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These Machines Let Boutiques Create Bespoke Frames Right Inside the Optical

Luca Mariotti’s EYEFRAME system lets the optical owner exist totally independently from big frame makers.

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OTTICA MORI, AN optical and optometric practice in Pisa, Italy, recently ventured into producing its own frames on-site. That’s a serious step for any owner, but Luca Mariotti went one step further, building his own “desktop factory” — a small-scale frame manufacturing system designed to fit in an optical shop. Ottica Mori now uses Mariotti’s EyeFrame System to produce its own line of frames, Mocchialeria.

THE IDEA

One day, as Mariotti was working on his hobby-grade CNC router, his daughter Chiara asked him if he could use it to make a frame from a blank of cellulose acetate. The results were disappointing. But the experiment sparked a chain of events that would transform Ottica Mori’s business. “We started to evaluate the true potential of self-produced frames. It only took a short time to realize that the earnings could be very interesting .” Mariotti invested in a professional grade router. But what he really wanted — a machine small enough to fit inside an optical but with the capacity to produce quality frames from an array of materials — didn’t appear to exist.

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Mariotti hooked up with a manufacturer who agreed to custom build a machine, but the partnership was a disappointment; he didn’t get along with the company and the result was “a steel monster” too large to be used in the shop.

THE EXECUTION

Mariotti, who has a background in machine design, took matters into his own hands and now produces his own “EyeFrame System” CNC routers for opticians. Small enough to fit in an optical, they can machine acetate, plastic, wood, buffalo horn, aluminum, alpaca, brass copper, silver, gold and other non-ferrous metals.

Using the system, Ottica Mori gets about seven to 10 custom frame orders a day. Mariotti starts with an analysis of the customer’s corrective needs, then takes measurements of their face and head. “Then we suggest possible solutions, often making drawings and involving the people in the process. With a set of cellulose acetate samples we choose the color and then we start to make the CAD drawings,” he says, referring to the software system that produces the final frame design.

Tracers are used to order lenses from a manufacturer, which are placed in the frames before final adjustments are made. “The tracer is also used to calculate the thickness of the lens prior to drawing the frame using a special tool we developed. Due to the fact that it is a custom frame, all the limitations we usually find are eliminated,” says Mariotti.

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THE REWARDS

Mariotti invested about $110,000 to develop the EyeFrame System and has produced four so far. It is aimed “mainly at opticians but we have raised the interest of industry too.” He is selling the system directly in Italy and looking for foreign distributors.

The practice’s custom eyewear business and small-series frame lines are also growing rapidly, and Ottica Mori now sells several M occhialeria frames a day, in addition to the custom orders.

“Our goal is to became a single line shop in two years,” says Mariotti. “People want a well-made frame, [and] the assurance that they can find spare parts in the future … Obviously the capability to have custom-design frames has led to some strange requests, but usually people want quality.”

On a personal level, he says, “It is the most important project in my life and it is very rewarding. I am proud of it. It is a family project and I am very happy to work with my sons. At the age of 56 this project is changing my life.”

After years covering some of the farther flung corners of the world of business journalism, Heath has more recently focused on covering the efforts of independent eyecare professionals to negotiate a fast-changing industry landscape. Contact him at [email protected]

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