Company Profiles for 2016
During the year we will be focussing on our supporting Companies, great initiatives and personalities by providing in depth Company & Personal Profiles
"Mighty Oaks from little acorns grow." A fitting phrase demonstrating the International success of Contamac.
Lipreading Practice by Gloria McGregor our Profile Page for April/May.
A company profile on Blackfin, Italian Frame manufacturers, through and through.
Stay at home mum wins awards for launching product to help children who wear glasses.Read about Blinx, our first company profile of 2016.
"Mighty Oaks from little acorns grow." A fitting phrase demonstrating the International success of Contamac.
Contamac, a family business, provides a significant number of specialist contact lens and IOL materials to a global manufacturing sector.
In the month that has seen Contamac awarded its second Queen’s Award, this time for innovation, PHN writes a company profile on a leading company in contact lens production in a global market.
When we write of acorns and oaks we consider that a fair comparison to Contamac’ s beginning in 1987 in what is now affectionately known as “The Company Shed”; we hope to get over to the reader the sense of achievement and community that this family business has retained inherited from its roots back in the “shed days”.
Firstly, how could such a successful contact lens company have remained off of most people’s radar?
Well in the contact lens business there is no “chicken before egg” conundrum.
Without the medico/pharma expertise provided by Contamac formulating polymers from monomers and designing new materials specifically for contact lens manufacturers to produce the final contact lens there would be no “Chicken”!
John McGregor, the Chairman of the Company, with a sound knowledge of chemistry and pharma processes started the business in 1987. In those days the contact lens market was dominated by HEMA materials (Hydroxyethyl methacrylate).
Gradually however the demand for better lens materials allowing oxygen to pass through the lens barrier became evident and Contamac, as it always has, responded to this need by creating new materials.
The success of the company has been in the foresight of its founder in setting business and compliance procedures in place from the very beginning and one notices as we took our extensive tour of the premises how although the company has grown in magnitude both in products and volume all the now complex processes stem from those early days.
In 2016 the company now supplies some 13 million contact lens buttons to a very significant and large percentage of the contact lens and intra ocular lens manufacturers throughout the world. Compare this to the production achieved in “the shed” of a maximum of 6000 buttons a week.
The company positions itself at the heart of the contact lens industry without ever commercially making a single contact lens or IOL. There raison d’etre is to respond to the needs of its manufacturers in a symbiotic partnership that allows manufacturers to expand their market.
Whilst contact lens manufacturers fashion the button materials into branded products, Contamac is the trendsetter in lens material design. Proof of their success in Innovation is shown in the last few years by the production of “Definitive” made from their own specific production techniques of Silicon Hydrogel.
This material as many skilled contact lens fitters will recognize has expanded the soft lens market into patient requirements for complex lenses, that previously had not been thought of as being in the soft lens armory.
Contamac has 76 staff members many holding post graduate and graduate degrees. They now work in a purpose built manufacturing and office block in Saffron Walden in Essex, close enough to the Silicon Valley experience of Cambridge as well as easy links to London.
On our tour we passed through a well-designed building with every department located in a logical order each relating to each other. One of the advantages of a new build. And of course the ability to continued expansion has been built in readiness for even greater market share.
R & D, Technical, Production, Inspection, Sales and Packaging all play a part in this streamlined industry.
And its strategy is paramount to its success amplified by its marketing to the contact lens market which with its “non-compete” guarantee in lens manufacturing allows them to create a family environment for lens manufacturers to use their facilities.
This is demonstrated by the demand for lens material checking on behalf of the industry that Contamac carry out on their behalf.
The lab contains Gel Permeable Chromatography, Spectrometers (gas and flame), Fatt Measurement testing, drop testing, wettability tests and contact angle measurements as well as elasticity testing.
All of these results go to make up the “DNA” of the lens material of every batch. In fact, it is possible to trace any lens button within a batch of between 2500 buttons to 25,000 buttons dependent on the material manufactured and to verify its exact make up on every sealed button pack of 100 buttons.
Each batch has samples stored for 5 years for contact lens buttons and for life for IOL materials.
The bar coding of the batch follows every button, and this ability will become key with the suggested FDA proposals that any contact lens should be traceable from the end user back through the manufacturer to the initial button production.
One day, contact lens wearers will be able to know exactly what brand, style, parameters and material makes up the lens in their packet. This will be possible as lens manufacturers will be able to record button batch numbers as long as they do not mix sealed batch supplies and mark up accordingly the final product.
