As we age, most of us will need glasses – first reading glasses, then multifocal (or progressive) glasses, a market worth around $12 billion in the United States alone. United. The total value of the eye care industry exceeds $100 billion worldwide.
Multifocals allow the wearer to see distance through the top of the lens, near vision at the bottom, and mid-range, like a computer screen, through the middle.
They do the job well, but they are expensive.
There are different qualities of glasses, but the best ones can easily cost over $1,000 a pair. There are also visual distortions to get used to, sometimes requiring a change of prescription as the optometrist tries to get it right, and a waiting period as the lenses are pressed in a factory, often very far away.
New technology from Israeli startup Addon Optics brings the factory into the optician’s office.
The company has developed a device the size of a toaster oven or a small 3D printer capable of creating a multifocal lens in six minutes at a fraction of the previous cost, replacing a large manufacturing plant.
Addon’s innovation can turn “a bespoke product into a pre-made product,” says company CEO Amir Erlichman.
How it works
An optician inserts two sheets of plastic into the Addon unit. One is a standard single vision lens. The other is a very thin, flexible lens that adds the multifocal capabilities and is attached to the back of the single vision lens.
There are 24 different combinations with quarter-diopter increments.
Lens materials provided by Addon are coated with anti-reflective and anti-scratch material. This is another change from the standard operating procedure, where the coating is only added after the lens is generated.
The speed with which Addon can create a lens means that opticians can now compete by offering services such as same-day delivery or even express dispatch within an hour.
The lenses still need to be cut once they come out of the machine to fit the customer’s specific frame size.
Coming later this year
How much will Addon’s store-produced eyewear cost?
“We are a business-to-business business, selling directly to retailers. So we don’t have an end-user price,” Erlichman explained, hinting that it could be as low as 10% of current costs. Some retailers, alternatively, might choose to pocket a larger portion of the profits.
Addon has adopted a “printer and ink” business model – this is where the device itself is extremely inexpensive, if not free, with the company making money selling “the ink” (in the case d’Addon, lentils). The same model is used with disposable razors: razors tend to be cheap or free, but you pay for the blades.
Addon focuses on large chains, such as LensCrafters, which can easily produce thousands of multifocals per day. Ultimately, the goal is to manufacture “hundreds of thousands of lenses sold per year”.
While Addon already has hundreds of trial customers and U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval, the first Addon devices are expected to hit U.S. retailers and eyewear labs later this year, Erlichman says. .
The company will also make its product available in Israel, Germany and Australia before expanding further, he adds.
Will customers of Zenni, the famous discount online optical store, be able to take advantage of Addon’s technology? Absolutely, says Erlichman, though he says Addon needs to move forward carefully, “step by step,” with the biggest brick-and-mortar retailers getting the first crack.
Once commercial operations, Addon Optics will launch a website, Erlichman says. “We didn’t want to be on the big players’ radar yet,” he told ISRAEL21c.
Not that there’s a lot of competition.
Israeli startup DeepOptics has technology that allows the wearer to switch between near and far vision by simply pressing down on the frame of the glasses, but it’s far from a device to produce the lenses on-site.
Luxexcel is closer – the Netherlands-based company has technology for 3D printing lenses of all kinds, but it’s an improvement on existing manufacturing plants rather than cutting the process down to size. size of a countertop appliance.
Addon Optics, which employs about twenty people, will soon move to larger premises in Netanya. The company raised $12 million from AP Partners in January, adding to the $8 million previously raised.
Erlichman launched Addon in 2016 with Haim Engler (the two have been friends since IDF IT days) and Professor Yoel Arieli, who heads the Department of Electro-Optical Engineering at Lev Academic Center – Jerusalem College of Technology.
Arieli and Engler came up with the idea and then approached Erlichman, who has years of experience as a venture capitalist and entrepreneur. (He sold live expert advice platform Kasamba to LivePerson in 2007 for $9 million in cash and $31 million in stock.)
It’s been six years since Erlichman and his friends launched Addon. What took so long? The alignment between the lenses must be perfect, he explains. “If you get it one micron left, you’ll get a headache.”
Addon is a Hebrew-English word game. In English, it alludes to the company’s approach of “adding” a flexible multifocal lens to a single vision lens. In Hebrew, finished stands for “sir”, which, when added to the full name of the company, translates to “Mr Optics.”
As businesses and retailers adopt Addon’s technology, it could open up new markets. Pharmacies, for example, will be able to enter the progressive lens business by placing an Addon unit behind the counter.
Erlichman wants ISRAEL21c readers to know one more thing about his company. “It’s much more environmentally friendly than the existing process. We do not use chemicals or water. Just a small amount of glue no thicker than a few microns. Our method is very clean.
This makes Addon good for your wallet and good for the planet.