Carl Zeiss: 150 Years of Quality

Although the Carl Zeiss name is well known to surveyors for quality optics, not many know the story behind the company. I recently made a trip to the Zeiss factories in Germany to learn more. In 1996, Zeiss celebrated its 150th anniversary. How they got there is a fascinating account, including social reform, Nazism and Communism. From the invention of the first automatic level—the Ni2—in 1950, to a large share of the medical technology market, to lenses prepared for satellites, the name Carl Zeiss is synonymous with optics.

The founder of the company, Carl Zeiss, was born in 1816 in Weimar, Germany, a center of education and culture. In 1846, Zeiss started a small precision workshop in Jena, Germany to make laboratory equipment for the University of Jena. By 1866, the company had become famous for its microscopes throughout Europe. But microscope production was a slow and tedious process because it essentially relied on trial and error. Zeiss enlisted the assistance of a university physicist, Dr. Ernst Abbe, who spent the next decade developing a mathematical theory of optics that revolutionized the manufacture of lenses. Abbe joined Zeiss as a partner in the enterprise in 1875. Then, in 1884, Dr. Otto Schott established a glass technology laboratory which later became the Schott Glaswerken (Glassworks). Schott, a chemist, put optical glass manufacture on the same scientific basis as Abbe had put the production of microscopes.

Excellent Company Benefits in 1900

Abbe was a remarkable social reformer. Carl Zeiss died in 1888, and in 1889, Abbe established the Carl Zeiss Stiftung or Foundation, which exists to this day. The Foundation uses the profits of the member firms to make grants for scientific research and cultural activities. Any money left over is distributed to the member firms to finance growth and employee benefit programs. As early as 1900, the benefits included an eight-hour workday, paid holidays, health care, profit sharing and a pension plan. These benefits, though common today, were unheard of at the time.

Zeiss suffered greatly from the effects of both world wars. The Foundation provided grants to struggling camera firms after World War I to ensure that the German optical industry would survive. The story of what happened to Carl Zeiss after the fall of the Nazis in World War II has been the subject of many books and, unlike the Dresden story that appeared in Professional Surveyor last year, revolves primarily around the aftermath of war. The Dresden firebombing did destroy the corporate records and design drawings of the camera division of Zeiss, Zeiss Ikon. Following the Yalta Conference, which determined how Germany was going to be divided, the Allies knew that Jena was going to be in the Russian zone. The American 80th Infantry Division occupied Jena for two months, partly under the pretext that the war with Japan was still in progress and the Allies intended to use the remaining German industrial capability to produce war materiel.

124 Workers Taken to West Germany

In reality, the occupation was intended to ensure that the Zeiss personnel and knowledge base did not end up in Russian hands. To make them available for the Allied effort against Japan, the Allies moved 81 Carl Zeiss and 43 Schott employees to what would later become West Germany. Over 2,000 sample lenses, along with technical documentation on index cards that detailed the optical formulae and glass types necessary, were also taken. The documents and lenses eventually ended up in America. There, they were studied by American researchers for over a decade. In the early 1960s, both the lenses and the index cards disappeared. The 124 workers who had been evacuated by the Allies ended up, first in Heidenheim, and then in Oberkochen, where they formed the basis for a western Carl Zeiss that would last until the re-unification of East Germany and West Germany in 1991. The Russians, meanwhile, dismantled much of the machinery and equipment that remained in Jena and shipped it back to Russia. Indeed, lens-making equipment had been loaded on flatcars ready for shipment to the West, and only protests by the Russians to the Allied commander, General Dwight Eisenhower, stopped the shipment.

Today, Carl Zeiss continues as a foundation. It employs over 28,000 people worldwide, with sales totaling almost $3 billion. Of the total foundation workforce, over 12,000 are employed by Carl Zeiss, which has sales of over $1.5 billion. The majority of the remaining foundation employees work for Schott Glassworks. Opto-electronic systems, in which surveying equipment is included, are only a part of Carl Zeiss product line. Other divisions include consumer optics (eyeglasses), medical equipment, microscopy, industrial metrology and instruments for semi-conductor manufacturing and inspection. The medical equipment includes highly sophisticated microscopes for eye and brain surgery that are used worldwide. The industrial metrology equipment includes car manufacturing equipment capable of measurements at the micron level. An article in the May-June issue of Professional Surveyor discussed the coming solar max and displayed images taken by the LASCO coronagraph of the Solar Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) satellite. Also carried on SOHO is the CDS spectrometer. Zeiss manufactured a super-polished mirror for LASCO, as well as a grazing incidence UV telescope for CDS.

