Prototype Optics in One Week

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20 Years of Innovation – SPIE Professional

January 15, 2013

Optimax was founded 21 August 1991 by four guys who believed computer controlled machining of brittle materials (glass) could create superior optical component manufacturing. Optimax was one of the first optics companies to adopt this breakthrough technology, setting a precedent for collaboration, experimentation, learning, and innovation.

Kevin Bartlett, Bob Bechtold, Mike Bechtold, and Doug Story started Optimax by moonlighting while working full-time jobs elsewhere. A few months later, Mike Mandina joined the team, bringing his optics manufacturing know-how and management experience. The four original founders eventually left the company for various reasons, but Kevin later returned to Optimax and is currently employed as a master optician. Rick Plympton signed on in 1995 to provide marketing and sales leadership.

Our company is a precision optics manufacturer that started with antiquated equipment for making spherical and plano optics in the basement of a pig barn outside Rochester, NY. In 1998, we built a factory for versatility and speed and grew from a small team of opticians struggling to make weekly payroll into one of the largest independent optics manufacturers in the USA.

We have grown for 20 years by recognizing emerging market opportunities, developing innovative manufacturing and metrology technologies, creating a workforce culture of continuous learning and improvement, and providing profit-sharing rewards to our workforce.

Recognizing opportunities

From the beginning, we recognized a need for quick delivery service of custom optics. In 1993, typical delivery for a precision lens was about 10 weeks, so we purchased an OPTICAM machine (the third in existence, behind Kodak and Texas Instruments), a prototype multiple-axis brittle material machine center for lens fabrication. With it, we developed a process to manufacture lenses much quicker. By the summer of 1995, Optimax could process raw material into a precision lens within a few hours. Our expedited delivery services enabled companies to fulfill product demonstration commitments, such as for trade shows, and in 1998 we built and shipped a set of imaging lenses for a NASA
shuttle launch in just five days.

Making the lenses to customer specification is paramount — you don’t get a second chance to repair optics launched into outer space, Hubble excluded. We have developed optics manufacturing processes for deep ultraviolet (DUV) applications, high energy lasers (HEL), and multispectral systems that span from the visible to mid-infrared.

In the mid-1990s, advancements in computing technology enabled powerful new optical design software programs, such as CODE V, Beam
IV, OSLO Light, Zemax, and Kidger, and we recognized another market opportunity. In contrast to the traditional model of a vertically integrated company with optical design and fab under one roof, the new design software empowered independent optical engineers. This,
in turn, created a demand for an independent optics manufacturer.

At the same time, the Internet helped transform the optics industry from a cottage industry with small regional manufacturers to a national and global marketplace. With the technology to provide small-volume, high-quality optics quickly in a global market, the manufacture of prototype
optics became Optimax’s niche.

High demand for quick delivery of prototype optics and interest in the Optimax Manufacturing Tolerance Chart caused our company to grow from 20 to 100 employees by the late 1990s.

We began making cylindrical and aspheric optics and also experimented with unconventional surface-processing ideas like spirograph motion,
ultrasonic, and belt lapping. In 2005, Optimax patented VIBE polishing for high-speed removal of optical material and fi ne fi nishing of highprecision optical surfaces. With VIBE processing, we can produce non-spherical optics from hardceramic optical materials in one tenth the time of conventional processes.

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