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Beyond Surfaces #10 - Sustainability

Sustainability is an integral part of Oerlikon's strategy. As a global innovation powerhouse for surface technology, polymer processing and additive manufacturing, sustainability is not just a concept, but a living principle.

The 10th issue of Beyond Surfaces is all about sustainability. In each article, you will learn about the diversity and possibilities in which this principle becomes a reality, whether customers are making it happen in their projects, employees in their daily work, in research projects or at the annual AMTC event.

We spoke to Georg Stausberg, Chief Sustainability Officer, Oerlikon, and Dr Sven Hicken, Chief Technology Officer, Surface Solutions Division, to learn more about the background to communicating sustainability proactively and transparently as well as the sustainability goals for 2030.

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“Sustainability is nothing new for Oerlikon – what’s new is that we are talking about it so transparently”, says Georg Stausberg, Chief Sustainability Officer at Oerlikon. In 2021, Oerlikon published its first sustainability report. We talked with Georg Stausberg and Dr. Sven Hicken, Chief Technology Officer of the Surface Solutions Division.

Mr. Stausberg, has Oerlikon jumped on a trend with its sustainability report?

Georg Stausberg: Sustainability is not a new topic for us. All of our large sites have energy management systems, and many use solar energy and employ waste recycling at a very high level. In addition, sustainability means more than “just” environmental protection for us: We pay special attention to the health of our employees and have been able to significantly reduce the number accidents over the last ten years through our “Health, Safety & Environment” program. What’s more, we foster the development of our employees — especially women — through other special programs. This puts us in a good position in comparison to competitors.

Georg Stausberg, Chief Sustainability Officer, Oerlikon

So why wasn’t a sustainability report issued before now?

Georg Stausberg: We realized that, while we are at a good place in this context, many times our customers, investors, and in part, even our own employees, have not perceived that to be the case. With the report, which we will be publishing annually, we are communicating transparently and answering many questions before they even arise. As of 2024, in fact, reporting on non-financial key figures will become mandatory EU wide.

Mr. Hicken, what do Oerlikon’s sustainability objectives mean for the area of research and development?

Sven Hicken: Let me explain using an example. When we are working on a new coating, it has to fulfill certain criteria. Our developers use a check list to see that these are met. In that check list, sustainability criteria are now better represented, both in terms of clarity and quantity. This means our approximately 1,000 employees in R&D are now placing a greater focus on this topic. And not only that: We have even stopped projects that were already at quite an advanced stage because they did not meet these criteria, and we are now looking for alternatives. For me as a manager and as Chief Technology Officer, that is not always so easy from a strictly business perspective. But as a person who thinks and acts holistically, I find it to be the right thing because it shows that Oerlikon takes this issue very seriously.

Dr. Sven Hicken, Chief Technology Officer of the Oerlikon Surface Solutions Division

Where is Oerlikon setting priorities to meet the 2030 sustainability objectives?

Georg Stausberg: All Oerlikon sites that account for 50% of our total energy consumption already have an energy management system according to the Oerlikon standard or to ISO 50001; all the others will follow successively by 2030. This is a very important measure for achieving our goal. On the other hand, we want the growth of our enterprise to continue at the same time. But more production also means more energy consumption. That means we need targeted measures to reduce it: Eliminating waste, renewing machines, and utilizing sustainable energy sources, such as photovoltaic and green electricity.

Sven Hicken: I can address that based on the previous example because our efforts extend even to our equipment manufacturing. With respect to energy consumption, or energy efficiency, the question of how long the coating process takes and how many resources are consumed is very significant, including for the issue of costs. As a provider of coating services, this is just as important for us as for our customers who use our machines themselves.

How does Oerlikon measure its ecological footprint?

Georg Stausberg: Actually, it is hardly possible for us as a service provider and equipment manufacturer to say how much turnover we generate with sustainable solutions. There are still no industrial standards for this. That means we have had to define standards for ourselves, and that keeps an entire project team busy internally. In the meantime, this is the reason we are only reporting what we can actually measure.

Principally speaking, coatings make a significant contribution to sustainability because they either extend the service life of components or reduce their weight. Beyond this, the efficiency of our equipment, (for example, in terms of energy and water consumption as well as emissions) also contributes to sustainability. We have good comparison values for these two aspects and can also quantify the advantages.

With lightweight-construction components for aircraft and cars, however, measurability becomes more difficult. For example, a coating from Oerlikon means that the fuel in an aircraft turbine can be burned at higher temperatures, thereby improving combustion and reducing kerosene consumption. Our customer, however, the manufacturer of the turbine blade, doesn’t benefit from this directly. The effect can only be discerned in the second, or even the third, stage in the supply chain.

What contribution is Oerlikon’s R&D making to the sustainability objectives?

Sven Hicken: For one thing, this deals with the usual topics: How can we reduce the energy consumption of an aircraft? What influence do alternative fuels such as hydrogen have on engine components, and what properties do coatings require for this? Or: What coatings can be employed to make consumables such as lubricants or coolants unnecessary?

In addition, we are engaging with the topic of e-mobility quite intensely. We have a strong tradition dealing with coatings for the components of internal combustion engines, but now our customers are increasingly needing solutions for alternative drives. Here as well, coatings can not only protect components, but also even replace other materials, such as insulation.

What is the long-term focus of Oerlikon’s R&D, specifically with reference to 2030?

Sven Hicken: For us as researchers, the topic of sustainability opens up new, very exciting areas of activity. For example, that of energy generation: In stationary and mobile fuel cells, energy is generated from hydrogen by means of a chemical process, and coatings play an important role here. We are also looking at solid-state batteries because the Achilles’ heel of e-mobility today is still the battery. Using solid-state batteries would enable a significant increase in the amount of energy stored per volume. One possibility would be using powders in the future instead of today’s liquids. For us as a manufacturer of metal powders, that is, of course, a highly interesting field of research!

Many thanks for the interview!

Oerlikons sustainability targets 2030

Oerlikon’s goal is to ensure that it is recognized equally for its innovation and its integrity — and for the extent to which its work supports countries’ progress toward achieving the United Nations SDGs. To that end, Oerlikon focuses in particular on the areas in which the company can make the greatest impact through products, services and operations.

How we help our customers Meet their Sustainability Goals

Reducing fine dust emissions
On average, 31% of passenger-vehicle-related emissions are caused by brake wear. This results in more than 90,000 metric tons of fine dust per year in the OECD countries alone. Oerlikon’s DiscCover solutions significantly reduce fine dust from brake discs.
Reducing CO2 emissions in aerospace
Our solutions help save up to 5 million liters of fuel, the volume of two Olympic size swimming pools, every day for a fleet the size of the A320 family. This reduces CO2 emissions by 11,600 tons.


Achieving more with less.

This is our ambition and promise to our customers. As one of the “50 Sustainability & Climate Leaders”, a project of companies to combat climate change, our climate action takes center stage in this video. How we help our customers Meet their Sustainability Goals Video “Oerlikon is a global Sustainability & Climate Leader. Enabling YOU to achieve more with less”.

Video “Oerlikon is a global Sustainability & Climate Leader. Enabling YOU to achieve more with less”:


Petra Ammann

Petra Ammann

Head of Communications Oerlikon Balzers

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