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The love of lenses

Interview with Jürgen Zosel, Managing Director of ORAFOL Fresnel Optics GmbH

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European Business: The product is in the name, as ORAFOL Fresnel Optics is an indication towards Fresnel lenses.

Jürgen Zosel: Indeed, we have been producing special lenses throughout our company’s history. The best-known microstructured optic is the Fresnel lens. Its surface is divided into a number of concentric grooves. The lenses are used for imaging and sensor applications, for instance, and they can also be found in machine vision, lighting and solar. We are constantly looking for new applications.

European Business: It more or less all started with the overhead projector, didn’t it?

Jürgen Zosel: The company has been producing lenses for overhead projectors since its foundation in 1972. The manufacturing of compression moulding for OHP lenses came to a halt when the required tools were not available at that time. I was asked to join forces with the company as their Technical Manager in order to develop new technologies. Among other things, we started to introduce electro-forming processes.

European Business: The 1990s brought about a major change.

Jürgen Zosel: We became a subsidiary of Reflexite Inc. in the USA. The company was the global market leader in OHP lenses. We introduced injection compression moulding technology to our production processes. When the LCD projector emerged in 2003, we first feared that OHP lenses were on the decline, but in fact they are still going strong today. Nevertheless, we realized that is was essential to broaden our portfolio in order to conquer the future. We introduced silicone-on-glass lenses, for instance, and completed our first automated silicone-on-glass production line in 2009

European Business: Are they still being used today?

Jürgen Zosel: These lenses are ideal for outdoor applications in the solar market, as they are extremely weather resistant. They provide a precise mechanical stability, which secures a high accuracy of the optical system. Silicon on glass optics are available for different applications and in different dimensions. In addition to the solar market we can see today a lot of potential for this kind of optics

European Business: Which products can you highlight in your portfolio?

Jürgen Zosel: We produce many customized optical components that are developed in cooperation with customers. We also offer technology for classic optics, including micro and nanostructured optical components. The surfaces are absolutely precise. As you cannot produce precise microstructured lenses with standard injection moulding machines, we have rebuilt them and are now able to provide vario-thermal injection moulding stamping, which has become one of our unique selling points.

European Business: Are there other specialities?

Jürgen Zosel: Since the 1970s, we have refined the variothermal process, which alternate heating and cooling. It is energy-intensive and time-consuming but absolutely precise, and it cannot be compared with normal plastics products. We have always concentrated on microstructured polymer optics, but applications have varied. In 2008, the solar market collapsed. We had about 200 employees at that time. We had to reduce staff to 80 people in 2013. Nevertheless, in recent years, we have experienced a new surge, as our focus has shifted towards promising new products. We have reduced our activities in the solar market and are currently noticing a dramatic increase in machine vision.

European Business: Are there any trends in the overall market which affect you?

Jürgen Zosel: Sensor technology is growing. Lighting might be difficult, as we only produce high-end optics. The display market still has huge potential. All in all, there are many opportunities lying ahead. We always come in when customized, high-precision micro-optics are required. We also see a lot of international Fresnel customers. In 2011, we joined forced with ORAFOL Europe. Fresnel as such does not exist any more, so a lot of customers turn to us. We have an optimistic outlook on the future.