Amazing State-of-the-Art

Prior to the re-unification of Germany, surveying and photogrammetric equipment were manufactured in both Oberkochen and Jena. Within the last year, the manufacture of surveying equipment has been relocated to Jena, and only photogrammetric equipment is made in Oberkochen. I toured both factories. My visit to Oberkochen was hosted by Dr. Achim Hellmeier, marketing manager of the Photogrammetry Division. As a surveyor who has used photogrammetry for decades, I was amazed by the current state-of-the-art in photogrammetry. Zeiss has a fully integrated system that automates many of the tasks that formerly were performed by hand. The system starts with the RMK TOP aerial survey camera and T-AS gyro-stabilized suspension mount. The camera can be controlled by the T-FLIGHT GPS-supported photoflight management system. Next comes the PHODIS SC scanning station with SCAI precision scanner for converting the photographic images to a digital format. Capable of single-sheet or roll-fed operations, a batch mode can be set up for unattended processing of up to 150 meters of roll-fed images (approximately 500 photos) and features automatic border matching. The scanner is capable of achieving ±2 micron accuracy. The PHODIS software package consists of PHODIS AT for automatic aerotriangulation, PHODIS ST for digital stereoplotting, PHODIS TS for automatic generation and verification of digital terrain models and PHODIS OP for generation and output of digital orthophotos. The software runs on Silicon Graphics UNIX machines.

Marketing services manager Gertrude Roth demonstrated the automatic image correlation capability of the software. Using the software's ability to automatically find matching picture points, she said that the time necessary to complete a project consisting of 110 images had been reduced from 18 days to four days. It was a real education for me as I watched the software correlate hundreds of identical picture points from a stereo pair. Analytical aerotriangulation consists of three separate steps: block preparation, measurement and block adjustment. Because it is working with digital images, PHODIS AT combines the three steps into one. Except for the measurement of control points, manual intervention is not required. PHODIS OP integrates image rectification, mosaicking and the ability to combine raster images with vector data. A full suite of routines is available for image correction and matching for the mosaicking process.

Production Reduced From 18 Days to 4

The PHODIS ST digital stereoplotter is a two-monitor system that uses liquid crystal shutter eyeglasses and is available in fixed image, moving cursor or moving image, fixed cursor models. Zeiss has developed the P-mouse for inputting and controlling the process. Also available is PHODIS M for monoplotting. This routine can be used for map updating with its ability to superimpose vector data onto an ortho image. It also permits data acquisition for GIS or thematic mapping. If a Digital Elevation Model (DEM) is available, the elevations for the planimetric features are automatically gathered. Finally, the P3 and P33 Analytical Plotters offer traditional stereoplotting for data acquisition, map production and updating. The new product line offers automatic or semi-automatic operations that promises to dramatically reduce the time necessary to prepare maps and gather or create data from maps.

After bidding farewell to my hosts in Oberkochen, I traveled to Jena to check out the survey division operation. As I drove across Germany, I noticed a distinct change when I entered what had been East Germany. Not only were the towns and highways visibly run-down from years of neglect, but it seemed that the entire region is under construction. Although I was frustrated by the traffic jams, it warmed my heart to see so much work for surveyors. It also saddened me to see that such a wealth of architecture had been so neglected by the Communists.

Lens Coatings Key to Modern Optics

My host in Jena was Karlheinz Strauss, director of sales. Strauss and I had a wide-ranging discussion, not only about optics and surveying equipment, but also about surveying in Europe. I learned that Carl Zeiss has perfected the manufacture of optics to the point that if a lens were as large as the Baltic Sea, the imperfections on its surface would be the equivalent of a one-millimeter wave height. I also learned that lens coatings are what make instruments possible, for without coatings, the loss of light as it reflects and transmits through the various elements would make the image unacceptably dim. Strauss said a normal window only transmits 90 percent of the light passing through it. Coatings can reduce loss and absorption, and permit 99.5 percent of the light to pass through. I also learned that a modern submarine periscope has around 700 optical elements, while the average survey instrument has around 30.

I learned that all Zeiss survey optics are made in Jena, and although components are gathered from several sources, the final assembly is performed in Jena. Strauss said the Ni2 automatic level, still in production today, is manufactured by a Foundation member (Hensoldt AG) in Wetzlar, Germany. He said Carl Zeiss manufactures optical equipment for the Bundeswehr (German Army) and discussed the difficulty of maintaining spare parts for the military for 20 years and guaranteeing the equipment for 10 years. Previously, military equipment was green, but now it is the same color as civilian instruments.

Looking back to the end of the war, Strauss said Zeiss re-started by repairing microscopes after the Russians sacked the factory and took everything. As for downsizing, before re-unification Carl Zeiss Jena had 40,000 employees. In 1992, after the re-unification, it had 3,000, but the reductions were not entirely made by laying workers off. Some 7,000 were transferred to another company (JenOptik) that is involved in space technology and radar systems.

