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Optical/Ophthalmic Laboratory Technicians

California Occupational Guide Number 97
Interest Area 6
1995
THE JOB

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

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.


EMPLOYMENT OUTLOOK

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.


ADVANCEMENT

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.
Note:  This is NOT a job opening.  The purpose of This California Occupational Guide is to provide you with useful information to help you make career decisions.   If you are searching for a job, go to:

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