An optical laboratory technician is a trained employee responsible for crafting eyeglasses and other types of optical lenses. Most optical techs are high school graduates and complete their training at work in the lab, although some may seek additional preparation and certification through a vocational college. Technicians are a vital part of an optometrist's or ophthalmologist’s practice, because they are the person responsible for taking the patient's prescription and matching the corrective lenses to the eyeglass frames. The completed eyeglasses are then brought to the patient for a final adjustment. In addition to creating lenses, the tech also is responsible to maintaining the optical lab and its equipment.
Typically, an optical laboratory technician is part of a larger team working at a retail location or an ophthalmologist’s office. In some cases, the lens production may take place in a separate lab with several techs filling prescriptions and sending them to one or more offices. A patient’s visit usually begins with an appointment with the eye doctor to determine the best corrective lenses for his vision problems. The optometrist or ophthalmologist will then pass the prescription on to the tech, who is responsible for assembling the patient’s eyewear.
Once he has the prescription, the optical laboratory technician will select the appropriate lens blank and apply any tints or other special treatments that the patient needs. Techs will need to use several ophthalmic instruments to complete this procedure, including lensometers, curve generators and fining machines. These instruments automatically perform most of the work of grinding and polishing the lenses, but the tech will need to monitor the process and make sure the completed lenses match the prescription.
After the lenses have been polished, the optical laboratory technician will inspect them for scratches and other imperfections and then insert the completed lenses into the frame. The tech may need to work with different types of frames and rims, depending on the patient’s needs and current eyewear fashions. Once the glasses are completed, the patient will try them on and the final fitting will take place. If there are problems with the glasses, the tech may need to make minor adjustments or restart the whole process for serious flaws.
In addition to their work making glasses, lab techs also are employed to make other types of optical lenses for use in telescopes, microscopes, binoculars and other vision-enhancing devices. Many of these products are made in large manufacturing facilities, but some types of lenses require techs to perform smaller-scale precision work. An optical laboratory technician also performs repair work for all kinds of lenses if they become scratched or broken.