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Interview with VP Operations, Zeiss Consumer Products, Reveals €3m Investment

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Old Thursday 25th July 2019, 12:55   #1
Troubador
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Interview with VP Operations, Zeiss Consumer Products, Reveals €3m Investment

This interview is with Christian Bannert, Vice President Operations, Consumer Products Business Group. His responsibilities include Sports Optics manufacturing and research and development. This continues the story of the changes taking place within Zeiss Sports Optics following the interview with Joerg Schmitz (go to: https://www.birdforum.net/showthread.php?t=366209) and in it we learn the good news that Wetzlar has received €3 millions (£2.67M / $3.33M) of investment.

In the text below T: stands for me, Troubador, and B: for the responses from Herr Bannert.

Introduction

T: Herr Bannert, you have had a long career within Zeiss, around 25 years if my calculation is correct. Please pick three memorable highlights from this career that are not connected with your current job.

B: Yes indeed. Three things but not connected to each other? Well, let me try. In recent times winning the Oscar in 2012 for our Master Prime cinematography lenses was a once-in-a-lifetime moment. Zeiss has won this Oscar three times now and being in Hollywood, and part of that ceremony, was definitely a very impressive moment. I went to work in Japan and making that decision to go was a special moment for me as well. Thinking about doing it, and talking about doing it, was one thing, but actually deciding to go there and make my home in Tokyo was a defining moment.

T: When you worked in Japan how did the management way of working there differ from that in Germany? Which management culture would you say is more effective and why?

B: Like always, there are two sides to this coin. On one side there are similarities such as discipline, hard work and structure, but on the other side some things are very different. For example making a business decision in Germany, we sit around a table and discuss the issue and arrive at a decision, but in Japan this is not the way it works. It takes time, and a lot of preparation in advance, to eventually arrive at the right decision, at the right time. Is this good or bad, better or worse? I don’t know, it is just the way it is. In Germany we are good at fire-fighting, and sometimes I think we even like this, which is obviously not good. But in Japan they just don’t function in this way, they establish a structure and a procedure to handle things in a specific way, and there is almost no way to do things differently, even if circumstances change.

There are pros and cons to both management styles so maybe we should mix them together to get the best result.

Going back to the first question, although it is of course connected with my current job, I must include the changes in our structure and especially in Wetzlar as a major event. Explaining the changes to the workforce and getting their support was essential for the success. Of course, not everyone was able to accept the changes for different reasons, but the majority were able to do so.

Re-structuring and Digital Technology

T: It is normal when announcing such changes that some talented people do not take up the new opportunity, so some skills are lost. Have you been able to recruit to fill these gaps, or is that process still on-going?

B: It is true that some talent and knowledge has been lost, that is inevitable with these kinds of changes, and as with my decision to move to Japan, people have to look at their own circumstances and come to a decision, and I respect that. But quite a lot of people accepted the move to Oberkochen and we have been carefully recruiting to fill the gaps. We have looked at the required skills and competencies, and have recruited those that satisfied our needs. And, on the positive side, it is always good to welcome new people with fresh ideas into the company. We are nearly through this phase, it is now almost finished, which is good progress.

The new structure also enables us to push product development into new directions. In former times our focus was more or less on the mechanics and optics of our binoculars, and we will not step away from this because excellent optics and mechanics is what our customer want and expect from us. But in the future there are opportunities to add features using digital technology which requires different skills-sets from our traditional ones, so we took the opportunity to recruit not only optical engineers but, among others, system engineers and software experts too. In the future we will increasingly be using a systems approach to offer new features and opportunities for our customers.

T: There is already a non-traditional kind of binocular on the market that is very successful technically, I mean image-stabilised binoculars from Canon, but despite their ability to deliver what is promised, they have not been embraced by the main binocular market and remain successful only in a very small niche.

B: This is a fair point and in order to decide our future direction we need to clearly understand what our customers want from their binoculars, what features and capabilities will satisfy their future needs and desires.

T: Foremost among these dangers with digital products is the speed at which they become overtaken by developments that make them obsolete in a short time.

B: That is probably true but here in Oberkochen we have the right people with the right skills to stay on top of this challenge, and an example of this is the new Rangefinder RF, which has given us much valuable experience in the digital field. We wanted a rangefinder that does more than just measure distances but we also wanted one that looked like a Zeiss binocular, without strange bulges and shapes hanging off the sides, and we believe we have achieved this. With its digital features included to satisfy our customers’ needs it brings together our long-established mechanical and optical skills with a new range of digital capabilities and all without looking like a cartoon ray-gun.

Investment and the Roles of Wetzlar, Oberkochen and Hungary

T: Joerg Schmitz mentioned to me last year that production in Wetzlar was being re-organised, and I have read in Mittelhessen magazine that Zeiss has invested €3M in Wetzlar, so can you tell our members about this, describe how this has been done and whether these new arrangements are completed or still progressing?

