$219 dollars and up might seem like a lot to pay for a pair of sunglasses. But in an unassuming industrial building in Randolph, high-quality “RE”-insignia sunglasses are produced in an exacting assembly line that includes 200 different processes. Randolph Engineering’s iconic aviator sunglasses – seen in movies and TV shows such as Good Kill and Mad Man – are based on its standard-issue military spectacles produced for the Air Force, a longtime patron. Manufacturing manager Marcin Szymanski is introducing lean production methods but keeping the longtime skilled workforce who hand-solder the frames and operate machines that mold wire into various frame shapes. Globe correspondent Cindy Atoji Keene spoke with Szymanski about producing 31,000 sunglasses a month, including two new frames just introduced with finishes like 23k chocolate gold and rhodium.
“When you look at a pair of sunglasses, it’s hard to believe the operations that go into making it. For the next two weeks, this plant will be making 7,000 units of aviators and a similar style, Concorde, some of which will go to the military – those will be plated in the usual matte chrome. The way these two frames are built involve similar processes and materials, including the same inset hinges, screws and bridges, but different wires and eye shapes. Our facility has come a long way – we use a lot more CNC equipment for milling and drilling – but many of our custom machinery harkens back to the company’s tool-and-die roots, with specialized manufacturing methods dating back to its inception four decades ago. There are 36 employees out on the floor, half of whom have been with Randolph for over 20 years. It used to be that we would get most of our sales in the summer so we’d work overtime try to get frames out the door, but now we’re trying to level out the schedule and build the same amount no matter what the season. It’s my goal to also try to decrease the inventory we are sitting on and speed up production times, making smaller batches faster. Manufacturing sunglasses in the U.S. is practically dead – it’s hard to find companies that make specific tooling or components for this industry, so I try to reach out to partners in Italy and take a trip to see what’s going on over there and recreate that process here. We are proud that Randolph sunglasses are made in America. I myself wear Concorde in bright chrome with gray lenses; it’s the only pair I have, but my fiancee makes up for that – she has about 10 pairs of Randolph glasses.”