Schneider Optical Machines is continuously developing more autonomous and intelligent systems for free-form production of ophthalmic lenses. Meanwhile, its Modulo concept, born in 2009 and first introduced to the market in 2013, has earned the company the coveted German Innovation Award in its category. It was given to the company's owner and president, Gunter Schneider, at the award ceremony with 350 international guests in Berlin on May 28.

Established by the German Bundestag in 1953 and endowed with a foundation financed by members of the German industry at large, the German Innovation Award was conferred in May by the German Design Council to national and foreign companies in 40 categories, selected among 695 candidates. The jury found that the Modulo system provides “utmost efficiency and cost savings. ”Schneider's Modulo line lives and breathes Industry 4.0 and is a fantastic showcase of what its true power is – not just in theory but in reality. It provides fundamental competitive advantages,” said a member of the jury, Prof. Alexander Wurzer.

Founded by Gunter Schneider in 1986, Schneider invented free-form technology for the production of lenses. The company, which is also involved in other sectors such as precision and ultra-precision optics, is relying on an R&D team of more than 80 scientists, engineers and technicians who work inside the company. In addition, Schneider draws on a large network of universities and external resources.

Its independence from any of its clients, the strategic extension of its product portfolio, a couple of recent acquisitions and the introduction of new technological solutions have helped the company's turnover to grow by a yearly average of 16.2 percent in the past five years, reaching a level of almost €140 million in 2018.

Six years ago, Schneider bought Team Heinrich & Krall, a developer of automated solutions for deblocking, cleaning and tinting of lenses, which now employs 29 people. In the same year, Schneider launched its own coating division, run by experts in the field. It has since become an established supplier in the market. At the beginning of 2017, its position in this area was reinforced with the addition to the Schneider group of W&L Coating Systems, a start-up specializing in the development of high-end vacuum-based coating technologies. According to Gunter Schneider, “coating will be an important field for further disruptive technological innovations in the future.”

Schneider has also added high-performance industrial edgers to its product portfolio to become a full-service provider in the sector. Its new HSE Modulo QS edger can simultaneously process four lenses. It eliminates the need for post-production inspection through two installed optical-measurement units with full mapping capabilities.

The award-winning Modulo concept is described by Schneider as the first fully automated Industry 4.0 production system for lenses, replacing rigid and centralized production processes with a more intelligent, decentralized and dynamic approach to production.

The Modulo line, presented at the Mido show last March, makes use of extended software and artificial intelligence to optimize the workflow with minimal human intervention. The manager is notified about the process through a sophisticated manufacturing execution system (MES), the Schneider Control Center, which also features an application for the cell phone.

Modulo lines are expensive, but the return on investment, according to Schneider, is considerable in terms of labor costs and the overall cost per lens. More than 25 large-scale Modulo production labs, with hundreds of machines, have been sold in the past few years and have produced an estimated 67 million lenses. In addition, Schneider has sold more than 1,000 individual, stand-alone Modulo machines.

True to its free-form origin, the company also keeps setting standards in generators with the HSC Modulo XTS. New super-speed motors, new milling spindle technology and intelligent algorithms have made it the fastest generator in the market.

At Mido, the company showed among other novelties a more compact version of the Modulo system, the Modulo Center 80, with very modern surfacing technology.

Evidently, Schneider wants to go further now in the pursuit of disruptive innovation with the construction, which started in the spring, of a “Schneider Kultur- und Gründerzentrum” for start-up companies in Marburg, about 20 km away from its head office in Fronhausen, Germany. In addition to about 100 workplaces, it will also have a hotel, a restaurant and space for conferences and workshops.