B: Three years ago we decided that the Wetzlar factory needed to be re-organised and brought up-to-date, to provide the facilities needed for high-end assembly, especially for our Victory products, and to improve the working environment for our employees. So, to improve efficiency and quality, the assembly lines have been rather fundamentally re-organised based on ‘lean-production’ principles, and incorporating new digitalised processing methods, for binoculars, rifle- and spotting scopes. The production of components has been moved to either our factory in Hungary or out-sourced to approved suppliers within the global ZEISS manufacturing network. I will say more about our Hungary factory later.

To be clear, Wetzlar is now focused on high-quality assembly, testing and quality assurance, Hungary on the production of optical components (lenses and prisms) and subassemblies. Our plant in Hungary is very important to us and has been part of the Zeiss manufacturing network for about 30 years, it produces spectacle lenses for Zeiss VisionCare, and has produced binoculars in the recent past, so they definitely have the knowledge, the skills and the experience we need.

Availability of New Skills and Technology at Oberkochen

T: Looking at the skills and knowledge in Oberkochen that were not available to Sports Optics in Wetzlar, I am wondering if any of this is transferrable to binoculars and spotting scopes. For example, what about the T*XP anti-reflection coatings in the Master Primes, which I guess must be very neutral to render skin-tones accurately? In addition the Master Prime interior blackening and light traps could make a significant contribution to reducing veiling glare and the aspherical lens technology could reduce spherical aberration especially in binoculars with large objectives.

B: This is a good question and it lies behind the decision to move product development to Oberkochen where we have these different skills. Bringing product development to Oberkochen gives us access to many more optics engineers and allows us to leverage this knowledge. Take the question of stray light, it is quite challenging to simulate the possibility of stray light up front, I mean at an early stage in the development process. So in the past we made the binocular and then tested it and found stray light here or there, and it was a kind of trial and error process, which worked but it was time consuming and quite expensive. Here in Oberkochen where we develop and manufacture cine lenses for the making of movies, the control of stray light is crucial to our success. This is why we have our own dedicated simulation software. Stray light and reflections are simply not permissible in the movie industry, and you can imagine with lenses containing 20 or more glass elements this is a big challenge. We now use this experience and knowledge to our advantage in Sports Optics too, but it is not as simple as using exactly the same technology. For example the lens coatings in our cine lenses deliver the colour balance that the movie industry needs but this is slightly different from what is needed for nature observation. In short, we have great opportunity here to take advantage of the knowledge and skills in Oberkochen and we will leverage this to the benefit for our customers.

Premature Product Announcements

T: HT, SF and Harpia were announced and then there were long delays before the product arrived in the market,, and when they did arrive there were still some technical problems with them. Are you confident this has been overcome for the future or are you still working on it?

B: This is another reason why we decided we must make fundamental changes in the way we work and led to the merging of product development in Oberkochen, where there are more resources available than was ever the case in Wetzlar. So we have learned our lesson from what happened in the past and made the necessary changes and I am confident that we now have he right set-up.

On-going Investment and Future Ambitions

T: Do you have any further investment plans for Wetzlar or in Sports Optics Oberkochen during the next 2 years?

B: What do you have in mind?

T: I am thinking about the changes in Wetzlar and whether there is still investment needed to complete them and also whether investment is needed in research and development in Oberkochen to make the facilities there more suitable for Sports Optics applications.

B: Well, this an on-going process. It is not like a project with a start date and an end date. Looking forward to future products and developments you always need to re-assess your resources and invest where necessary. In Wetzlar in the new production lines we now have monitoring equipment that can measure and record events and outcomes so that we collect data and can analyse it to see how and where we can improve. This can, for example, guide future investment decisions. There are so many opportunities to optimise operations that were simply not available a couple of years ago. All of this makes me very optimistic for the future and to answer the question, we will continue to serve our customers with innovative and market shaping products.

T: Can you share with us your two top targets or ambitions for Sports Optics in 2019/20?

B: Our ambition is to become market leader in our segments with customer driven and market shaping innovations. Managing change is a challenge that does not end and we still have work to do in all of these areas.

T: Herr Bannert, thank you for taking part in this interview.


I would also like to thank Joachim Kuss for assisting with the interview, and also Karina Salm for making all the arrangements.

Lee

Last edited by Troubador : Friday 26th July 2019 at 07:04.
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Old Thursday 25th July 2019, 13:38   #2
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Thanks Lee - though I'm none the wiser on ×32HT, ×32SF, ×50SF .... I think ! lol
Quote:
"T: Can you share with us your two top targets or ambitions for Sports Optics in 2019/20?
B: Our ambition is to become market leader in our segments with customer driven and market shaping innovations. Managing change is a challenge that does not end and we still have work to do in all of these areas."



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Old Thursday 25th July 2019, 14:16   #3
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Chosun Juan View Post
Thanks Lee - though I'm none the wiser on ×32HT, ×32SF, ×50SF .... I think ! lol

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Unfortunately all the brands refuse to discuss future products in advance of their own announcements. Very frustrating.

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