Ophthalmic Laboratory Technicians Career Information
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Significant Points· Nearly all ophthalmic laboratory technicians learn
their skills on the job.
· Increasing use of automated equipment will result in relatively slow job growth.
· Only a small number of job openings will be created each year because the occupation is small and slower-than-average growth is expected.
Nature of the WorkOphthalmic laboratory
technicians—also known as manufacturing opticians, optical mechanics,
or optical goods workers—make prescription eyeglass or contact lenses.
Prescription lenses are curved in such a way that light is correctly focused
onto the retina of the patient's eye, improving vision. Some ophthalmic laboratory
technicians manufacture lenses for other optical instruments, such as telescopes
and binoculars. Ophthalmic laboratory technicians cut, grind, edge,
and finish lenses according to specifications provided by dispensing opticians,
optometrists, or ophthalmologists. They also may insert lenses into frames to
produce finished glasses. Although some lenses still are produced by hand, technicians
increasingly use automated equipment to make lenses.
Ophthalmic laboratory technicians should not be confused with workers in other vision care occupations. Ophthalmologists and optometrists are "eye doctors" who examine eyes, diagnose and treat vision problems, and prescribe corrective lenses. Ophthalmologists are physicians who perform eye surgery. Dispensing opticians, who also may do work described here, help patients select frames and lenses, and adjust finished eyeglasses.
Ophthalmic laboratory technicians read prescription specifications, then select standard glass or plastic lens blanks and mark them to indicate where the curves specified on the prescription should be ground. They place the lens in the lens grinder, set the dials for the prescribed curvature, and start the machine. After a minute or so, the lens is ready to be "finished" by a machine that rotates it against a fine abrasive to grind it and smooth out rough edges. The lens is then placed in a polishing machine with an even finer abrasive, to polish it to a smooth, bright finish.
Next, the technician examines the lens through a lensometer, an instrument similar in shape to a microscope, to make sure the degree and placement of the curve is correct. The technician then cuts the lenses and bevels the edges to fit the frame, dips each lens into dye if the prescription calls for tinted or coated lenses, polishes the edges, and assembles the lenses and frame parts into a finished pair of glasses.
In small laboratories, technicians usually handle every phase of the operation. In large ones, technicians may be responsible for operating computerized equipment where virtually every phase of the operation is automated. Technicians also inspect the final product for quality and accuracy.
Working ConditionsOphthalmic laboratory
technicians work in relatively clean and well-lighted laboratories and have
limited contact with the public. Surroundings are relatively quiet despite the humming of machines. At
times, technicians wear goggles to protect their eyes, and may spend a great
deal of time standing.
Most ophthalmic laboratory technicians work a 5-day, 40-hour week, which may include weekends, evenings, or occasionally some overtime. Some work part time.
Ophthalmic laboratory technicians need to take precautions against the hazards associated with cutting glass, handling chemicals, and working near machinery.
EmploymentOphthalmic laboratory technicians held about 32,000 jobs in 2009. Thirty-one percent were in retail optical stores that manufacture and sell prescription glasses and contact lenses, and 23 percent were in optical laboratories. These laboratories manufacture eyewear and contact lenses for sale by retail stores, as well as by ophthalmologists and optometrists. Most of the rest were in wholesalers or in optical laboratories that manufacture lenses for other optical instruments, such as telescopes and binoculars.
Training, Qualifications, Adv.Nearly all ophthalmic
laboratory technicians learn their skills on the job. Employers filling trainee
jobs prefer applicants who are high school graduates. Courses in science, mathematics,
and computers are valuable; manual dexterity and the ability to do precision
work are essential.
Technician trainees producing lenses by hand start on simple tasks such as marking or blocking lenses for grinding, then progress to lens grinding, lens cutting, edging, beveling, and eyeglass assembly. Depending on individual aptitude, it may take up to 6 months to become proficient in all phases of the work.
Technicians using automated systems will find computer skills valuable. Training is completed on the job and varies in duration depending on the type of machinery and individual aptitude.
A very small number of ophthalmic laboratory technicians learn their trade in the Armed Forces or in the few programs in optical technology offered by vocational-technical institutes or trade schools. These programs have classes in optical theory, surfacing and lens finishing, and the reading and applying of prescriptions. Programs vary in length from 6 months to 1 year and award certificates or diplomas.
Ophthalmic laboratory technicians can become supervisors and managers. Some technicians become dispensing opticians, although further education or training generally is required.
Job OutlookOverall employment
of ophthalmic laboratory technicians is expected to grow more slowly than the
average for all occupations through the year 2010. Employment is expected to increase slowly
in manufacturing as firms invest in automated machinery.
Demographic trends make it likely that many more Americans will need vision care in the years ahead. Not only will the population grow, but also the proportion of middle-aged and older adults is projected to increase rapidly. Middle age is a time when many people use corrective lenses for the first time, and elderly persons usually require more vision care than others.
Fashion, too, influences demand. Frames come in a variety of styles and colors—encouraging people to buy more than one pair. Demand also is expected to grow in response to the availability of new technologies that improve the quality and look of corrective lenses, such as antireflective coatings and bifocal lenses without the line visible in traditional bifocals.
Most job openings will arise from the need to replace technicians who transfer to other occupations or leave the labor force. However, only a small number of job openings will be created each year because the occupation is small.
EarningsMedian hourly earnings of ophthalmic laboratory technicians were $9.88 in 2009. The middle 50 percent earned between $8.25 and $12.07 an hour. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $7.19, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $14.71 an hour. In 2009, median hourly earnings of ophthalmic laboratory technicians were $10.25 in ophthalmic goods manufacturing and $9.79 in retail stores, not elsewhere classified, including optical goods stores.
Related OccupationsWorkers in
other precision production occupations include dental laboratory technicians, orthotists and prosthetists,
and precision instrument and equipment repairers.
For information on an accredited program in ophthalmic laboratory technology, contact: General information on grants and scholarships is available from individual schools. State employment service offices can provide information about job openings for medical, dental, and ophthalmic laboratory technicians.
Sources of Additional Information
For information on an accredited program in ophthalmic laboratory technology, contact:
General information on grants and scholarships is available from individual schools. State employment service offices can provide information about job openings for medical, dental, and ophthalmic laboratory technicians.