4.2.2 The development of Graduate/VIP

SOLA’s development to a world leading company in the ophthalmic optical field is tightly linked to the success story of the SOLA VIP in the USA.

The beginning: In 1975 Dick Kapash joined SOLA as CEO of its US subsidiary. In the SOLA organization he was first to recognize the market potential of progressive lenses and to strongly propose developing this new lens type.

He hired the mathematicians and optical engineers Eric Barkan, David Sklar and David Spector with whom he had already worked before in the Optical Science Group in California. In the following 2 years this small team under the lead of Eric Barkan created the mathematical concepts and generalized mathematical design tools for an original progressive lens design.

This fundamental work was not immediately actioned because SOLA focussed on the development of an different design concept for the prespyopia correction, known commercially as Smartseg. This was a combination of the flat top bifocal, very popular in the USA, and the progressive surface. Within the segment power was radially increasing providing functional intermediate and reading portions at all angles of gaze.

Eric Barkan (right) and Michy Kris

The development: Smartseg was not the great commercial success SOLA had hoped for and so from 1982 on SOLA shifted its marketing attention to the “no-line bifocal lens" strongly supported by John Heine , CEO of SOLA since 1982. A joint Australia/USA development team was formed under the direction of Ted Ellis from Chance Pilkington. The R&D team in USA had leadership and guidance from Tom Balch.

Patents from Eric Barkan and David Sklar (US 4 676 610 filed 1983 and US 4 838 675 filed 1987) describe the mathematical method to obtain the progressive surface with the help of a merit function. The performance characteristic for the merit function is at least one of the parameters astigmatism, mean power, orthoscopy and others (see also [12]).

Kevin O’Connor (right) and Michy Kris

Kevin O’ Connor, Australia, was in charge of the development of the manufacturing process which occurred mostly in Adelaide. Michy Kris, a mathematician working with Kevin translated the theoretical design results into the necessary machining parameters. The final lens design was chosen by an iterative process based on the designing method conceived by Eric Barkan taking into account data of extensive wearer trials, competitor product analysis as well as the competitor patent field.

The manufacturing process chosen was thermal slumping using refractory formers milled by CNC milling machines. The development of vacuum slumping allowed the creation of more consistent and predictable glass mould casting surfaces.

New metrology devices were developed including for example Ronchi/Moire technologies to guarantee the very good reproducibility of the VIP lens which was one of the characteristics used by Sola Marketing to demonstrate the superiority of their lens in comparative advertising.

Production started in Australia in 1983 and the new progressive lens was launched as Graduate in Australia and Europe in 1984 and as VIP in the USA in 1985.

The VIP was one of the most successful progressive lenses in history and after a period of 25 years was withdrawn from the market in 2009.