of the plant to the manufacture of the first lens took just one year.

Efficiency is the key word in this part of the world and it’s incredible to think that from the construction of the plant to the manufacture of the first lens took just one year.

After a brief introduction to the Ciba plant, we moved through to the wet moulding facility which is kept as sterile as humanly possible. Shoe covers, hair nets, beard covers for the hirsute and clean jackets were the order of the day. They really do have small sizes in Malaysia as I never thought I was a size XXL!

The Wet Moulding Process

Our group moved through the ultra clean rooms to a positive pressure facility where the wet moulding occurs. This whole process was mechanical and highly efficient.

Injections of liquid monomer are made into the female mould. The female mould is then fitted to the male half of the mould and the wet lens is formed – BCOR, power, edges, the lot … all in one quick squeeze. The lens thickness is about the same as a sheet of paper. Then the moulds move on to the conveyor belt for the curing process. This takes up to an hour to finalise.

The next step, known as extraction, is to remove uncured monomer from the lens structure. This is an extended process and is a highly labour-intensive part of the operation.

If we thought we were clean, the workers in this part of the facility are über clean. The cleaning and clothing process for the workers takes at least half an hour and only then are they allowed near a lens. Certainly grubby little Kiwis and Aussies weren’t being allowed near the pristine contact lenses!

Following the extraction of the lens material, the lenses are plasma coated to give the surface the smooth hydrophilic finish. The lenses are then assessed by hand for surface defects and power anomalies. The workers remove each lens from the mould which is then placed in cassettes of hundreds of lenses precleaning and plasma coating. Every lens is hand-checked on a shadowgraph and in saline vertometer.

This was the part of the process that surprised us most. There is a large, well trained labour force to make sure that we and our patients receive the high standard product we expect.

All the people we met in the Malaysian facility seemed proud and enthusiastic about ‘their’ plant. Ciba Vision obviously put a huge effort into training its staff. The company wants to retain the skill sets necessary to run this precision process as efficiently as possible. I particularly liked the prominently displayed sign ‘remember to be safe at work – there is someone waiting for you to come home tonight’. Staff events and community involvement have made the Ciba Vision employees very happy and the plant a place where people want to work.

The Singapore Facility

The following day we visited the Tuas Dailies manufacturing facility on Singapore Island. This is the second of the three Ciba Vision facilities in the area. There is also a site on Batam Island just off the Singapore coast.

The Tuas plant is also quite striking in its size. At 210,000 square feet, when at full capacity it will be the largest of the Ciba Vision manufacturing plants. This plant is also immaculately clean and has been in operation for about three years. It manufactures the Ciba Dailies lens in a totally automatic environment. No human hand touches a lens until it comes out of its plastic shell ready to go on the eye.It is very impressive.

The ‘Light Stream’ technology developed by Ciba Vision is what allows the rapid manufacture of a high precision daily contact lens. The quartz moulds allow UV light to pass through the liquid polymer. This UV light cures the plastic to form the lens in its wet state. All through the process, the lenses are individually checked by camera and computer. During the manufacture there are numerous different checking stations assessing contact lens quality. If any faults are detected, the lens is rejected. Only the perfect lens is allowed through.

The lenses leave the machine packed in their moulds with covers and labels as we see them in practice. They are then autoclave sterilized and then packaged into their boxes. Along the way, random batch samples are taken from each manufacturing machine. These packets are opened and then checked for lens quality, power, BCOR, etc. If any faults are detected, the entire batch is rejected. This whole process requires significantly less staff to manufacture the hundreds of lenses per minute – very efficient, very impressive.

The mechanisation in contact lens manufacture is very similar to that for the manufacture of any precision optical lens. Last year, I visited the Essilor manufacturing facility just outside Paris. The manufacture of the Physio 360 lens was similarly devoid of human hand.

Clearly, the need for automation in the manufacture of these high tech lenses is vital so we can receive the best products that are repeatable and reliable. The precision of the automated manufacturing process is so high; humans could not possibly do the job as well as the machine.

It is very easy at our end of the process not to realise the vast investment the manufacturers contribute to the products we use. Ciba’s facilities in Asia are very impressive, producing some of the best products for our contact lens practices. It’s all the better for our contact lens patients.

John Adam is an optometrist in private practice in Auckland, New Zealand and is internationally respected for his specialisation in contact lenses.


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