Contamac has a subsidiary in the US, distribution in S. America and has a joint venture in the Netherlands.
The company plays a significant role in the production of IOLs, mainly with hydrophilic lenses but some surgeons still require hydrophobic materials. Their success surrounds the IOLs ability to remain clean within the eye and much of the successful characteristics come from their innovative surface coating and its durability. IOLs continue to be the one growing market in the industry.
Certainly the driver for continued success has been its R & D’s continued push for new lens characteristics whether it be new tints and UV coatings, improved wettability and strength and improved handling or better coatings.
Without the ability to define and check these characteristics contact lens manufacturers would not be able to successfully position their products in the global market place.
But Contamac does not see its responsibilities stopping at the manufacture for the button.
Its tech department uses a range of commonly used contact lens manufacturing machinery to make test lenses that their customers intend to make. Making sure that they can provide crucial information to their customers on the best ways to create the final end product.
The tech services department has 2 main roles, analysis and quality. Testing materials made at Contamac and also testing new materials made by the R & D department.
Here we find a replica contact lens laboratory with all the machinery that is used in all Contamac customer facilities.
Contamac now makes approximately 200 different variants of materials. Everything that is made at Contamac is tested by Contamac even when they are making buttons on contract from others.
Testing depends on the material. For soft lenses looking at how they swell on hydration after making a typical Rx lens in the market place is key. With the six hundred plus customers Contamac supply to, they obviously all make slightly different variants in design, so the best way to test is to make a -1.00 DS lens of known size and thickness and measure pre and post hydration.
Contamac are looking for constant reproducibility and this has been proved amazingly consistent particularly with the modern day polymers Contamac make. Contamac work to far tighter tolerances than even their customers work to, in measurement and design.
For example, the silicone hydrogel button "Definitive", for which they have now produced over 1 million to the market, has radii parameters measured between 8.7 to 8.68, 2/100th mm.
Tolerances are 0.2 mm in comparison in manufacturing. “So our customers,” said Gareth Brown, “want predictability and the long process of lens manufacturing needs the knowledge of how the material will react on hydration over 24 hours from manufacture to wear.
Hydration is an important part of the process to release any redundant unreacted monomers from hydrophilic materials, ready then to autoclave and put in fresh saline.
An interesting feature of GP lens production is that its surface takes time to wet. Some of the older materials can change over a week but Contamac have built into their "Optimum" materials the ability to wet within a 24-hour period. The wetting angle will always improve the longer it hydrates improving comfort.
As with lens material identification, lens manufacturing advice is available to its very large family of customers.
Contamac have positioned themselves as a provider of buttons to the industry and have no interest in entering the manufacturing market of either contact lenses or IOLs.
They have a unique position in the industry of supporting all their clients even handedly. May be that ethos stems from the days in the “shed” but more so the continuity of the company ethos through its family ownership.
John, Robert and Robbie promote this family ethos throughout the entire staff and the sense of community amongst its workers is a tribute to them.
In 2012 Contamac was awarded their first Queens award for trade and export demonstrating a significant and continual increase in export sales over 7 years. They have repeated that excess this time in Innovation, highlighting the world success of the silicon hydrogel “Definitive” lens material.
They are not stopping here, given there is one more category of the award, "Sustainability", and yes watch this space in 5 years’ time!
We ended our tour in discussion with John and Robert McGregor (MD) and Phillip Polonyi (Sales and Marketing Director) over a coffee.
We all agreed that the contact lens specialist fitters are gradually understanding more about lens materials used by their contact lens manufacturer and whereas until now decisions on lens selection have been based on lens design more professionals are beginning to understand the importance of good polymer technology and beginning to select lenses with known material characteristics.
This adds support to the Contamac company strategy in the services it provides to its customers provided added value which filtrates down to the end supplier and more importantly the end user.
I would recommend practitioners and LOCs considering taking a tour around this facility. Like most things in contact lenses it’s an eye opener.
Contamac has informed us since our visit that they are always delighted to welcome visitors as individuals and groups to tour the facility and are always pleased to make presentations specific to their interest and role in the optics industry and are also happy to make their meeting facilities available to groups.
Bob Hutchinson Editor of PHN Opchat News was invited for a solo tour of the Contamac facility.
