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Beyond Surfaces #10 - Sustainability

Interview: Sustainability; Gearing up for sustainability: Improving manufacturing processes with EcoGear; Oerlikon’s employees implement green innovations worldwide; 6-fold productivity increase with BALINIT FORMERA.

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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Gearing up for sustainability

EcoGear, a joint R&D project between Oerlikon, industry partners and academia, focuses on a manufacturing process improvement that reduces waste, uses less energy and has a smaller carbon footprint.

Waste reduction is one of the most pressing challenges in sustainable innovation. What does it take to manufacture products and components that generate substantially less waste without compromising their utility or performance? Devising answers to that question often requires the input of a multidisciplinary team, and it is just such a collaborative approach that sets the stage for development of a radically new way to produce bevel gears.

From traditional to transformational

Traditionally, bevel gears are produced as blanks from which the teeth shape is cut. This generates a great deal of material waste. The EcoGear project, a joint R&D venture of Oerlikon Balzers, Stockholm’s KTH Royal Institute of Technology, and industry partners Scania, Georg Fischer and Buderus Steel, was launched in 2020 to develop an alternative to replace the traditional manufacturing process.

“The goal of the EcoGear project is to develop a pre-forged blank at the beginning of the process chain with a near net shape geometry of the teeth,” says Tony Ulander, Oerlikon Balzers’ Sales Manager for Scandinavia. “This dramatically reduces the machining effort to achieve the desired shape and the material waste; it also increases tool lifetime.”

However, this new approach raises challenges for the entire process chain, including the tools and coatings. Oerlikon’s role in the project includes establishing the parameters for the cutting data and the criteria for running operations. “By utilizing primeGear, we can optimize surfaces and edges with pre- and post-treatments together with coating. This makes it possible to increase tool life by up to 80%,” says Kristofer Malmberg, Oerlikon Balzers’ Tribology Specialist. “Cutting data collected over the course of the project gives us the documentation needed understand tool wear and to optimize the tool surface and edges.”

The team found that the EcoGear solution reduced not only material waste, but also the volume of energy and resources needed for production, machining, transport and recycling. Results of a pre-study announced by the team notes: “The potential material savings are estimated to be up to 20% of total weight of the workpiece. If the workpiece weighs 37.8 kg and 80,000 bevel gears are produced per year, this would lead to material savings of approximately 600 t steel per year. The volume of chips generated in gear milling in a year would be reduced from approximately 700 t to 100 t.”

Reduced waste, increased opportunity

For Ulander, these results speak for themselves, and the project also affirms the benefits of Oerlikon Balzers’ tool coatings and their contribution to the reduction of wear and tear on tools. But he takes an additional lesson away from the project about the power of interdisciplinary partnership.

“We see that through collaboration between Oerlikon, tool makers and the end users, we can come up with a finished product that delivers real benefits,” Ulander says. “For us, it has been a good experience to collaborate in depth with the tool manufacturers on this green project and to gain better understanding of the end users and their processes. This enables us to really support them in going for greener solutions when it comes to tools and tool usage.” He and the team look forward to having more opportunities to explore sustainable solutions in partnership with Oerlikon customers.

Project partners

  • KTH Royal Institute of Technology — PMH Application Lab
  • KTH Royal Institute of Technology — Department of Production Engineering (IIP)
  • Swerim
  • Laboratory for Machine Tools and Production Engineering (WZL) of RWTH Aachen University
  • Scania
  • Buderus
  • GF System 3R
  • Oerlikon Balzers

A conservation component

Oerlikon Balzers’ primeGear service reduces manufacturing costs for gear components and preserves natural resources by reconditioning high-quality cutting tools. The service, which is available at many customer centers worldwide, emerged from years of R&D collaboration with commercial partners.

In 2020, Oerlikon Balzers opened a new application support center in Uppsala, Sweden, for the pre- and post-treatment of cutting tools for the automotive industry. It serves as a global competence center, where the tailored surface pre- and post-treatment service will be further developed and optimized, as an information and consulting center for customers and as a training center where Oerlikon Balzers staff can keep up-to-date with the latest pre- and post-treatment solutions.


Petra Ammann

Petra Ammann

Head of Communications Oerlikon Balzers

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