SCHNEIDER GmbH & Co. KG
The pioneer of freeform technology
“Fascination for Innovation” – the slogan clearly reflects SCHNEIDER's focus on inspiring customers worldwide by developing innovative technological solutions.
Founded in 1986 by Gunter Schneider, the family-owned SCHNEIDER GmbH & Co. KG is one of the world’s leading companies for the development and production of processing solutions for ophthalmics, precision optics, and ultra-precision optics. The company has more than 480 employees and is headquartered in Fronhausen, Germany. Each year, SCHNEIDER manufactures more than 500 machines in four different German production facilities. With an export ratio of 95% and subsidiaries in the US, Brazil, Thailand and China as well as local representatives SCHNEIDER is a truly global company.
In its early days, SCHNEIDER was actively driving the introduction of CNC technology to the precision optics industry. Today, that technology is an indispensable part of spherical and aspherical lens manufacturing and SCHNEIDER has become a main supplier of processing solutions. Optics for medical devices, microscopy, laser applications, vision and projection optics, lithography, and space applications are manufactured on SCHNEIDER machines.
It was in the ophthalmic industry, however, that the German company scored its big breakthrough in. In 1993, SCHNEIDER had the vision to manufacture individual lenses based on freely definable mathematical descriptions and introduced the first high-speed freeform cutting machine for surfacing 3D progressive lenses to the market in 1998. The innovation led to a paradigm change in the optical industry and SCHNEIDER is considered the pioneer of freeform technology ever since.
In 2012, the company once again changed the way lenses are produced with the introduction of the Modulo Line, a one-of-its-kind system solution for automated lens production. The highly integrated and interlinked system approach ultimately results in an unprecedented level of equipment utilization and significant time as well as cost savings. It is a proven real life example of what is known as industry 4.0.
In 2013, SCHNEIDER acquired optical equipment manufacturer Team Henrich & Krall, known for its expertise in cleaning solutions. In the same year, SCHNEIDER launched its very own coating division, run by experts in the field. Today, SCHNEIDER is a full-solution provider to the ophthalmic industry offering cutting edge solutions ranging from the small individual machine to most comprehensive fully-automated production lines to its international customers.
Building on its long-standing experience in freeform diamond turning, SCHNEIDER extended its operations to the nano range, developing machines for ultra-precise 3D-surfaces for head-up displays, augmented reality or head-mounted devices.
Most recently SCHNEIDER acquired W&L Coating Systems GmbH, specialized in extraordinary advanced vacuum based coating technologies and located in Reichelsheim, Germany.
With an average 8 to 10 new development projects a year, SCHNEIDER constantly puts a heavy focus on R&D and new technologies and continues to innovate. We strive to provide our customers with solutions that go beyond their current needs and provide them with solutions that drive their success tomorrow and beyond.
History of Freeform
Originally at home in the precision optical industry, the first contact to the ophthalmic industry was made in the early ‘90s, when the SCHNEIDER team was approached with the special inquiry for a machine that can process atoric surfaces. As a result the team developed a four-axis grinding machine capable of processing this complex kind of surface – the ASC 80.
Getting more familiar with this new field of operation, SCHNEIDER learned about the variety of highly-specialized individual machines that were used to process the various lens geometries. Spherical, internal torus, atorus, and progressive surface required not only separate parameters but also called for their own specific, non-transferable machine characteristics and processes. Effectively unique machine kinematics for each kind of geometry.
Founder, Gunter Schneider saw the great potential and benefit of a highly flexible universal machine that could do it all: surface spherical, aspherical, progressive, and bifocal lenses. After all „it is just a file“, he realized.
The vision to manufacture individual lenses based on freely definable mathematical descriptions was born and the SCHNEIDER team pursued the development of the first „freeform“ machine. It would become SCHNEIDER‘s most significant innovation.
The development turned out to be a very complex task because the demands on the machine dynamics were extremely high. At the time, neither motors nor control systems were available to meet them. One by one, the Schneider team created an entirely new world of super-high dynamic lens processing solutions from scratch. Core components were e.g. freely programmable controllers, hand-crafted highly dynamic motors, high-frequency drive technology, etc.
Despite these setbacks, the freeform vision eventually became reality. The HSC 100 – the first ever high-speed machine for freeform spectacle lenses – was presented at Silmo 1998, in Paris. It was a solution the market hadn’t asked for. Consequently, there had been little interest in the idea before the launch. But on day one of the show, interest skyrocketed. The appeal of the machine was so great that exclusive contracts were drawn up and signed right there at the show-site. However, in the long run, SCHNEIDER decided to further develop the idea independently.
The SCHNEIDER HSC generators and CCP polishers have become the tools used to develop the freeform idea in the ophthalmic industry. Individual freeform lenses are now the top product in the market, and SCHNEIDER has grown to be the premier manufacturer of freeform equipment worldwide. The innovative machines have also made their way into standard Rx production, leading to higher productivity and quality of virtually all lenses surfaced today.
