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A new way of calculating biometric lenses

Using more than 500,000 scans from its DNEye Scanner, Rodenstock has developed a new AI calculating engine offering more precise ophthalmic lenses from the standard prescription. The company is now restructuring its lens portfolio, so its premium lenses are available to a wider market.

When Dr Dietmar Uttenweiler joined Rodenstock more than 18 years ago, he often pondered the untapped potential of the ophthalmic lens market; if only it could exploit the optical principles in other fields like microscopy, astronomy and photography.

With a background in technical optics, Uttenweiler, a physicist by education, joined the German ophthalmic lens company after holding a lectureship at the University of Heidelberg in physiology and biophysics. His expertise taught him that to optimise an image on an image plane – such as the retina – one must precisely measure and account for the individual refractive elements in between the object and image point.

“When I started at Rodenstock in 2003 as director of research optics, I never quite understood why the spectacle lens industry, including Rodenstock at the time, stopped calculating the imaging properties at the vertex sphere (an imaginary spherical surface centred at the eye’s centre of rotation),” he explains, in an exclusive interview with Insight.

“One reason was simply because everyone assumed each eye was the same; you had reduced eye models like the Gullstrand and other simple models of calculating lenses that involved different kinds of assumptions. But ultimately, the problem was that no one could find a way to easily include the relevant knowledge of, for example, the power of the cornea and crystalline lens, relative lens position and eye length into spectacle lens calculation.”

Today, Uttenweiler is now in a senior position within Rodenstock as head of research and development and strategic marketing lenses, based in Munich. He has helped oversee a radical directional change in the company that now works harder to educate the market about its lens sophistication, and their relevance to end consumers.

This new approach has been possible through the introduction of Rodenstock’s DNEye Scanner. The DNEye lens technology has been available to Australian optical practices since 2018 when the company’s second generation DNEye Scanner 2 was introduced here. Uttenweiler says it represents “a paradigm shift” in the way lenses are calculated.

At its core, the DNEye Scanner is an aberrometer, topographer, pachymeter, and additionally a tonometer. As an example of the relevant biometric parameters it can obtain, the topographer measures the corneal curvature to calculate the total corneal power, while the pachymeter gives corneal thickness (used to calculate the corneal power) and distance to the crystalline lens.

The aberrometer gives the total aberrometry and, as the corneal power is known, the power of the crystalline lens can be calculated. The aberrometer also measures higher order aberrations allowing a local gaze dependent adaption of best sphero-cylindrical values for this to be built into the lens. Rodenstock’s patented calculations can then use these and other readings to determine other parameters like eye length.

Ultimately, the instrument takes more than 7,000 measurements of 80 parameters, allowing a biometric model of the eye to be ‘built’ and used to calculate the final lens, known as Biometric Intelligent Glasses (B.I.G.).

Uttenweiler says the technology has elevated the Rodenstock portfolio, helping cement its place in the premium segment, while offering independents the ability to differentiate their practices.

In Australia, individual DNEye practices have reported average lens sale increases of 25%, while also selling more pairs of glasses overall. While the technology has benefitted those with a DNEye Scanner, recently Rodenstock considered how it can leverage this for practices without DNEye capability. It also fits with the company’s B.I.G. Vision For All philosophy, to increase access to its premium progressives based on the biometric lens calculation described above.

In recent years, Uttenweiler says Rodenstock has built an “immense database” of more than 500,000 DNEye scans. It has now used artificial intelligence (AI) to find patterns and correlations to develop new norms within the data. That means it can now take parameters from the subjective refraction – sphere, cylinder, axis, and addition – and put them to much greater use.

The AI-power calculating engine looks at patterns in a complex multi- dimensional environment – and can build a correlation line for each individual. In effect, an “approximate eye model” for every prescription can be created using just the standard prescription values.

While this won’t offer the same precision as its tier one DNEye lenses, Uttenweiler says it will offer practices more superior lenses than any other standard lenses on the market.

To cater for this new approach, Rodenstock is introducing a new portfolio structure this year. B.I.G. Exact will become its premium lenses available from practices with a DNEye Scanner, while B.I.G Norm will feature lenses calculated by the standard prescription values and AI technology.

