Balzers, Liechtenstein, 8 July 2016 – A new business was entered in the princely commercial register of Liechtenstein 70 years ago: the “Gerätebau-Anstalt” in Balzers. The founders, Prof. Max Auwärter, Prince Franz Josef II von und zu Liechtenstein and the entrepreneur Emil G. Bührle, had the revolutionary idea of developing manufacturing processes in the area of thin coatings and constructing the equipment required for the industrial implementation themselves. Thus, for the first time, the process and the equipment became a single unit and were also offered and sold together – a business model that has enjoyed exceptional success for over 70 years.
Today the former “Gerätebau-Anstalt” is called Oerlikon Balzers and is a part of the Surface Solutions Segment of the Oerlikon Group which was formed in 2014 after the takeover of the coating line of business, Metco, from the Sulzer Group.
Entrepreneurship and science
For Dr. Roland Herb, CEO of the Surface Solutions Segment, the story of the founding fathers, especially of the visionary Prof. Auwärter, has symbolic meaning for the company. “Finding solutions to questions that the industry has not (yet) answered – this is in Balzers’ blood and is part of our DNA. As is the courage to put these ideas into practice,” he says, summarizing 70 years of innovation and company history.
Back then, Professor Auwärter produced sun protection and anti-reflective coatings for eye glass lenses and camera lenses, as well as thin films for electronic applications. The vacuum technology remained the main focus for a long time. Even today, the use of high vacuum is a significant factor for thin-film coatings, however, this part is now purchased while the coating processes and the equipment they require are Oerlikon Balzers’ area of core competence.
From aircraft turbines to piston pins: Greater efficiency and less wear
Development work on PVD coatings (PVD = Physical Vapour Deposition) was begun in 1974. The breakthrough came in 1978 with the BALINIT brand of coatings, which remains an important mainstay of Oerlikon Balzers to this day, alongside further ground-breaking developments. “Essentially, our solutions are always about combining reduced wear with increased efficiency, whether for Formula 1 engines, aircraft turbines, piston rings for the automotive industry, precision instruments, or for tools used by the plastics or metalworking industries. At the end of the day, increased efficiency and reduced wear mean lowering the use of harmful substances and conserving resources – an important aspect of our work. Because we are proud of the fact that our everyday activities are based on values such as sustainability, tradition and innovative drive,” states Roland Herb.
Today, Oerlikon Balzers employs over 4,800 people worldwide with about 550 of these working at the headquarters in Balzers. More than 100 employees at this location are engaged in global research and development activities. Roland Herb spans the range of 70 years of innovation: “We are proud of our independent research that has led to many coating and system developments and to over 1,300 patents in the area of surface solutions – and has made our company the technology leader in thin-film coatings.”