Interview with the Managing Director of the Central Association of Opticians and Optometrists

Dr Jan Wetzel is Managing Director of the Central Association of Opticians and Optometrists. Together with the association's committee and management board, he closely observes the new processes and changes that digitisation has brought to the industry.

"Batch size 1" within the interlinked manufacturing processes of Industry 4.0 could hereby be of particular interest for the optometry sector. Machine intelligence enables the production of even the smallest batch sizes, as well as individual products, at low-cost mass production rates.

Knowledge is progress - Keeping pace with digitisation

opti: What changes has digitisation already brought to the optometry sector and what further changes can be expected?

Dr Jan Wetzel: The number of opticians who run their own workshops is decreasing. Instead, opticians are simply passing on the lens specifications and arranging for them to be manufactured remotely. Nonetheless, there are opticians who have opted for an entirely different model.

They have converted their workshops into "transparent factories", enabling customers to visualise the stages of their precise, high-quality workmanship. Many opticians do this consciously as a means of choosing their own specialism, which leads to real variety within the industry.

I believe that consultations will become even more bespoke in the next few years. Customers expect detailed information about what their glasses can do, and there is also an increasing demand for competent support from opticians when it comes to eye problems.

"A lot of it depends on customer acceptance"

opti: How will an optician's vocational training reflect this new variety?

Dr Wetzel: As a matter of fact, we believe that the occupational training and ongoing professional development of the people working in the optometry sector is one of our main responsibilities. Knowledge is progress, which is why digitisation has become a huge topic in recent years and its implications a subject of discussion in all our specialist committees.

At the moment, workshop-related tasks still represent a large part of an optician's training. However, if the trend towards outsourcing this type of work continues, we must surely ask ourselves what role it will play in the future.

Perhaps it will soon become more important to teach trainees how to use 3D printers. This is not just about designing customised frames, but also about post-processing work such as grinding or polishing.

Consequently, it may be necessary to teach entirely new skills, which are then linked to the wider vocational training sector at state level because individual business are not able to do this.

However, it is currently difficult to gauge what type of new technologies and manufacturing processes we can expect. A lot of it depends on customer acceptance. The only thing we can do is pay very close attention to the market.

"Putting us ahead compared with other countries"

 opti: How does Germany compare internationally with regard to the level of digitisation in the optometry sector?

Dr Wetzel: Comparing our digitisation process with that of other countries is difficult. For me, it starts with the question of where ophthalmology begins and where it ends.

In Spain, for example, telemedical services such as retinal photography and the communication of expert findings via cloud services are much more important than in Germany, where we have a much denser network of physicians.

In my opinion, the level of digitisation is closely linked to customer requirements. This means that we are up there with the best relative to demand. For example, Germany has the largest market for high-quality progressive lenses that are produced in a digital manufacturing process.

The reason: German customers have a corresponding quality demand, putting us ahead compared with other countries. That being said, refractions are available online for around $60 in the USA. This is a service which understandably still raises a number of technical concerns in Germany. 

As an umbrella organisation, we see a lot of opportunities for the optometry sector in the context of progressive digitisation. One of these is an increase in services that appeal to customers. A 3D refraction presented on a big screen or lens centring using a tablet are intriguing and indicative of the latest expertise.

opti: Dr Wetzel, we would like to thank you for your assessment.

Dr Jan Wetzel

As Managing Director of the Central Association of Opticians and OptometristsDr Jan Wetzel closely observes the new processes and changes that digitisation has brought to the industry.

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