“These will account for far more than 80% of the branded Rodenstock portfolio that we offer. Of course, we will have some entry products left with the standard portfolio, but we’re communicating that independent practices go for a DNEye portfolio B.I.G. Exact or B.I.G Norm portfolio because they are the new generation of lenses,” Uttenweiler says.

Storytelling behind the lenses 

For independents, differentiation in an increasingly price-competitive and commoditised market remains one of the great challenges. While there’s an assumption patients are more interested in frames than lens technology, Uttenweiler says Rodenstock’s current CEO Mr Anders Hedegaard – with medical technology background – challenged that position when he began three years ago.

“He said we’re selling a high-tech product, and asked me to explain why our lenses were a superior product,” he recalls.

“After that, he said I don’t see why the end consumer wouldn’t be interested in the story you just told me, we just simply need to tell it in a relevant way that resonates with them.”

The company employed a specialised, data-driven marketing agency in Denmark who conducted research that confirmed consumers wanted to better understand the lens technology, prompting Rodenstock to make lens storytelling a greater priority for its independent customers.

“Claiming that you’re premium and not offering any additional services simply won’t work. We now have educated end consumers who want to understand the difference and why they are paying more,” he explains.

“First, we need a convincing explanation and, secondly, we need a high performing product that is consistent with how it was described to them. That is our core story with our B.I.G. glasses – we have something that allows our customers to differentiate simply because it is a completely different flow when a patient enters the store.

“You’re obtaining parameters the patient hasn’t had measured before. Coupled with this is a very different explanation of how Rodenstock uses the biometry of the eye to calculate and produce the lens. Importantly, the message can be transported in simple terms, and that’s what we offer as a unique selling proposition to our customers.”

Tech needs to be believed in 

Educating practices about the DNEye Scanner and Rodenstock’s lens portfolio forms a major part of Ms Nicola Peaper’s role as the company’s Australian national sales and professional services manager.

Nicola Peaper, Rodenstock Australia national sales and professional services manager.

She has worked in the optical industry for over 35 years; 20 as an optometrist. Major changes such as freeform production and new categories like occupational digressives have occurred during that time. But until she started working in manufacturing, their implications had largely passed her by.

“Although I believe lens technology information and education is much better now, there are still practitioners who believe one lens is much the same as another and there are no benefits to be had by choosing newer technologies. Unless they can be fully confident in a product then they cannot be expected to use it.”

Rodenstock’s professional services team works closely with its marketing department to ensure brochures and tools are accurate and understandable, which then filters to its salesforce.

“The initial technology needs to be understood and believed in. The benefit and value to the patient needs to be realised and it’s the role of a well-informed sales team to explain this to the principals in practice. Finally, the practice staff need to communicate to the patient about the products on several different levels. Again, training needs to be done in practice,” Peaper explains.

“When these elements are complete then not only will the lens manufacturer achieve good uptake of their products but also the practice should benefit from improved customer experience and lower non-adaption to products.”

With Zacharia Naumann in Wagga Wagga acquiring the first DNEye scanner in Australia in 2018, 33 others have followed since. Ongoing, Rodenstock Australia is introducing local DNEye Scanner user groups, initially trialled in WA and SA so new users have access to existing, more experienced users.

Peaper says this overall approach – in addition to CPD articles and presentations at trade events – is welcomed by Rodenstock customers.

“The amount of support and information we give ensures Australia has one of the highest use of individual scanners across the worldwide Rodenstock market. Our customers have confidence that if they have problems or questions, the support is there,” she says.

“Finally, we have an ongoing relationship with Thao and Grant Hannaford at the Academy of Advanced Ophthalmic Optics taking advantage of the education they provide for practices with a DNEye scanner. This is invaluable to help the understanding of not just DNEye technology, but general lens technology and how to discuss this with patients.

More reading

Raising your profile and profits with ophthalmic lens technology

Importance of accurate measurements – Nicola Peaper

Rodenstock sale going ahead with Apax acquisition

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