Feature, Optical Dispensing

What goes into an acetate frame?

acetate frames manufacturing

With the everyday demands of practice life, it can be easy to lose sight of the effort put into each frame. JED CROTTEY details the design and manufacturing processes behind acetate frames.

Most of us dispensers don’t tend to think too much about the processes a frame has been through before it lands on our shelves. We tend to think more about the quality, the finishes, the hinges, the materials and so on.

Jed Crottey.

As vital as these details are, it is also important to know where the frame started so you can learn to respect the processes which, in turn, will allow you to appreciate your inventory.

This respect and knowledge for the product will translate into your sales techniques and allow you to make higher value sales.

I could talk about the process of manufacturing and design all day, but for the purpose of keeping within the scope of this article, I will focus on the acetate frame. These are simpler to produce and are, on average, 12 months faster to manufacture than metal or titanium frames, from the initial concept and design, to final product.

An acetate frame’s life begins in the acetate itself but before any of the details are even thought about, the acetate needs to be created. The material is naturally derived from cotton which makes it highly hypoallergenic. There is an amazing range of colours, textures and lamination combinations, mixing these with different hardware and finishes means the options are endless.

A very generalised list of steps starts with the concept or an innovation which is taken to a team of designers. This process can go back and forth until an initial design is agreed upon. After this a 3D model is drawn on a computer- aided design (CAD)-like program and printed using a 3D printer. The model is assessed and goes through a validation process that ensures the model you have built works for the end customer as intended.

While all the technical elements of the frame are being ironed out, the acetate has already been ordered or being produced as a custom design. The production of a custom acetate design can take 12 months to design and another four months to produce.

Once all components are ready, we head to production. The CNC (computerised numerical control) machines are programmed in preparation of production and the acetate sheets are cut into strips.

Once the strips are cut, they are then planed to the correct thickness, in some designs small pieces of acetate will be glued where the built-up bridge pieces will sit depending on the design. The acetate block is then sent to the CNC machine to be cut out precisely. The CNC machine can do eight to 15 frame fronts per hour depending on the complexity of the design.

The temples are then cut and hinge pieces are sunk into both the frame front and insides of each temple ready to be polished. The polishing process is usually done in three different stages, each one delivering a different stage of shine and takes about a week to finish. The frames are then polished by hand, assembled by hand and ultrasonically cleaned to remove any grease. Finally every single frame undergoes a series of meticulous checks to ensure a high quality finish.

If passed by all the quality control checks, the frame is taken to a dispatch centre and sent out to your distributor who then places them into their sales representatives kits and then sold to you and your practice where they will find their forever home.

With the hustle and bustle of the practice, it’s easy to forget that a frame is far more than just a commodity. When you start treating your stock like a piece of jewellery for someone’s face this respect will translate to your customer and make them view it as a beautiful ‘piece’ and not just a frame.

Give your customer a brief summary of the frame, for example: “This piece is amazing. Handmade in Berlin – more than 12 months and 20 handmade processes have gone into this frame.”

It is so special watching a regular patient turn into a loyal repeat customer by showing them how passionate and knowledgeable you are about your industry.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jed Crottey is a business development manager for VS Eyewear and an optical dispenser with 10 years’ industry experience. He has followed his passion for the optical industry and design throughout the east coast of Australia.

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