Since SCHNEIDER pioneered the freeform idea, the company continuously extended its process portfolio year over year. Initially the team focused on the main production steps for surfacing, and both manual and fully-automated solutions were developed.
With a rising demand for solutions from a single source, SCHNEIDER extended its offering by adding equipment for further lens processing steps and lab management software to the mix. Extending its operations into the finishing segment, SCHNEIDER developed its edging systems.
With the acquisition of optical equipment manufacturer Team Henrich & Krall, known for its expertise in lens de-blocking, tape stripping (powered by Insomec), brush-cleaning and tinting, SCHNEIDER significantly extended its portfolio in 2013.
In the same year, SCHNEIDER launched its very own coating division, run by experts in the field. Most modern equipment for ultrasonic cleaning, dip hardcoating, sputtering, electron beam AR-coating and rapid response plasma AR-Coating in different sizes is since part of the product range.
Today, SCHNEIDER is a full-solution provider, offering all processes necessary to produce a lens along with the consumables and spare parts required.
At the same time, SCHNEIDER perceived the need to go beyond mere single machine improvements to achieve higher production efficiency, flexibility and lower production costs.
Integrated solutions and complete production lines were created taking the integrated technology approach into the scope.
SCHNEIDER lines include…
History of Modulo
Constantly being confronted with higher demands for increased throughout and lower cost, it became obvious that a maximum of flexibility and lower production cost to produce high-quality lenses could no longer be achieved only by optimizing single machines. The vision for Modulo was born. SCHNEIDER’s Modulo Line is a systemic approach in which all elements, machines, measurement systems, conveyors, and accessories are interlinked in one intelligent system.
The one-of-its-kind concept dates back to 2008, with the first machines and the Modulo „ring“ being launched 2012. Modulo has become a major innovation and milestone in the SCHNEIDER history and a great success worldwide.
Its patented self-organizing philosophy and unique arrangement utterly changed the way lenses are produced. Traditional and strictly directional production setups are replaced by a new architecture with smart machines intelligently managing and optimizing the production flow themselves. The result: Higher throughput and low cost even with widely varying production conditions.
The system’s in-line quality control constantly checks lenses to make sure quality is kept at the highest level - the risk of faulty lenses is reduced to a minimum. It also serves as a source of information for the system’s „brilliant mind inside“ – the Modulo Control Center.
With the Control Center SCHNEIDER introduced an intelligent, holistic monitoring system to lens production taking the system to an entirely new level of innovation. More than a basic MES, it constantly sources, analyses, and prepares the machine and process data for their individual use in the ophthalmic lab, e.g. for the quality manager, line driver, service manager or lab manager. It recognizes trends, automatically makes decisions, notifies and alerts staff, and provides intelligence on root causes for lens breakage, to name a few.
Modulo reflects and goes beyond what scientists and business experts call „industry 4.0“ these days and has become a topic of great interest. For many of our customers, the intelligent modular system and Control Center have already been an indispensable part of their production process for many years. With large Modulo installations setup around the world, Modulo has become a vital part of the ophthalmic industry producing thousands of jobs every hour.
Drawing from the great experience gathered in the various projects, SCHNEIDER has established a professional project management team that supports all kinds of installations, ranging from special customer projects with an existing infrastructure to entire greenfield installations.
Long before successfully establishing the freeform idea in ophthalmics, SCHNEIDER’s main field of operation was the precision optics industry and the primary goal of introducing CNC technology to the rather conservative field. At the time, it had been difficult to produce the same high accuracies with CNC technology that a skilled worker drawing on a wealth of experience achieved through empirical processing methods.
Automated correction cycles, optimized CNC controls and devices, however, soon opened up new options. Eventually, they permitted the successful market launch of CNC machines for spherical precision optics. And – with the aid of new customized control and software modules – also for aspherical precision optics.
Today, the SCHNEIDER portfolio comprises grinding, polishing, and centering machines as well as interferometric measuring systems for various precision optics applications. These include endoscopes, microscopy, laser applications, vision and projection optics, lithography, space applications and many others. The solutions cover a wide spectrum of optics sizes to match the individual requirements – ranging from 5 up to 1500 mm in diameter with the most recent development of the surfacing center SCG 1500.
Building on its long-standing experience in freeform diamond turning, SCHNEIDER extended its operations to the nano range in a Federal Ministry funded project. Significantly investing into continued research and development in this field, SCHNEIDER today offers its very own solutions for processing ultra-precise 3D-applications with a size up to 700 mm in diameter.
Geometrical tolerances in the sub-micron range and surface roughness in the single digit nanometer range can be produced without polishing.
These highly demanding 3D surfaces are used in applications such as head-up displays, augmented reality applications, head-mounted devices and systems for light transmission, illumination and beam focusing, e.g. for laser.