Lipreading Practice by Gloria McGregor our Profile Page for April/May
“Some changes you can prepare for but sudden and progressive hearing loss can and was for me be life changing” so says Gloria Macgregor. “But never give up.”
My passion for teaching.
As a class teacher, I really loved my job. It was so satisfying to see children of all abilities making progress but just as importantly becoming so involved in their work and wanting to do it. I have worked in Education since qualifying as a primary school teacher in 1965. My career included teaching through the age range from nursery to primary aged children and later older children and adults
In 1974, although I had three small children and had just returned to teaching, I began to study with the Open University. I completed the first year of my course then had a year off. After that I did two more years to gain my BA Education degree. The coursework was terrific and I learned to love education and teaching.
While I was working at in an infant’s school I went to Brentwood College every day for two terms to study maths. It was inspirational. Everything seemed to click and I found that I could teach what needed to be taught and teach it through things that interested the children.
I became a Deputy Head 1979 and after three years became a Head of a Junior School. I also did a two term science course at Homerton College in Cambridge every Saturday. This too was interesting and useful. We did some wonderful work in school as a result of this course.
Catastrophe for me struck when in the early 1980’s I realised I couldn’t hear so well. Following a Hearing test I was given some rehabilitation to help me to recognise what I was hearing and eventually two NHS hearing Aids.
Sadly for me they were useless. I still couldn’t hear the high frequency sounds but the lower tones were like thunder. As you can imagine working with primary children and with mostly female staff this was quite a drawback.
I didn’t realise it but I had a profound hearing loss. I always found it so frustrating that no matter how hard I tried I just couldn’t hear what the children said.
I had bought private hearing aids in an effort to improve my hearing but unfortunately although they were much better I still couldn’t hear well enough to work in the classroom or to hear what was being said in meetings.
Through the 1980’s and 1990’s I struggled and although I was good at my job I felt that my poor hearing was a drain on me and the school. In those days I didn’t tell anyone too much about my hearing. I took my own phone into school and tried as many strategies as I could to cope with my role. I was always tired and had begun to dread large groups and socialising.
Education! Education! Education!
I had really enjoyed doing the Open University and it had revolutionised my teaching.
My school had many children with specific learning needs so I thought I had better find out about the working of the new Education Act.
This I did with the Open University and when I had finished I realised that if I did one more year I could gain an Advanced Diploma in Special Education so I took another course on modifying the curriculum.
It was brilliant and so relevant to the children I was working with. I spent time working with the children and also working with the teachers. I went on to complete my MA focussing on modifying the curriculum to meet those with special needs. I also took a course to qualify me as a teacher assessor of those with dyslexia.
Again I told no-one about my hearing loss and I remember my tutor saying that she found it difficult to assess me as I didn’t speak at the group meetings. The reason was I couldn’t hear what was being said and didn’t want to risk making a fool of myself.
I still achieved 99% for one part of my research. At this time I was asked to be an advisory headteacher on a year’s secondment.
My role was to support monitor and assess the work of 70+ newly qualified teachers. It was a wonderful job. I had the privilege of going into many schools, of working alongside the young teachers and also putting on courses for them and arranging visits to other schools for them. I still have the box of children’s work that I took with me as samples.
As headteacher of junior schools and as a primary adviser I found great excitement and satisfaction in developing children’s and teacher’s skills, knowledge and expertise. I had great aspirations to become an advisor but it was not to be – my hearing was just not good enough.
By 1995 my hearing was so bad that I couldn’t hear the children or the staff so I thought I should take early retirement. I was 51years old. I thought that I would never teach again but how wrong can you be!!
At first after leaving my work which had filled every minute of the day
I was lost and I realised that I had no confidence at all to go out and do things. Finally I decided I should do something I was good at so I worked one to one with children who needed extra tuition, either preparing for private schools exams or because they had specific needs.
Then I worked part time at a Private school in the learning support department and sadly because of the death of my colleague I ran the department until someone could be appointed.
Help is at hand
When I stopped working there in 2001, I began to go to lipreading classes and eventually went to an advanced class.
This was the best thing that I have ever done!!!
It was a lifeline for me. My husband has a large company and we entertain widely including people from all over the world.
The large functions used to fill me with terror – the thought of trying to listen to what people were saying, to try to make sense of what I was hearing and to try to make intelligent conversation really had me quaking in my shoes and I could often be found in my hotel room trying to pluck up the courage to go down and face this “ordeal”.
