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"We’ve always been keen to do the more difficult, or the more challenging”

Chairman of the Norville Group, Frank Norville, tells OT  about how technology has impacted lens development at its headquarters in Gloucester

08 Jan 2018 by Andrew McClean, Laurence Derbyshire

Norville, from its early foundations, has always been known as a company that’s been interested in lens technology. We’ve always been keen to do the more difficult, or the more challenging.

What’s important is that we need to continue that aim as an independent company in a world where the large multi-nationals are taking the lead on new developments. We hope to continue to stand out as a lone star of the independents to provide a home for independent opticians to order their lens requirements and to even supply some of the needs of multiple opticians who have patients that need something different to improve the standard of their condition.


"We'd become very bored if we couldn't find new technologies. I think we are improving the vision for users immensely"

After years of having very little technical advance in lens production, we’ve suddenly been galloping along since the start of 21st century. I think the reason that optics came late to advanced technology is that it was such a small sector of the industry and nobody felt it worthwhile to invest. It was eventually our turn and we found that since we’ve arrived, things have accelerated quite dramatically and will continue to do so.

Investing in innovation

Over the past year, our prime investment has been in free form lenses, free form glass lenses and improved coating of glass. The most important investment has been in free form surfacing, which has been a fantastic piece of new technology. Each year there are varying improvements to speed that up and improve its accuracy.

During the year, we’ve put in a new laser engraving system, which is important because previously our lens marks have been too faint or too strong. The new laser has improved things dramatically and made free form production work more smoothly. We’ve purchased a new vacuum coating unit, which enables us to do glass vacuum tints again as our old machine had given up the ghost. The investment in free form glass completes the circle for us and makes us totally self-sufficient in UK manufacturing as previously we’d have to order products from overseas locations.


We need to do a bit more work on producing a remote edge lens, so that the lens is shaped exactly to the frame. A pair of lenses edged to a shape or frame are quite small and light. We could then fit them into an envelope and send them all around the world. Where practitioners spend time and money edging lenses we think that we’ll do it for them, and that would change Norville operationally.

Applying a photochromic application in-house, rather than relying on outside sources, is something we’ve always wanted to do. When it first started you could only have photochromic on a few types of lenses and you’d have to buy a semi-finished from the supplier before you could offer it to your customers. Now, when a lens arrives as a material we can instantly offer it across lens types – trifocals, bifocals – in one go. It is a wonderful step forward. We’ve also been able to provide two grades of transmission. Some people say they don’t like photochromic lenses because they’re too dark – this gives us some more customisable options for the optician. Tell us what you want, we can supply it.

Inventing solutions

We’d become very bored if we couldn’t find new technologies. I think we are improving the vision for users immensely. We’ve come a long way and technology has moved that along the line. We’ve got an option of creating even more interesting lenses now by working both sides of the lens. We’re constantly looking forward to what we can do next.

There’s also the big question of myopia control – a condition that is epidemic. Instead of 18–20% of young people wearing spectacles, 80% now require them. Nobody really knows the reason why, but that is an area where we need a spectacle lens to resolve the issue. We look forward to inventing one that will give the users relief from having a progressive myopia situation, whereby each year the power of lenses they need increases. There are some fascinating areas to work on.


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