Today, there are estimated to be 125 million global wearers of contact lenses in a sector that was reportedly worth US$10.7 billion in 2017. The lens manufacturers, many of whom are based in Ireland, expect demand to continue rising, with the sector anticipated to be valued at USD$17.64 billion by the end of 2024.
Disposable lenses in particular are big business, with the soft lens segment share accounting for more than 80% of the overall market. Sumitomo (SHI) Demag is a major player in supplying the injection moulding machinery that produces the moulds that make these contact lenses. UK Managing Director of the company Nigel Flowers explains the process and the importance of precision and quality in lens moulding.
When was the first contact lens made?
It can be traced back to 1887 and German physiologist Adolf Flick. That lens was made of glass and was called a ‘scleral’ lens because it covered the scleral – the part of the eye that is white. Some years later, in 1912, optician Carl Zeiss developed another glass lens that fitted over the cornea. The first plastic lens (manufactured from plexiglass) is believed to be the work of two scientists, who created the scleral lens in 1938. The first plastic corneal lens arrived in 1948.
Among the issues, these lenses deprived the eye of oxygen and slipped out of the eye too easily. Over time, however, the diameter of the lenses reduced to improve wearability and, with the arrival of soft contact lenses (using hydrophilic gel), their popularity grew.