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December 7, 1998

6 Min Read
A new answer to old problems

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Optx 20/20 reading lenses owe their success to two years of research and development by Neoptx Inc. and extensive technical support by the Texin Group of Bayer Corp.'s Polymers Div., which developed the first-ever optical grade of Bayer's Texin aliphatic polyether-based thermoplastic polyurethane resin for this innovative application.

Peter LaHaye Sr. of Neoptx Inc. (Redmond, WA) spent $400 on a pair of Armani sunglasses to have reading lenses put in them, only to discover a year later his prescription had changed. He thought there must be a better way.

Five years ago, after an oil change for his car, he noticed the soft, plastic, self-adhering reminder sticker on the windshield. It occurred to him that perhaps the same idea could be applied to reading lenses on eyeglasses.

Four years later, Optx 20/20 (patent pending) hit the market and is now available in more than 12,000 stores nationwide. Reception by consumers of the Optx 20/20, bifocal-like, self-adhering reading lenses has been "phenomenal," adds LaHaye.

The half-moon-shaped magnifying lenses adhere to regular sunglasses through a molecular attraction and can be removed and replaced without leaving any telltale lines or sticky residue. The lenses are virtually invisible and turn any pair of sunglasses into reading glasses, eliminating the need to have two pairs of glasses on hand.

LaHaye is no stranger to inventing. With 17 patents under his belt in the field of optics, including development of the first intraocular lens used in cataract surgery, LaHaye knew it could be done.

Although he came out of retirement to develop Optx 20/20, LaHaye called on his son, Peter LaHaye Jr., to take over the manufacturing challenges of injection molding the thin, flexible lenses.

"Dad bought a molding press, showed me how to turn it on, and said 'go for it'," he says. Peter LaHaye Jr. now serves as vice president of manufacturing and R&D at Neoptx. "I didn't know anything about plastics, which is probably why we succeeded. I had no preconceived notion about what I could or couldn't do."

In fact, one reason father and son decided to mold the lenses themselves was that many molding companies they spoke with told them it couldn't be done.

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The unique packaging for the Optx 20/20 lenses consists of a patented, optically clear case molded in a crystal polystyrene that displays the proper placement of the lenses.

To develop the material, LaHaye turned to the Texin Group of Bayer Corp.'s Polymers Div., which developed the first-ever optical grade of Bayer's Texin aliphatic polyether-based thermoplastic polyurethane for this innovative application.

Because the material wasn't originally designed for optical applications, the first hurdle was redesigning the molecular structure of the polymer so the product could be molded optically clear and completely free of defects.

At first, they experienced a 60 percent reject rate. "We just flat didn't know how to process this material that flows like water." The material has a melt flow index of 60.

Jack Chan, technical marketing specialist for Bayer's Texin, says, "Working closely with Neoptx, we overcame special technical challenges to develop an optical grade of Texin resin that exhibited the right combination of properties, including water-clear purity, flexibility, and bonding characteristics that this unique optical application demanded."

For almost two years, the company experimented with molds and molding techniques, working with the material supplier, to get the product they wanted. "It was really all about creating a synergy between the material, the tool, and the molding machine," notes Peter LaHaye Jr.

Getting the mold they needed was one of the big challenges Neoptx faced. In the four years from project start until the end product they wanted, Neoptx had three different moldmakers who worked on product development.

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Peter LaHaye Sr. holds 17 patents in the field of optics. One is currently pending on the Optx 20/20 lenses.

"Most of the initial molds we had built were boat anchors. It took us three years to develop the tooling, and we're still improving on that all the time." He credits Western Industrial Tooling with helping them find the right mold to do the job. "We wouldn't be where we are today with this product without this relationship [with Western Industrial Tooling]," he says.

Ernie Buckmayer, president of the Redmond, WA moldmaking company, says it took tremendous teamwork to design the proper tool for the new product. Western Industrial specializes in high-production molds, so it was a mold typical of the kind the company builds.

The mirror finish on the cores and cavities the molded optical parts need for absolute clarity was done by a polishing house that specializes in optical finishes.

Neoptx molds 150,000 pairs of Optx 20/20 lenses a month from a four-cavity mold in an 80-ton Engel. A Ranger robot takes the parts from the mold and places them in special fixture trays to allow the lenses to cure before being touched by human hands. Although the lens thickness varies according to the magnification power, in general the edge thickness is approximately the same as that of a dime. The parts are trimmed in a trim die, which is one of the critical operations because the edges of the lenses must be clean and sharp.

Currently, Optx 20/20 lenses come in six standard magnification powers from +1.00 to +3.00 diopters and are for people suffering from presbyopia. They are working on lenses for people with myopia.

Neoptx also designed the packaging for the Optx 20/20 lenses, consisting of a patented, optically clear case molded in crystal polystyrene that displays the proper placement of the lenses. Even this is unique. "To our surprise, nothing like this has ever been tried before-optics in optical packaging." A custom molder in the area molds the packaging.

The LaHayes have high hopes for the future of Optx 20/20 lenses, including a variety of new markets. Because 90 percent of all industrial accidents are eye-related, the company sees a huge potential for the lenses in the safety glasses market. For example, a moldmaker wouldn't have to remove his safety glasses to put on reading glasses just to read a print.

One of their test markets has been the employees at Texin Manufacturing in Bayer's Martinsville, WV plant, where the lenses have received a thumbs up.

Contact Information
Neoptx Inc.
Redmond, WA
Cindi Pendergraft
Phone: (425) 644-2020
Fax: (425) 644-6107
Website: www.neoptx.com
Bayer Corp., Polymers Div.
Pittsburgh, PA
Phone: (800) 622-6004
Fax: (412) 777-4889
Website: www.bayer.com/polymers-usa

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