December 2023
For Manfred Throl and Michael Heil (front), the partnership and succession plan is already a win-win situation. (Photos: Ralf A. Niggemann)
Throl optics

Precision Optics at its Best

It is a well-known fact that computers are better at calculating than humans. But this is not completely true when it comes to calculating optics. For this requires experienced and smart minds like Manfred Throl and Michael Heil.

In 1996, Manfred Throl founded his own company. Since 2000, he has shared the management with his wife Karin Böker-Throl. Early on, the two set the course for the future and called in a renowned expert to support them. Michael Heil has all the markings of what the name Throl stands for: optics calculation in dimensions for which an enormous specialist knowledge and a lot of experience are required.

Manfred Throl and Michael Heil are sitting at the table and talk enthusiastically about what makes up their work – and in the end their products as well. Placed on the table is a hexagonal aperture with a diameter of 0.75 mm and an opening of 0.14 mm which will be installed in an endoscope. Between his thumb and index finger, Michael Heil holds a rod lens that is not thicker than pencil lead but nevertheless contains four lenses and one prism. Calculating and manufacturing such extraordinary micro-optics is the core competency of Manfred Throl and Michael Heil.

If precision optics were a culinary art, the two men would be characterized as expert food connoisseurs. They know the ingredients required to achieve up-market results by means of optical design calculation. Their formula for success consists of implementing solutions which can be found nowhere else by applying a healthy mixture of knowhow, experience and curiosity. For 47 years, Manfred Throl has been calculating and designing optical systems and components. By now, his company Throl optics ranks among the Hidden Champions in the optics region. Michael Heil, on the other hand, trained in precision optics and graduated in mechanical engineering with the subject area precision engineering from the university Gießen. At the end of the 1990s, his professional career brought him from Befort Wetzlar to Schneider Bad Kreuznach, VIAOPTIC, to Optics Center Wetzlar as a research assistant and finally to Throl optics. In January 2023, he became equal partner in Throl optics GmbH.

Manfred Throl und Michael Heil complement each other at eye level

“We have known and appreciated each other for more than 25 years,” Manfred Throl recounts. “When I pondered the question who complements me at eye level and will be able to continue the company in a couple of years, Michael Heil was my first choice.” There is no doubt that they both bring their own rare skills and expertise to the table. Which is something that their customers can rely on completely. “We have always convinced our customers with our exceptional performance and quality,” says Manfred Throl. “Word got around and spread on and on.” That’s how he succeeded in establishing a network of customers which has hence been additionally enriched by Michael Heil’s contacts.

“The fact is that small and medium-sized enterprises are often unable to afford their own development department – this holds particularly true for manufacturers of more complex systems into which exacting optical components are integrated. That development work is performed by us. In addition to that, we are able to actually manufacture the respective optical designs,” explains Michael Heil. That means, Throl optics does not only deliver the development but also a finished and tested product which precisely meets the requirements of the customer. Their customers know that. And they really appreciate it.

Optics calculation and manufacturing in tiny dimensions: The pictured aperture has a diameter of only 0.75 mm.

Manufactory enables high-tech

Apart from developing for other companies, Manfred Throl has also expanded the sales of their own products ranging from mirrors to lenses and from objective lenses to optomechanical assemblies. “We have a standard series in the sector of small objective lenses for image processing or quality assurance which we offer to our customers or which we can adapt to their specific application,” he explains. Manufacturing is done in collaboration with partners from the region or in a small company for micro-optics and endoscope optics in Thüringen in which Manfred Throl is also involved.

Admittedly, this sounds more like manufactory than high-tech. In actual fact, however, one facilitates the other. It doesn’t matter if it comes to special optics for endoscopes, head-mounted displays, cameras, and sensor systems or to calculating optical designs for extremely sensitive medical and dental technology – the performance of such accomplished optics calculators as Manfred Throl and Michael Heil cannot be replaced by AI or advanced algorithms. “There are, of course, some sophisticated calculation programs which we use as well,” explains Throl. “But it needs more than that to get the desired results. It is all a question of image quality but also of the manufacturability of lenses and complete optical systems as well as of selecting the right type of glass and of successful system integration.”

Apply and expand expert knowledge and use it for new customer projects

That Throl optics enjoys a splendid reputation in each and every of the mentioned fields, made getting started quite easy for Michael Heil. What intrigues him from a professional point of view is the diversity of tasks which are usually extremely challenging: “Here, we are able to apply and expand our broad range of expert knowledge on every occasion and use it in turn for new customer projects.” Manfred Throl sees the partnership with Michael Heil already as an asset: “All those years, I have been developing designs mainly on my own but I have come to realize how rewarding it is to exchange technical ideas with somebody – especially, when it comes to dealing with innovative projects where you enter new grounds.”

So, on this basis all sails are set to lead Throl optics GmbH successfully into the future. And yet, there is no risk that Manfred Throl will leave the table from one day to the next. “We will complete a publicly funded project by the end of this year. I will certainly keep on working for another year or two,” the company founder reckons. In the medium run, he will retire as managing director but will stay on as a partner: “I will likely be unable to get the business totally out of my mind.”

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