The lipreading classes gave me strategies to deal with some of the situations and enabled me to read some of the conversation so that I didn’t look like a complete idiot.
Most of all being with others in similar situations gave me confidence and I began to tell people that I couldn’t hear very well.
This was a major step forward. I even had the courage to become a Trustee of the British Tinnitus Association.
My lipreading teacher had to retire through ill health in 2004 and there was no one to teach the class.
Eventually I decided that I would try to get on to a lipreading tutors’ course. There wasn’t another course for 2 years and the course was nearly two years long so that would mean four years before I could start - if I found a job.
I was over 60 already. I wrote to Essex Education to see if there was another course I could do.
After an interview I was asked to teach straight away – no course.
I taught one group, then, added another in Suffolk and then three more classes in Suffolk. When I retired aged 65 I continued to run two local lipreading support groups. I have 30 members.
Whilst working in the primary schools I had been studying for a PhD but had found it too tiring and time consuming at the time.
I now thought that as I had more time I would perhaps try again but this time looking at how people learn to lipread.
Again I wrote to the Open University but was told that there was no facility for this but to do the research anyway.
I thought about it but decided that it would probably be more use to people if I tried to make a CD to help them to practise lipreading at home. I tried to make the videos myself using my camcorder and put in subtitles with some free downloaded software.
A friend (one of my lipreaders) helped me to correlate it all and I produced a CD BUT when I changed my computer I couldn’t open my CD!!!
Back to the drawing board. At this point my husband stepped in and said, why not produce a website?
I was very nervous but I gave it a go. This time with professional help it was accessible to all computers and later even to iPads and iPhones.
I produced the website in three stages. In March 2013, very nervously, I allowed my website – www.lipreadingpractice.co.uk -to become live.
By May 2013 it was page 1 of Google. It only had the consonant sounds videos at this stage. The National Association of Deafened People had found my website and was promoting it for Deaf Awareness week. Amazing!
Next, part one of the vowel sounds were added and in January 2014 the final group of sounds were added. I have never advertised my website and I have been staggered by its success and the fact that it is being used worldwide by people unable to go to a class, by people wanting to reinforce their lessons and by professionals as an aid to their lipreading programmes.
I am continuing to add to and update it and have now included a section on deaf awareness for hearing people
My voluntary work has taken me to China to speak to 2000 University students and my speech is being used as an inspirational/motivational video. I had the honour to be made a Visiting Professor in recognition of my achievements and outstanding contribution.
I am on Essex County Committees to try to help make life better for those with hearing loss.
I am a Liveryman of the Worshipful Company of Educators and a Freeman of the City of London.
Recently I co-operated with Action on Hearing Loss on a project to produce a support package for hard of hearing people who are either in work or returning to work. Some of my video material has been used as part of the package.
- to continue to update and modify my website and to find an effective way of teaching lipreading using a combination of face to face teaching and the internet – who knows what the future will hold?
But it is very exciting and although there are still times when I cannot hear very well, there are many times when I can take part in conversations thanks to technology and my lipreading skills.
Because of my hearing loss I have found other ways to use my skills.
Never give up there will always be something that you can do but you have to look for it.
A company profile on Blackfin, Italian Frame manufacturers, through and through.
Blackfin presents a new communications campaign via You tube dedicated to the authentic Made-in-Italy
NEOMADEINITALY: THE VIDEO
Some things in life may be chosen. Others however, may not says Blackfin
They just happen to you, they are yours and they will stay yours forever. Just like your origins, that you can be proud of.
This is how it is for Blackfin, the Belluno-based makers of titanium eyewear. Because of this they have decided to tell the story of their own origins and their pride in what the authentic Made-in-Italy is all about in a video showing the people and places we so value.
These even come before the eyewear since, without all of them, there could be no Blackfin.
There couldn’t be a made in Italy without Italy.
The moment you turn your back on all the wonders of this land,
you abandon a unique, inimitable way of working.
This is why we will never leave these mountains,
the fragrant centuries-old woods, the murmur of Alpine streams,
and that special silence that falls with the snow.
Because living in delightful surroundings with a marvellous quality of life
has taught us to transfer all those riches into what we are doing,
and never to accept second best.
After last year’s photographic campaign reported on PHN featuring portraits of the people who every day who put so much passion into creating this eyewear, Blackfin are now presenting Neomadeinitaly_the video which pays homage to what it really means to be Italian.
