Anybody who has ever worn glasses knows the struggle when your new specs don’t quite fit correctly - the bridge is too tight, the frame is too wide, they fall off your face, etc. That’s why Randy Barnett created Indivijual Eyewear, a company that custom produces eyeglasses for the 80 percent of us that just don’t fit into bulk-design frames.
Indivijual Eyewear uses a Tormach PCNC 770 to create a custom-made line of eyeglasses for an ever-growing clientele. “Our production is prototyping - we do one-off, custom frames, whereas most eyeglass companies spend a lot of time designing and prototyping, then once they’ve got that nailed down, they turn the machine on and do 10,000 copies.
We don’t have that luxury,” Randy explains. “We’ve got to get it right the first time. Essentially, every frame we make is a prototype.” Sixty percent of Indivijual Eyewear’s customer-base is what he defines as hard-to-fit folks. “They either have a great big head or they are tiny and have been buying children’s frames - even broken noses.” In fact, having to find glasses that fit with a broken nose is what got Randy started in the eyeglasses business to begin with. “We’ve developed a simple technology in which we create a nose mold of our clients’ nose, and once we’ve got that, we use the PCNC 770 to carve the nose pads on the plastic frame. So, our fit is very precise and much more comfortable than people are accustomed to.”
Randy’s business started out seven years ago. About two years after its inception, the company had progressed to the point where they were ready to make frames for the public. “In advance of that, we had to research small CNC mills that were on the market. My consulting engineer recommended Tormach,” he explains. “But at that point there was something like an 8-month waiting list. When you’re in start-up mode on a new business, the very thought of losing eight months just wasn’t doable, so we went with a mill that came out of California.” This standard mill worked for the company’s initial purposes and lower quantities, but over time Randy realized that it wasn’t as high-quality as they would need to continue, nor robust enough to keep up with a growing volume.“The old mill wasn’t worn out, but it was frustrating because it had a proprietary design - if something broke, we had to go back to the guy that sold us the mill, and sometimes there were parts available and sometimes there weren’t.”
Indivijual Eyewear invested in a Tormach because they liked the design philosophy of the machine. “We just liked the whole concept of the Tormach - they stressed in the development of the machine that they wanted to use off-the-shelf, readily available parts and technologies. Not only that, but just the overall quality of the machine and the way it runs and the capabilities of it.”
The company uses a cellulose-acetate plastic from Italy, which the finest optical plastic made, for their eyewear. Using such an exotic material, and the fact that there wasn’t a company in the U.S. for Randy to model after, made getting off the ground a challenge. “We didn’t know what speeds we should be cutting the plastic - we wound up figuring it all out by ourselves. As we figured out over time, we could get a better finish if we had a faster machine. Once we got the Tormach, we began to experiment with much higher speeds and it not only improved our productivity, but it also improved our quality.”
The custom eyeglass industry is highly competitive, and there are only three companies in the world that make custom frames. “We’re the only one that does this degree of customization, where we’re actually taking a mold of the client’s nose.” Randy explains that the staff is uniquely specialized, “We’ve got everything from college art professors to computer programmers. When people ask about how many full-time equivalents we have, I have to think about it for a good long while because we have so many heads, but most of them are only working part-time.”
Randy and Indivijual Eyewear are always hoping to reach a wider customer-base and upscale the business. “The important thing is that we have to eliminate as many errors as possible because we are one-off. If we make a mistake on the mill or the mill is sloppy, you have to start all over again. That’s why we got a Tormach.”