Alcon - CIT

CAPPA helps Alcon to key a sharp eye on its manufacturing process

Alcon is the world’s largest ophthalmic company. Its facility in Cork, one of 24 plants worldwide, manufactures the company’s leading surgical product. This an intraocular lens (IOL) used to replace the natural lens in cataract surgery. The company has approximately 50% of this market worldwide.

The initial stages of IOL manufacturing have direct impact on the optical performance and quality of the finished lenses. However these characteristics cannot be measured until end of line, resulting in wasted effort for rejected lenses. Alcon Laboratories Ireland was keen to develop an automated technology that would allow it to identify potential failures at an early stage in the manufacturing process.

To do this Alcon sought the help of the Centre for Advanced Photonics & Process Analysis (CAPPA), the research centre based at Cork Institute of Technology (CIT). The project, co-funded by Alcon and Enterprise Ireland through an Innovation Partnership, resulted in the development of an advanced optical inspection system to improve the manufacture and production line testing.

The system delivered passed initial testing but additional work was required to make the software interface more robust and suitable for a production environment. This has been completed and the system is now ready for full validation. The technology is licensed to Alcon and the intention is to use this in other Alcon facilities at sister plants in the US.

This project, which was Alcon’s first R&D collaboration outside the US, offers direct benefits in terms of yield, quality, throughput, resourcing and process knowledge. It has also raised the profile of the Irish facility within the group.

The success of this project reflects the focus of CAPPA, says its Applied Research Manager, Dr Eamonn O'Neill. Launched in 2008 with start-up funding from Enterprise Ireland’s Applied Research Enhancement programme, CAPPA employs 19 full-time researchers and six postgraduate researchers. Its twin aims are to enable regional development by introducing innovative technological solutions through collaboration with industrial partners and to develop the next generation of technology platforms for the benefit of Irish based industry through a dedicated applied research strategy.

In addition to this particular IOL project, CAPPA provides Alcon with a number of routine support services on a regular basis, making it a valued service provider to the company, points out Mr Barry Walsh, Engineering Section Manager for R&D at Alcon Laboratories Ireland. Josette O'Mullane, Industry Liaison Manager at CIT, says that there are many ways of broadening and deepening relationships between industry and academia. "For us one key metric is repeat business. We did a good job and we are getting repeat business as a result."

Publish date: 2014