Many companies still have gaps in the process chain, not only between design and production, but also at the interface to quality assurance.
Closing these gaps and using the digital data more consistently opens up enormous potential for rationalization.

Jos. Schneider Optische Werke in Bad Kreuznach has reduced the time required for creating the inspection plan by 50 percent through the integration of the BCT Inspector alone.

The company manufactures high-performance photographic lenses, recording and projection lenses for the film industry, industrial optics and precision mechanics under the brand name Schneider-Kreuznach. The high-performance lenses of this traditional company test the quality of LCD screens in production facilities, for example, or produce sharp images of "racers" in radar traps, or reliably identify trucks from all over the world at toll booths on Germany's motorways.

Customer-specific lens systems for applications such as autonomous driving in the automotive and commercial vehicle industries as well as for medical technology, as Dr. Ralf Mayer, Head of R&D and IP, explains, are still a young mainstay with great potential.

Image: Jos. Schneider Optische Werke GmbH in Bad Kreuznach

These systems are normally connected to a control unit with rudimentary electronic intelligence, which evaluates the image data. The decisive factor here is not the maximum image quality, but rather the reliability of the display, as Mayer continues: "At the end of the production line, we have to check which distortion parameters occur with each lens in order to be able to correct them using software".

High time pressure in development

Product developers are under considerable time pressure with both customer-specific developments and catalogue products, as Mayer says: "The manufacturers of professional cameras present a device with a new sensor every year. We have to adapt to this in lens development, i.e. save a great deal of time with many small measures along the entire process chain. An important starting point for this is drawing management or the paradigm shift from 2D to 3D".

Although Schneider-Kreuznach has set up an integrated CAD/CAM process chain based on NX for five-axis milling and turn milling with driven tools, important information for NC programming, such as tolerances, is still transmitted drawing-based.

Mayer's ideas are to attach this information to the 3D model in the medium term as PMIs (Product Manufacturing Information), which of course only makes sense if it can be automatically evaluated for NC programming.

There is further potential for time savings in NC programming, as Mayer says. The creation of the programs takes comparatively long and their quality sometimes leaves a lot to be desired, which is partly due to the different level of training of the users.

Automated inspection plan creation

At the interface to quality assurance, the company has succeeded in closing the gap in the digital process chain by introducing the BCT Inspector, albeit not completely, but still significantly reducing it. The additional software from BCT accesses the NX drawings and the production information in the model, automatically selects the quality-relevant features for the inspection process, clearly numbers them and compiles the dimensions, tolerances etc. to be inspected in a table of values. "This used to be a time-consuming and error-prone process because we had to manually enter the values into an Excel list," says Christoph Ackermann, design engineer in R&D. "By automating the extraction and stamping process, we save up to 50 percent of the time needed to create the inspection plans." Quality assurance today only needs to determine which characteristic is to be checked at which test station with which test equipment (measurement, teaching, visual inspection, etc.) and can generate the test plan.

The characteristic information is not yet transferred directly to the 3D measuring machine, but its connection is planned according to Ackermann. It would simplify the definition of the inspection points or surfaces to which certain dimensions refer during measurement programming. "Even if the characteristics are extracted from a drawing, they know their reference points or surfaces thanks to the associative linking of drawing and 3D model", explains BCT product manager Marko Weber the advantages of the software. The prerequisite is, of course, that the designers have correctly referenced the dimensions.

Quality assurance today already makes use of the possibility of programming the measurement operations on the digital model before the finished component is available. To do this, the CAD models are loaded into the machine's programming software via the Zeiss NX module. The digitization of the measurement programming allows certain activities in production and quality assurance to be performed in parallel, which saves time, especially in the prototype business, as Mayer says: "When the part comes from the machine, we no longer have to wait hours for the test program to be created.

It is not yet clear in which IT system the measurement data and other quality data will be stored in the future. The only thing that is certain is that they are to be recorded electronically in order, for example, to be able to better understand which components from which batches are used in which products. Mayer says: "I would therefore like to be able to access quality information from my Teamcenter workstation directly from the production department".

Improving cooperation

The integration of quality management into the PLM environment is a further step on the way to digital process chains. Not to forget the ERP integration, which requires some preparatory work, as Ackermann says. Today, the parts lists are still exported from Teamcenter as Excel tables, prepared manually and imported into SAP. Despite the remaining gaps, the benefits of the many integration measures are already making themselves felt: "We have clearly become faster, but this is not only due to the IT tools used, but also to better cooperation. Today, employees from optics design, mechanical development, electronics, quality assurance, manufacturing and purchasing work together efficiently in mixed teams. It's no longer just a matter of throwing something over the fence."


Lens for 1: 1 picture
Lens for 1: 1 picture, Image: Jos. Schneider Optische Werke GmbH
Thermal simulation Schneider Kreuznach
Thermal simulation, Image: Jos. Schneider Optische Werke GmbH

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