Maryland facility prepares for lenses by Google Glass

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A new eye­glass as­sem­bly lab in Halethorpe, Md., is poised to make pre­scrip­tion lenses for Google Glass af­ter the wear­able-com­puter prod­uct launches later this year.

The VSPOne fa­cil­ity, which opened last month, ex­pects sub­stan­tial growth from more con­ven­tional sources — cus­tom­ers through­out the North­east or­der­ing reg­u­lar eye­glasses. But the lab also has the tech­nol­ogy needed to pro­cess or­ders for pre­scrip­tion Glass and ex­pects to do so, said David Carr, a com­pany spokes­man.

When, ex­actly, is up in the air. Glass — an In­ter­net-con­nected dis­play screen mounted on an eye­glass frame — is a pro­to­type avail­able only to beta testers for now. But Google ex­pects to launch it some­time this year.

Google Glass has prompted a lot of de­bate, from the safety of driv­ing while wear­ing it to the pri­vacy im­pli­ca­tions of glasses that can take pho­tos and record video. Then there’s the ar­gu­ment about how much it will re­ally mat­ter — whether such prod­ucts are game-chang­ers or nov­el­ties.

Glass is pricey for now: $1,500 — plus tax — for testers.

Google teamed up with VSPOne par­ent VSP Global, which pro­vides vi­sion in­sur­ance and other eye care ser­vices, on the roll­out of pre­scrip­tion beta test­ing in Jan­u­ary. VSPOne al­ready makes pre­scrip­tion lenses for Glass testers who need them, gen­er­ally out of its lab in Sac­ra­mento, Calif.

VSPOne’s Halethorpe fa­cil­ity, mean­while, would be no­ta­ble whether it makes pre­scrip­tion Glass or not — sim­ply by dint of be­ing a new man­u­fac­tur­ing fa­cil­ity.

Mike Galiazzo, pres­i­dent of the Re­gional Man­u­fac­tur­ing In­sti­tute of Mary­land, can think of plenty of plants in the re­gion that closed, but few open­ing. “It doesn’t hap­pen of­ten,” he said.

He thinks an eye­glass as­sem­bly fa­cil­ity — par­tic­u­larly one with a cut­ting-edge prod­uct in its fu­ture — plays to the state’s strengths. Mary­land has a strong health care and life sci­ences in­dus­try.

Like many high-tech, au­to­mated man­u­fac­tur­ing op­er­a­tions, VSPOne’s Halethorpe fa­cil­ity has a lean staff. It runs with just four peo­ple — three tech­ni­cians and Brian Snider, the lab man­ager.

“But within the next one to two years, we ex­pect to have up­ward of 30 to 40 em­ploy­ees here,” he said.

VSPOne is its par­ent’s lab off­shoot, and it’s ex­pand­ing along with the com­pany’s mem­ber­ship num­bers. Halethorpe launched as a new site rather than a re­lo­ca­tion.

A big part of the site’s ap­peal is lo­gis­tics. Staff­ers can quickly get eye­glass parts in and ship the fin­ished prod­uct out, with a UPS lo­ca­tion across the street and In­ter­state 95 around the cor­ner.

The mass of fed­eral em­ploy­ees in the re­gion is an­other sell­ing point. The fed­eral gov­ern­ment is a VSP cli­ent.

The lab now turns out about 50 glasses a day. VSP said that’s far more than it ex­pected, less than two months in, but there’s room to make 200 daily as or­ders ramp up.

Doc­tors send the frames pa­tients pick over to the lab, and a VSP pro­cess­ing fa­cil­ity ships over the lenses. Once Halethorpe em­ploy­ees have both in hand, it takes six to eight hours to pre­pare the lenses and as­sem­ble the glasses.

A dig­i­tal edg­ing ma­chine han­dles part of the pro­cess, carv­ing lenses into the right shape with the ap­pro­pri­ate bevel. As trays with lenses queued up for the edger ear­lier this month, the ma­chine’s ro­botic arm grabbed one, read the ac­com­pa­ny­ing bar code to de­ter­mine how to pro­cess it and au­to­mat­i­cally set to work.

“It’s a con­stant cy­cle that runs through­out the day,” Snider said over the steady drone. “And the pre­ci­sion and ac­cu­racy of this ma­chine is phe­nom­e­nal.

United States - North America - Maryland


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