OPTICAL/OPHTHALMIC LABORATORY TECHNICIANS California Occupational Guide Number 97 Interest Area 6 1995
OPTICAL LABORATORY AND OPHTHALMIC TECHNICIANS grind lenses for a variety of uses. The two types of ground lenses are ophthalmic and optical. Both optical and ophthalmic lens grinders are commonly referred to as manufacturing opticians or optical mechanics.
Optical lenses are used in precision instruments such as cameras, telescopes, microscopes and range finders. They include prisms, cylinders, flats and mirrors as well as lenses. Optical Laboratory Technicians prepare optical lenses according to engineering data and drawings.
Optical Technicians who make optical lenses usually start the lens-making process by "blocking the blank." A blank piece of stock is mounted with special adhesives to a metal block or fixture so it can be set up in the grinding machine with one face exposed for grinding. The piece must be reblocked for work on the other face. The work is performed on curve generators, surface grinders and other machines using aluminum oxides, carborundum and diamond abrasives. Optical elements usually require several blockings as the work progresses from rough grinding through finishing and polishing, and each must be more precise than the last as the lens nears completion. In the more modern establishments, much of this process is controlled by computer with little worker intervention.
Technicians who fabricate optical lenses must exercise judgment and fine manual skills when the size, shape, or fragility of an element require that it be ground and polished by hand. Skilled optical mechanics inspect elements for accuracy and finish, using lensometers, micrometers, venires, surface gauges, monochromatic light sources, interferometers, auto collimators, spectrometers, and other specialized instruments. Every step of the work requires unusual care to avoid damage to product and equipment.
Ophthalmic Technicians make lenses to correct faulty vision. They read doctor's prescriptions and fabricate lenses according to specifications that may include a combination of corrections. They select standard glass or plastic lens "blanks" and mark them according to where the curves specified on the prescription should be ground. They place the lens in an automatic lens grinder and set the required time. They "finish" the lens in another machine that rotates the lens against a fine abrasive to grind and smooth the edges. Finally, a polishing machine with a fine abrasive polishes the lens to a smooth, bright finish. Technicians assemble the lenses with frames to produce finished eye glasses.
The equipment and procedures used in both ophthalmic and optical work are similar. Optical lens grinders, however, work with a greater variety of optical materials and usually must maintain greater optical and dimensional accuracy. Some elements must be accurate to a millionth of an inch and the process may take days or weeks and cost thousands of dollars. In contrast, ophthalmic lenses do not use as many types of exotic materials, and do not require as much time to make. Tolerances within a few thousandths of an inch usually are acceptable, although great care and skill are needed for grinding two or more corrections into a lens. In both types of operation the finished lens is a prime consideration. However, there is virtually no interchange of workers between the two branches of lens grinding, since each has specific operations peculiar only to its production.
Technicians typically are able to perform all the operations involved in grinding, polishing, and finishing lenses. They may specialize in one or more phases of the process and be designated by job titles such as precision- lens grinder, precision-lens polisher, and eyeglass-lens cutter. Those who polish lenses commonly put them in an automatic polishing machine. In some establishments, technicians are moved periodically from operation to operation or may work on a lens from start to finish.
Working conditions of Optical/Ophthamalic Laboratory Technicians vary depending on the size of the laboratory or shop. Good lighting and uniform, comfortable temperatures are normal. Water is used in grinding and polishing operations and shops are ventilated and are relatively free of dust. Some shops may be noisy from grinding and polishing machines. Lens grinders stand most of the time to do their work. There are no major hazards.
Excellent close-range vision (may be corrected), good hand and eye coordination, a keen sense of touch, and patience are important for both ophthalmic and optical lens workers. Since optical elements become increasingly valuable as work progresses, workers must remain careful and alert during operations that are sometimes simple and repetitive.
The following information is from the California Projections of Employment published by the Labor Market Information Division. The figures represent the broad occupational group Optical Goods Workers, Precision which includes Optical/Ophthalmic Laboratory Technicians.
Estimated number of workers in 1990 1,280 Estimated number of workers in 2005 1,450 Projected Growth 1990-2005 13% Estimated openings due to separations by 2005 540
(These figures do not include self-employment nor openings due to turnover.)
This small occupational field will grow much slower than most other occupations through 2005. Only 170 new job are projected, but another 540 jobs will be vacated by retirees, career changers, and others who leave the occupation. Demand for optical lenses for the exotic cameras and telescopes used in space probe flights and other defense related projects declined with reductions in the defense budget. However, employment stability is expected for Ophthalmic laboratories. They are found in all major population centers, increasingly located at the site where eyeglasses are sold. Employers are including vision insurance programs as part of their benefit package, making it easier for employees to afford needed eye care. These expanded health programs, an increased ability of the general population to afford eye care, coupled with an increase in the over-40 population could generate an increase in the demand for ophthalmic lenses.
WAGES, HOURS, AND FRINGE BENEFITS
Current wage survey results are not available for this career field. Results of 1994 wage surveys show that beginning technicians earned from $5.00 to $8.00 hourly. Experienced workers earned $5.50 to $19.00 per hour.
The standard workweek is generally 40 hours and when overtime is worked, it is usually paid at one and a half times the normal rate. Most shops provide fringe benefits including paid holidays and vacations, group health and life insurance, sick leave, and pension plans. Some large companies have profit-sharing plans and eye-care programs.
ENTRANCE REQUIREMENTS AND TRAINING
Entry into the occupation is usually at the trainee level. Employers prefer high school graduates who have had courses in mathematics, machine shop, and basic sciences, including physics. Mechanical aptitude and experience in machine related occupations give job seekers a distinct advantage. Some companies offer training classes, but most employers prefer on-the-job training.
Optical/Ophthalmic Laboratory Technicians may advance to supervisory or management positions or be promoted to positions in which they work with engineers and designers. In larger establishments, there are more supervision opportunities as the plant is often divided into inspection, generating (grinding), and layout (optical centering of lenses) departments. In smaller shops advancement may consist of increases in salary. Some technicians start their own businesses.
FINDING THE JOB
Applicants should apply directly to optical and ophthalmic shops and wholesale optical laboratories. Newspaper ads, and the California Employment Development Department Job Service are other sources of job leads.
ADDITIONAL SOURCES OF INFORMATION
Optical Laboratories Association P.O. Box 2000 Merrifield, VA 22116-2000 (703) 359-2830
RELATED OCCUPATIONAL GUIDES
Dispensing Opticians No. 167
OCCUPATIONAL CODE REFERENCES
DOT (Dictionary of Occupational Titles, 4th ed., Rev. 1) Lay-Out Technician 716.381-014 Precision-Lens Grinder 716.382-018 Precision-Lens Polisher 716.682-018
OES (Occupational Employment Statistics) System Precision Optical Goods Workers 899170
Source: State of California, Employment Development Department, Labor Market Information Division, Information Services Group, (916) 262-2162.