Strauss discussed the transition period and the difficulties in transferring the Western way of thinking. He also mentioned the flood of orders for new survey equipment that resulted from the re-unification. He said in Germany, it is difficult to lay people off due to government regulations and unions, and that Carl Zeiss has adopted flexible work schedules that allow employees to "bank" hours to be used when work slows down. From the initial 3,000, Zeiss now has 1,500 employees in Jena. The reduction was accomplished mostly through early retirements and attrition. Strauss emphasized that the East Germans are very hard workers and do not complain about overtime. He discussed the differences between equipment purchases in Germany and the United States, noting that leasing is non-existent. German surveyors pay cash for equipment—and automobiles, too—and credit, as we know it, is not used.

Germans Pay Cash for Equipment

We toured the production facility and observed Elta 40/50/R total stations and DiNi digital levels being built. Strauss said they have a five-day production cycle from the time the order is received to the time the instrument is ready to be shipped. The customer's name is associated with the work ticket to enable the technician building the instrument to identify with the customers and their locations. Strauss previously was the project leader for a Zeiss collaboration with Texas Instruments. He contrasted the American style of manufacturing with that of the Germans. In America, we normally use expert engineers to oversee the manufacturing process and train the workers to assemble the equipment. In Germany, each worker—called a Facharbeiter—receives three years of training before beginning work. The result is that they are much more self-sufficient. Carl Zeiss dealers worldwide are capable of performing all repairs and do not have to return instruments to the factory for repair.

We toured another area of the factory that had just been opened for the production of the RecElta 13 and 15 total stations. The last total station was manufactured in Oberkochen on May 7 of this year, and within two weeks the entire production line was dismantled and moved to Jena. Workers from Jena were sent to Oberkochen for training, and even though there were numerous opportunities for the "train to run off the track," the move went smoothly.

Huge Investment in Equipment

Strauss discussed the reorganization Carl Zeiss underwent two years ago, in which 15 divisions were reduced to the six business divisions mentioned above. Along with the reduction in the number of employees, investments were made to stabilize the East German operations. Carl Zeiss is now a completely self-contained company with R&D facilities, sales and production, all under one roof. The building they are in was built before the re-unification for the production of semi-conductors for the communist countries, and is the size of 25 football fields. Carl Zeiss prides itself on the fact that it has the most modern machinery, technology and environmental protection available.

As part of the re-organization, it was decided that a new approach was needed because surveyors are looking for solutions and systems. Zeiss calls its total solution Three Pillars—One System. The first pillar is levels, consisting of the venerable Ni2, Ni30/40/50 builder's levels, and the DiNi 10/20 and DiNi 11/21 digital levels. The second pillar is total stations, including the Elta 40/50/R, the Rec Elta 2, the Rec Elta 13/15, the Rec Elta 13C/15C, the Rec Elta RL and RL-S, and the Rec Elta 13CM and 13CMS. The RL stands for reflectorless, the C stands for onboard computer, the CM stands for servomotor controlled, and CMS stands for target-seeking. The third pillar is GPS. For that, Zeiss offers the GePoS RS 12 (single frequency), the GePoS RD 24 (dual frequency), the GePoS RD 24 RT for real-time, the GePoS RM 24 BASE for a real-time reference station and the GePoS RM 24 ROVER as a mobile real-time unit. Also available is the GePoS DL 70 long-range data radio link and GePoS CEO post-processing software. Strauss said 50 percent of all their products have been introduced within the last two years, and within a year 90 percent will be classified that way.

The European approach to quality management is different from that of the United States. Here, we meet periodically to discuss the results of our quality programs. There, the color charts and graphs are posted on a bulletin board so everyone can see, month by month, the progress toward the goals. Here, some companies struggle with implementing total quality because it's difficult to get all the employees to commit to the program. There, they seem to have no problem, and maybe the constant visual reminders play a part.

Ready For The 21st Century

Through all the events of the last 150 years, Carl Zeiss has maintained a reputation for quality. Imagine physically splitting a company in two and then rejoining it. Overlaps had to be eliminated, all the while observing the rules of downsizing. The logistics, not to mention the cost, have all been dealt with, and Zeiss has emerged as modern, lean company, ready to meet the challenges of the 21st century.

Authors note: Thanks is given to Marc James Small for information about the period after World War II. Small has co-authored a book on Zeiss Ikon in the Postwar World titled Compendium, East and West—1940-1972. The book is available at camera stores.

Marc Cheves is editor of the magazine.

» Back to our September 1997 Issue