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CooperVision Leads The Charge For Healthier Contact Lenses And A Healthier Planet

CooperVision makes contact lenses.

That’s a simple statement, but it masks an enormous amount of complexity most people just don’t think about. We take so much about contact lenses for granted: their safety, their availability, the many different varieties that have been added over the years, and so on.

CooperVision has been a driving force behind all those aspects of the nearly $12 billion global contact lens market. They’ve taken the numerous difficulties involved in manufacturing contact lenses - which, after all, are regulated medical devices, every little tiny one - and made them into strengths.

While the CooperVision name dates back to 1980, it’s now one of two independent business units (the other being CooperSurgical) comprising The Cooper Companies, Inc. That firm, which was founded in 1958 and is now a publicly-traded (NYSE: COO) global medical device company, is headquartered in Pleasanton, California, employs over 12,000 people, and sells to over 100 countries across the world.

CooperVision has attacked the challenges by building deep technical expertise and by instituting a manufacturing continuous improvement (CI) culture that’s aligned around the quality systems that deliver their products. “We consider ourselves different from our competitors in three ways,” said Rolando Torres, CooperVision’s Executive Vice President of Global Manufacturing. “Those are our customer focus, our world class manufacturing, and the culture of our company.” Those elements come together seamlessly across the business.

Product offerings and quality are central elements of CooperVision’s customer focus. “Our product portfolio is unmatched in the marketplace,” said Torres. “We offer a whole range of options that enable eye care professionals to fit more people in contact lenses than ever before.” The launch of CooperVision clariti 1 day lenses is a case in point in giving consumers what they’re looking for. One-day contact lenses were previously made primarily from a hydrogel material. If wearers wanted to pay a premium, they could purchase one-day contact lenses in silicone hydrogel, an advanced material that allows more oxygen to permeate the lens, making them more comfortable and less prone to adverse eye health effects. Through innovation in manufacturing, CooperVision was able to offer silicone hydrogel one-day lenses at an affordable price point - similar to the cost of hydrogel one-day lenses - to make them accessible to more contact lens wearers. And the company wasn’t satisfied with launching just one option for the new lens. They launched a full family, including spherical, toric and multifocal, in the time it normally takes to launch just one lens type. “The single biggest breakthrough with clariti 1 day was the rollout of a full family,” explained Steve Diamanti, CooperVision’s Senior Manager of Technical Marketing. “From the very beginning, we had a design for all customers.” The clariti 1 day remains the only full one-day silicone hydrogel lens family on the market. “Demand for one-day lenses is continuing to rise,” Torres said. “They’re healthier, more comfortable, and more convenient.”

Advances such as clariti 1 day have required ever-more-complex manufacturing operations. “Contact lenses are one of the world’s greatest innovations,” explained Torres. “They started out in the 1800s, made of wax. They’re very sophisticated today; the lens manufacturing utilizes precise technology, unique processes, and sophisticated polymers that result in a medical device that is only 50 to 70 microns thick - the same thickness as a human hair. CooperVision uses leading-edge manufacturing technology and best-in-class quality management systems in an effort to produce a product that exceeds customer expectations.”

In addition to advanced production technology, the company invests heavily in their operational excellence program, which is the cornerstone of their continuous improvement efforts. “We promote an environment of continuous improvement by providing our technical teams and subject matter experts with training and tools to optimize processes and product quality, enhancing the value to our customers,” said Torres. “Working together, they apply daily process improvement through root cause analysis and defect elimination. It’s all about that customer focus.”

The underpinning of all of this is the company culture. “Our organizational culture is heavily influenced by our company values - a strong culture of respect, and recognizing that our strengths come from our people, our employees,” Torres said. “We work constantly to attract, develop, and empower the best talent. We believe that having the right people in the right place with the right mindset creates extraordinary opportunities and breakthroughs.”

Part of that talent development included building a strong team of technical experts over the years. This was achieved both by developing deep expertise internally, with existing team members, and by “buying” expertise - that is, gaining technical experts as part of company acquisitions. “I love cooking shows, and there’s a quote from Anthony Bourdain I keep in mind when it comes to our people: ‘It is better to have ordinary ingredients in the hands of an excellent chef than excellent ingredients in the hands of an ordinary chef,’” said Diamanti. In addition to building strong internal expertise, the company builds strong partnerships with external experts as well, including eye care professionals and manufacturing equipment manufacturers.

Another element of the company’s culture is sustainability. “Our sustainability programs are aimed at preserving and protecting the planet, and ensuring the well-being of our employees and their communities,” Torres said. “That includes efforts to save water, to conserve energy, to reduce, re-use and recycle, and to empower people around those principles. For us, a good planet is good business.” Torres speaks with pride about the company’s new manufacturing facility in Alajuela, Costa Rica, a state-of-the-art, LEED Silver certified plant 100% dedicated to the production of CooperVision clariti 1 day lenses.

Looking to the future, CooperVision sees opportunities for further growth with evolving customer needs. “People might not realize it, but the way we treat our eyes today is a lot harsher than 15 years ago, with so much ‘screen time,’” said Diamanti. “Contact lenses have to keep up - to address eye stress, dryness from less blinking, and shifting focus between up close and far away. These particular trends were what led to the launch of our Biofinity Energys contact lenses. As we continue to develop new contact lenses, these changing demands on the eye are what we have to keep in mind.”

Torres echoed those thoughts. “Our future is bright as we continue to work closely with our customers and their evolving needs,” he said. “We need to remain flexible. CooperVision has been growing faster than the market for the past several years, and we’re focused on continuing to be the best.”

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