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May 2003 : a visit to the Rollei factory in Braunschweig by the Dutch Rollei Club



The original version of this text has been posted to the Internet discussion group, "`Rollei Users Group'', RUG, here, on May 12, 2003:


version française


Thursday morning at 08.00 am I left my home village of Drachten, The Netherlands, for the nearly 400 km trip to Braunschweig,Germany. The first stage was my old university city of Groningen to pick up Huib, who joined me on the trip. Then to Nieuweschans, Bremen, Hanover and Braunschweig were we arrived at our meeting place: the Park and Ride in Salzdahlumer Strasse [1] at 12.20 p.m. The rest of the gang, all members of the Rollei Club of the Netherlands, arrived shortly after and we made the short stroll to Number 196, Rollei Fototechnic, where we were received by Mr Dietmar Kanzer, Rollei´s Sales Chief.

After lunch Mr Hubert Schmidt showed the present product line. Then it was time to visit the Rollei Museum. This museum was started by owner Samsung only in 1996. It consists of a former private general collection of cameras with some later additions. Rollei content is limited.

Afterwards it was time to check in at Hotel Deutsches Haus in the city centre. At 7 p.m. it was time for the traditional dinner at the Brewery and Pub "Zum Löwen".

Next morning at 10 a.m. it was time to visit the Rollei Factory. Rollei still use the oldest buildings of the factory complex connected by bridges, well known from old and new pictures [2]. Other buildings now belong to different companies. The left hand building houses management and R and D. The larger, right hand building is the actual factory. Metal parts production is at ground floor. This is a mixture of old and new. Some old tools from the Fifties, relatively new machines by Heckler und Koch (20 years old) and new computer programmed CNC machines (Matra and others). The new machines are able to perform a number tasks in a sequence. A complex part can be finished by one machine in one run. Older machines do just one task at the time. It will take many runs to finish a part.

Rollei is in the process of rationalising production. Production of simple parts is being outsourced. There is still a lot to gain. We saw quite a number of people performing quite simple tasks like drilling a hole or bending a part.

The first floor houses optics production and assembly lines. Optics is quite modern with new computer programmed glass cutting machines. The old Voigtländer stuff is gone now [3]. Lens coating was outsourced recently when the old Leibolt-Heraeus machine broke down. HFT coating is now done by a specialist firm. Mr Kanzer told me they were hiring small companies around Wetzlar (split of from Leitz) for coating and other tasks. A completely refurbished production room was empty. This was meant for the production of electronic prints. These prints are outsourced too. The new room will house lens assembly shortly.

All this means that quite a number of square metres in the factory are free. Rollei will abandon the office building and move offices to the factory building. The old office building will be let.

Except for TLRs, the assembly lines are modern. Workers perform a number of tasks. Slide projector production is limited to Winter times; they do not sell in Summer. So now it was time for TLR production! Some 20 per day, a 100 per week. Thursday must have been a day for Rolleiflex FW (New Rollei-Wide) production [4]. We saw 20 new Wides at final inspection. Production of Bay IV lens hoods is scheduled for the third week of May and BayIV lens caps will be finished in early June. Today FX production was on. This is still the old Fifties assembly line. It became quite clear why a Rolleiflex is expensive. A lady was hand painting the cutting edges of leather finishing in the right colour. Otherwise the cutting edges would show unfinished leather.

6008 Assembly runs separate from TLR and is modern. Workers have a carousel with frames in front of them. Next to them a number of trolleys with parts. They take a frame form the carousel end add one or more parts. Then the frame is replaced and the carousel is turned to get to the next frame. And so on. Every day they start filling their carousel with frames and look for the trolleys with the right parts. After this they can remain seated for a few hours. At the end of the day the partly built-up frames are moved to next station. Assembly stations can easily be adapted to produce different models.

So, quite a number of changes since my last visit, two years ago [5]. I am convinced these changes are inevitable. Rollei also abandoned development and production of professional digital cameras. The life cycle of these cameras is too short for Rollei. It is left to electronic firms. That should worry us. Imaging is taken over from optical firms like Rollei (and Nikon and Canon?) by electronics companies like Sony and HP! Rollei consumer digital cameras are bought from others. Maybe professional models too. Rollei remain active in the field of digital backs for the 6000 series.

At 1 p.m. it was time for lunch and time to pick up our purchases. I ordered a BayIV lens cap and a BayIV lens hood for my Classic Rollei Wide [6] for delivery in June. They are copies of the old ones. We saw the prototypes. There are two small changes, the new hens hood is machined in one piece from one solid aluminium block. The old one consisted of a sheet metal hood fitted in a solid mount. The inside of the hood now shows ribbings.

I would like to thank Rollei for their hospitality.

Ferdi Stutterheim, Drachten, The Netherlands. ferdi@stutterheim.nl


Additional notes


The Rollei factory has been located in the same street since before World War II.


For pictures, see Claus Prochnow's books, very well illustrated. The reader will find complete bibliographical references to these books at the end of the ``Rollei-FAQ document'' on Ferdi Stutterheim's web site, http://www.stutterheim.nl/rollei/faq.html


In 1972, Rollei has acquired the Voigtländer brand name and factory in Braunschweig, formerly within the Zeiss Group. Since this date, Rollei has the know-how for developing photographic optics, today Rollei fabricates several lenses under a Zeiss licence. Before 1972, Rollei used to purchase all photographic lenses either from Zeiss or from Schneider-Kreuznach, a long-term partnership which continues nowadays.


Production of the Rollei Wide twin-lens reflex has restarted in 2003, with a new super-angulon 50mm lens from Schneider.


During a previous visit to Braunschweig in 2001, Rollei left little hope to the passionate ``rolleiphiles'' of the Rollei Club Nederlands that new Rollei Wides and Teles would be back some day. There were technical difficulties, among others the fact that some particular optical glasses proper to the original 55mm Zeiss distagon design for the Rollei TLR had been discontinued for a long time. It is well-known that recently Zeiss had to re-design the famous 38mm biogon, because the stock of some old kinds of glasses was empty and had to be replaced by newer kinds of glasses for environmental reasons. Meanwhile, a new demand by Japanese customers for the Rollei Wide has changed things and eventually allowed for the renaissance of this rare classical TLR camera.


Ferdi Stutterheim's classical Rollei Wide was fabricated in the 1960's. The camera was fitted with a Zeiss 55mm distagon lens. It is the only Rollei lens using the bayonet size IV for filters and lens hoods. The new Rolleiwide of 2003 has the same bayonet IV. The classical Tele Rollei TLR uses a bayonet III.



HTML version by Emmanuel Bigler May 21, 2003




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