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Schölly Fibre Optics in Denzlingen – at the limit of production capacities

This is a company that is growing extremely rapidly. Schölly Fiberoptic GmbH, based in the city of Denzlingen in the south of Germany, has experienced rapid growth over the last few years with its endoscopic solutions for clients around the world. "2008 is a record year, and we are finding it difficult to keep pace," said CEO Werner Schölly, delighted with the company’s development. He is convinced that endoscopic applications are set to become far more than just imaging solutions in the future.

Physicians use endoscopes to look into patients’ bodies (photo shows a view of the abdomen). © Schölly Fiberoptic GmbH
Endoscopic surgery enables surgeons to see into almost any nook and cranny of the human body. Urologists are able to discover tiny tumours hidden away in the prostate; ophthalmologists can see into tear channels less than a millimetre in diameter. Endoscopic surgery means that surgeons are not always required to be right beside the patient, instead they can sit in front of a computer screen where they operate a joy stick to control a robot.

Thirty years ago, the Denzlingen-based company started with the manufacture of systems that enabled the company’s industrial clients to see inside building blocks. Nowadays, Schölly Fiberoptic GmbH offers many different solutions for use in medical applications, not only in Germany but also in the USA, Asia and South America. Over the last five years, the company has doubled its revenues to 44 million euros per year. Globally, the company employs about 500 people, including 250 in the company’s headquarters in Denzlingen close to Freiburg. “We are currently doing very well,” said CEO Werner Schölly. “And we are continuing to grow.”

From kitchen to office

And all this evolved from a single-product company. Werner and Regula Schölly moved from Switzerland to Germany in 1977, after having taken over a Swiss company based in the German state of Hesse and then finding that they preferred the area around Freiburg. The couple rented an apartment in the small city of Denzlingen where they glued the first fibre-optic cables together. Initially there was only one employee but the couple soon had to hire more staff for the production of microoptical devices with material from local companies. These devices were used by industrial manufacturing companies to see in detail inside the building blocks they produced. In 1980, Schölly Fiberoptic GmbH, which was operating under a different name at the time, moved into its first production unit. In 1985, the company produced its first series of medical endoscopes with a staff of around 20. Nowadays, the company has three production units and a fourth is currently being adapted to future requirements. The company has 13 joint ventures worldwide, including in the USA, Asia, Eastern Europe and now also in Brazil. Aesculap AG, who had been working in close cooperation with Schölly Fiberoptic GmbH in the field of neurosurgery and minimally invasive surgery, acquired shares in the company in 1998. “The medical technology market nowadays accounts for about 85 per cent of our sales,” said Schölly.
World with locations of Schölly Fiberoptic
© Schölly Fiberoptic GmbH
A big family: Schölly Fiberoptic GmbH has production sites and sales offices around the world (green = production sites, yellow = Schölly hubs, red = Schölly service centres (Figure: Schölly Fiberoptic GmbH)
The setup of a medical endoscope is far from being simple. It consists of a shaft which holds fibre optic elements that illuminate the surgical area. Inside the shaft is another optical system that consists of an objective, relay lenses and an ocular lens that produces an image of the object under investigation. The ocular lens, previously used with the naked eye, is nowadays connected to high-resolution camera systems that produce images on a monitor. An endoscope consists of about 200 mechanic and optical parts that fit together with a high level of accuracy; accuracy and correct positioning are absolutely necessary for the lenses.
The slimmest device made by Schölly Fiberoptic GmbH is only 0.35 mm in diameter. The company also sells devices with two lens systems that create a 3D image. “Endoscopes can be re-used on different patients,” said Dr. Volkmar Freystein, who is in charge of development and construction. “The casings are made from biocompatible steel and tolerate at least 500 sterilisations under extreme vapour pressure.” Schölly Fiberoptic GmbH ensures the quality of its devices through strictly regulated and validated test methods.

The future of endoscopy

Schölly Fiberoptic GmbH offers all-in-one solutions consisting of endoscopes, cameras, light sources and monitors. © Schölly Fiberoptic GmbH
The company also offers solutions that are made to their clients’ special requirements. Their clients include many companies that manufacture products for use in medical applications. Such solutions include modular systems consisting of endoscopes, light sources, cameras and screens. Schölly Fiberoptic GmbH technicians and engineers also provide repair and advice services. The company has 18 service agencies around the world where the technicians and engineers are trained and supervised by experts from Denzlingen. Thanks to all this, the company is experiencing rapid growth. “At the moment, I’d really like a bit more time to pursue new ideas,” said Werner Schölly who sees a future market in drug delivery. In future, oncologists may be able to use a cannula-fitted endoscope to detect tumours in prostate or brain and apply a drug to the diseased area. This would revolutionise current chemotherapy, both in terms of drugs dosages and patient tolerability.

Further information:
Werner Schölly, Managing Director
SCHÖLLY FIBEROPTIC GMBH
Robert Bosch Straße 1 - 3
79211 Denzlingen
Tel.: ++49 (0)7666/908-126
E-mail: w.schoelly@schoelly.de
Website address: https://www.gesundheitsindustrie-bw.de/en/article/press-release/schoelly-fibre-optics-in-denzlingen-at-the-limit-of-production-capacities