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In Optimax, Mandina and Plympton formed a winning team

optimax2Optimax Systems Inc. President Michael Mandina and CEO Rick Plympton lead the nation’s largest prototype optics manufacturer.

They supply precision optical components, such as semi-conductors, aerospace, and medical instruments for the military and industry in the United States and overseas.

Optimax focuses on small volume, high-quality jobs with quick delivery. Their projects include parts for the Mars Rover Mission and the Mercury Messenger project for NASA.

Mandina at first studied philosophy and psychology at St. John Fisher College, but an interest in math drew him to the field of optics. He transferred to Monroe Community College where he received an associate’s degree in optics technology in 1975.

While still a student at MCC, Mandina started working at Ilex Optical Co. as a process engineer.

In 1976, Mandina and another Ilex engineer started Cormac Industries Inc. Six years later, Cormac was sold to Melles Griot Inc., which was based in California at the time.

Mandina became Melles Griot’s manufacturing manager, while pursuing a bachelor’s degree in applied physics at SUNY Empire State College, plus taking business and engineering classes at Rochester Institute of Technology.

Mandina received his Bachelor of Science degree in applied physics at Empire State College in 1984.

Also in 1984, after being promoted, first to operations manager, and then to general manager of Rochester operations at Melles Griot, Mandina hired Plympton, who was still a student at Finger Lakes Community College.

Plympton earned three associate’s degrees at FLCC — engineering science, business administration and computer science.

Plympton worked at Melles Griot from 1984 until 1995 at various locations around the world. While he worked at Melles Griot, Plympton earned a bachelor of science degree in optics from the University of Rochester in 1987. He later earned an MBA degree from UR’s Simon Graduate school of Business in 1999.

Mandina left his job at Melles Griot in 1990 and joined Optimax, which was a startup at the time, as a part owner and president, and the company’s first full-time employee.

Plympton returned to the Rochester area in 1995 and Mandina hired him at Optimax in 1996 to use his marketing and sales skills to help build the customer base.plympton-rick

Annual sales reached $3 million in 1997. By 2006, sales grew to $13 million and they had to turn down work because they couldn’t meet the demand. By 2013, sales reached about $15 million.

Optimax was one of the first companies to adopt a new technology for lens grinding and polishing developed at the University of Rochester Center for Optics Manufacturing.

Using computerized technology was a major departure from the traditional approach of having skilled artisans do the grinding and polishing.

In a continuous effort to stay on the forefront of innovation, Optimax has collaborated with five universities, including the University of Rochester and the University of Arizona. Mandina and Plympton track the latest research developments at the schools and apply it to their company to stay ahead of competition.

“The company originally pursued limited-run projects, but as we grow bigger and bigger, our marketing is still around small-volume, but we’re being approached to take on more production projects,” Plympton said.

While Plympton is regarded as the marketing and sales genius at Optimax, Mandina focuses on operations. His desk is on the shop floor alongside the employees he’s often coaching and mentoring.

The company located on Dean Parkway in Ontario, Wayne County, now employs about 300 workers and expects to add 59 more after doubling the size of the facility to 120,000 square feet by expanding into a building next door.

“This adds capacity for supporting projects that we prototype as well as adding the capability to expand on product offerings,” Plympton said.

“We hope for continued success and another expansion in the future,” he said.

Mandina and Plympton are aware that there are business opportunities for them in other places, such as Arizona and California, and even Europe.

“Having a presence there would be beneficial,” Mandina said.

“We’re just compelled to be here at this time because of the rich infrastructure going on because of incentives and the critical mass of resources that’s alive and prospering in the Rochester area right now. We get wonderful support from the local community colleges and universities” Mandina said.

[email protected] /(585) 232-2035



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