The process for making contact lenses is actually pretty similar to making other things out of plastic. The raw materials go into a two-piece mold. When the mold is separated, out pops a contact lens.
Of course, each mold is small and unimaginably exact to fit the specifications of each prescription.
Out at the Johnson & Johnson Vision Care plant on the Southside, the contact lenses roll out by the thousands every day. A total of 4 billion Acuvue lenses, the world’s best-selling brand, are made each year at company’s plants in Jacksonville and Ireland, according to spokeswoman Leyla Goodsell.
The company brings in plastics, petroleum-based polymers and monomers, natural products and silicones from vendors all over the world. The materials go through long lines of machines and processes, all highly automated, before they come out as contact lenses to be shipped to 112 countries.
The company’s roots go back to Buffalo, N.Y., where Frontier Contact Lenses was formed in 1959. It built a plant in Jacksonville in the 1970s. Johnson & Johnson bought it in 1981 and renamed it Vistakon. It was a division of Johnson & Johnson Vision Care, and a few years ago the company dropped the Vistakon name.
The company has about 4,000 employees, and half of them are in Jacksonville, Goodsell said.
Last year, Johnson & Johnson announced a $300 million expansion that would add 100 new employees with an average salary of $60,000.
Work began last year and a new solvent tank farm is operating. Four new manufacturing lines are being built.
It all should be finished and the new employees hired by the end of next year.
Roger Bull: (904) 359-4296
JOHNSON & JOHNSON VISION CARE
Location: Centurion Parkway off Southside Boulevard
Founded: 1959 as Frontier Contact Lenses
Product: 4 billion contact lenses a year between this plant and one in Ireland
Employees: About 2,000