|GUNTER SCHNEIDER is president and CEO of Schneider Opticmachines, a developer and manufacturer of ophthalmic machines in Steffenberg, Germany. |
JIM GROOTEGOED Schneider entered the North American optical market in 2004. What’s the company’s history?
GUNTER SCHNEIDER I started my own business in 1986 after holding management positions of increasing responsibility with a leading German machine tool manufacturer.
During the first years of the new company, we focused on development for the precision optical industry. We applied CNC technology for the first time to grinding, polishing, and centering machines. Critical to that was to successfully develop controller technologies with extremely high resolution and special processes that met precision requirements. In 1996, we opened our first international subsidiary in Rochester, NY, to serve precision optical industries in the northeastern U.S.
In 1994, we applied our expertise in precision optics to the ophthalmic industry. For Zeiss, we developed the first free-form machine to grind atoric ophthalmic lenses. After I became familiar with the state-of-art technology of this time, I got the idea to develop a machine that would surface virtually any surface from a digital point file within the typical lens processing time so everybody could get their own individually optimized corrective glasses. The free-form story had started.
In 1998, after four years of pioneering developments, we launched our first free-form generator, HSC 100, at Silmo in Paris. The interest of the key international players was huge, and we sold the first ten machines at the show. The generator was only one part of the new free-form concept as we also needed to develop an entirely new polishing process with new soft tools and philosophies to move the tools using computer-controlled technology. In January 2000, we shipped the first soft-tool polishing machine, the CCP 100. European manufacturers became early users of these technologies, but today primary interest has shifted to the Americas and Asia. To support this, we run subsidiaries in Brazil, Singapore, Thailand, and Hong Kong.
JG What is the core competence of Schneider?
GS We are very strong in the development of innovative processing solutions and experts in high-speed technologies. Our most valuable assets have become the expert knowledge and further development of sophisticated controllers, linear motors, and high-quality process technologies.
As a private company, we have the freedom and independence to innovate quickly. The company has flat hierarchies and short distances from the developer’s workstation to the production floor.
JG Your success has caused you to move into new headquarters in Dallas and to plan larger headquarters in Germany. What additional benefits and services will these provide?
GS Besides technological excellence, a critical success factor is how well the machines are accepted by the operators, preventive-maintenance engineers, and anybody who is going to deal with the modern technology.
For that reason we put an increasingly strong focus on a broad range of services—basic and advanced machine training, technology training, preventive-maintenance training, service, and fast spare-parts shipments. Our new U.S. facility has classrooms and training rooms to fulfill this demand, and the warehouse has the capacity to keep pace with the rapidly growing installation base in North America.
In Germany, we celebrated the groundbreaking of our new headquarters this fall. In the new high-tech facility we will have the development, technology, production, after-sales, and service next to each other to become even faster and more creative as we are already today. The building complex also includes a state-of-the art training facility with modern seminar rooms and a large dedicated training space to welcome customers from all parts of the world. Our new location is now less than an hour from the Frankfurt airport, which makes it very convenient to reach us. We anticipate opening the new facility by the end of 2011.
JG What new innovations can we expect?
GS Our worldwide success with small-frame free-form machines such as the HSC Sprint and the CCP Swift polisher indicate that there is a large market potential for smaller machines with unlimited free-form capability. For the larger labs, the HSC Smart XP generator (honored with the OLA Award of Excellence) and the CCP 103 polisher will expand the benchmark.
The alloy-free CB Fusion blockers will spread as environmentally safe technologies increasingly become the industry standard, and the new generation of high-quality laser-marking equipment will complement new surfacing solutions.
Industrial edging also shows continued growth potential. Our high-definition tracer, CT Image, in conjunction with the five-axis all-in-one edger, HSE Freestyle, have the means to bring industrial edging to new levels of precision and versatility.
As always, we also have some hot developments in the line which we are going to premiere at the major trade shows in 2011.