Zeiss Lab
Hebron, Kentucky

Synopsis: Zeiss recently completed a multi-year, $20 million reengineering project at their flagship lab in Hebron, Kentucky. Barry Lannon, head of lab operations and supply chain for Carl Zeiss Vision, managed the Industry 4.0 process. He explained what it took to plan and execute the multi-level project, and how Zeiss customers are benefitting from the upgrade.

Lab Manager’s Report: Barry Lannon

“We needed to deliver premium product faster to our customers—obviously with the right quality. At the same time, our Global R&D team had developed a new manufacturing concept, and that basically was ready to roll out. It was decided that we in Kentucky were going to be the beneficiaries of this.

There is a lot of proprietary technology developed by Zeiss that we are using in the lab—whether equipment or conveyers. The conveyer system is actually very key—it is Zeiss intellectual property, and it’s the central spine of the lab. It enables multi-way flow, whereas a traditional conveyer system is one directional—it’s in or it’s out.

We have a lot of internal production routing flexibility between prioritizing, processing, and sequencing the work. All of it is managed by a Zeiss production control system, done in a way to give us a controlled increase in capacity as the business is growing.

The industry 4.0 concept that the lab is built on uses automation, robotics, big data and machine learning to assist in the production of premium quality products as fast as possible. One example is equipment. Historically, maintenance was done on a firefighting basis—when something went down, you went and fixed it.

The big trend more recently was toward preventive maintenance—you do a certain amount of routine maintenance on each equipment. We’ve taken that to that next extent—we’ve moved from firefighting, to preventive maintenance, to what we call predictive maintenance. We can theoretically predict when a machine will break down and take appropriate measures.

A lot of thought has gone into everything that’s in the lab. The job trays are specifically designed, the material is anti-static so it doesn’t attract dust. Sound baffles reduce the noise of the lab; some of the windows are frosted or dark glass for specific technical reasons; the coatings room is a true clean room environment, very tightly controlled. No matter what it is, if it’s the color of something or a specific size or shape or feel, it has been thought through.

Basically, the reengineering happened all at once. We had an existing lab in Kentucky, and that lab continued to operate as it was at that time. But fortunately, in the same building we had available space, so we were able to construct this lab and install this new technology—it was almost like it was a greenfield site. That was really the only way to do it—you can’t take the lab out of production.

Once we had that first production line constructed, we shut down the other line. We completely dismantled it, which created a space to expand this new lab as we needed. The existing lab is in the physical space of the old lab, while in parallel staying in operation in the old lab.

There was a lot of collaboration between our R&D team in Germany and our principal equipment suppliers—Schneider, Optotech and Buhler—and our R&D team gave us a great deal of support. Several of them spent up to six months there doing the installation of this manufacturing concept. It took many, many months, and once we were comfortable with it, we began to ramp up production. Once we had that first production line constructed, we shut down the other line. We completely dismantled it and took it out—that created a space to expand this new lab as we needed.

The concept worked. We built the first production line with all of the associated automation and robotics, and proved the concept. We made premium lenses faster, obviously at high quality, and that was noticed by our customers—so much so that demand began to increase, therefore, we had to do some further reinvestment and expansion. We wouldn’t be expanding if the lab didn’t do what it’s supposed to do.”