This is more than just a tale of titanium and eyewear, it is above all a story built on commitment and care, on people and their smiling faces, a moving story of emotions and landscape, of challenges and uncompromising courage.
There are no shortcuts to making the best titanium eyewear.
You can’t have them made abroad, maybe even by someone you don’t know.
What’s needed is people who have faith in you, and who you too can trust.
People with excellent taste and a sense of the aesthetic,
combined with unrivalled technical skills.
A piece of Blackfin eyewear starts off life as a concept which is then transformed into a prototype and finally a finished product; 53 macro-phases that many would just call the production process.
But for Blackfin this is akin to a ritual, giving shape to a pair of spectacles entirely conceived, designed and produced in Italy, using a unique working method, driven by the passion of people who genuinely believe in what they are doing.
All this takes place in a very special place, with a stunning view, admired the world over. As the images glide through the video a voice-over relates this deeply personal story, creating an emotional tension and giving the scenes their own rhythm, culminating in a glorious shot of the Dolomites, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the birth place of Blackfin.
Here is where Blackfin eyewear is produced, this is where the inspiration for something beautiful and authentic comes from, something that reflects the quality of a life lived with respect for the environment, people and oneself.
We need people who know the value of a job well done,
and who are proud to roll up their sleeves to do precisely that.
People we can look straight in the eye, and whose hand we can shake as a gesture of thanks.
While others may set up workshops in far off lands, we have everything we need right here.
“We conceive, design and manufacture our Blackfin eyewear entirely in Italy” – states Nicola Del Din, CEO of Pramaor – “and we want everyone to understand fully what this means for us.
Unfortunately the term Made-in-Italy has rather lost its true meaning. This is a pity because products that are authentically Italian have an inestimable intrinsic value, in terms of quality, style and significance. It is possible to produce goods successfully in Italy. We are doing it and will continue to do it”.
There are a great many Italian companies, but only a few remain whose products are entirely made in Italy. Pramaor started out life in 1971 in Agordo (Belluno) and this is precisely where it still is. And this is how it will be tomorrow, together with those people who, day after day, put their hands, mind and heart into producing Blackfin eyewear.
“If you live in a special place, you can never do something ordinary. This is the authentic Made-in-Italy ethos. We may open up to the world, study the latest trends and explore new markets yet our origin is still here, this is our strength. It’s not enough for us just to make exceptional titanium eyewear, we aim to do this with the utmost respect for those who work with us and the environment in which we work. This is why, rather than just made-in-Italy, we speak of neomadeinitaly” – Nicola Del Din, CEO of Pramaor.
Video on You Tube
Never been to Belluno in the Dolomites? Plan now it is a beautiful area especially in the Spring and Autumn.
Let’s make wearing specs fun says Stephanie Collier, the founder of Blinx.
Accessorise in the BLINX of an eye!
The charms are the brainchild of Stephanie Collier, a stay-at-home-mother who struck upon the concept 18 months ago.
Having worn glasses from an early age, Stephanie was no stranger to the common dilemma of choosing spectacles,
“If you wear glasses day to day, choosing frames can be difficult unless you have a enough money to buy several pairs.
Glasses not only form part of your visual appearance but also tend to be associated with your personality too, so it can be tricky to find just one or two pairs that encapsulate all of your styles and moods as well as match all of your clothes! It occurred to me that it must be even harder for children, who love to express themselves through the things they wear. I thought it would be great to design a product that would allow children to mix, match and customise their glasses to match their clothes or just to express their interests.”
Stephanie launched the initial range of twenty designs last summer and his since launched a second range. “The response has been fantastic!”, she explains, “We have the product in over 40 stores nationwide, and are looking to expand further over the coming year.”
The concept earned Stephanie a place as a finalist in the Mumpreneur UK 2014 business awards, and more recently as a winner of Theo Paphitis’ SBS Twitter competition.
“It’s great to be recognised for launching Blinx, but the real joy is in seeing children out and about wearing a product that I have created!”, said Stephanie.
The Babyworld magazine review panel awarded Blinx 5 star status, showing that parents and children alike love Blinx!
There are twenty designs in the current Blinx range, available at optical stockists nationwide or directly, they can be worn individually, as matching pairs, or mixed together to create a unique and colourful look.
Retailing at just £1.99 the charms provide an affordable way to accessorise.
Blinx products can be seen at 100% Optical this February on Stand 26
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