By Agnes Zeiner
Two and a half hours. That’s all the time this short walk took. But it was to change our world forever. Everyone knows the two most famous quotes from the Apollo 11 mission’s commander, Neil Armstrong. “The Eagle has landed.” That’s what he announced to the NASA team back on Earth as he and Buzz Aldrin landed on the moon with their lunar module, which was called Eagle. Then, with the words, “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind!” he became the first person to set foot on the moon, a half-century ago on July 20, 1969.
And so the dream of putting a man on the moon became a reality. What began as an intellectual and technological arms race in the Cold War is now the foundation of many innovations that we could no longer imagine living without — from baby food to imaging sensors in smartphones. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has listed around 130 spinoff technologies that form a part of our everyday lives today and were developed or co-developed either directly or indirectly by their engineers on their new website Home and City.
This knock-on effect undoubtedly had a huge impact on our everyday lives, but the impact on the aerospace industry has been even greater. “Space travel is to the aerospace industry what Formula 1 is to the automobile industry. The knowledge gained here flows directly into the development of the aviation sector, so it eventually benefits all of us here on Earth when we get on a plane for a business trip or when we go on vacation,” says Richard Schmid, Head of the Development Department at Oerlikon Metco (which is known within the Group under its full name: the Business Unit Oerlikon Metco Aero and Energy — a name that is no accident).
80 years a partner for the aerospace industry
Oerlikon has been a supplier to the aerospace industry for around 80 years, and its list of innovations and contributions to new developments is long. “Here is just one example. In the early days of space travel, our employees were researching the area of low-pressure plasma simulation. Today, Oerlikon Balzers uses plasma to put wafer-thin environmental barrier coatings on materials, for instance using plasma-assisted chemical vapor deposition (PACVD); and Oerlikon Metco uses low pressure plasma spray technology (LPPS) to deposit oxide free coatings for gas turbines,” Schmid says of the company’s contribution over the decades. “Back then, plasma was used to simulate extremely high temperatures. This made it possible to test what happens to flying objects when they reenter the Earth’s atmosphere. Such tests also helped make it possible for us to send people into space today – and more importantly, bring them back again safe and sound.”
Nowadays, Oerlikon provides a variety of aerospace solutions. The range includes thermal barrier coatings, which protect airplane turbines from heat. clearance control solutions help save fuel. Thin coatings increase the service life of turbines and components many times over — for example, by protecting the chassis against corrosion by salt. Oerlikon is also at the forefront of additive manufacturing for the aerospace sector thanks to partnerships with manufacturers of aircraft and turbines.
Partnerships bridge business, R&D and education
Oerlikon works closely with partners not only at the end of the innovation chain, but also at the beginning. In fact, a new collaboration was announced at the Paris Air Show that is currently taking place (from June 17 to June 23, 2019). Together with the French aerospace company Safran, the French National Center for Scientific Research (Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique – CNRS) and the University of Limoges, Oerlikon will establish a joint research laboratory and a technology platform for surface treatment in southwest France. Oerlikon CEO Dr. Roland Fischer says: “We are a strong believer in the value of partnerships that bridge business, R&D and education. By combining our advanced R&D expertise in functional coatings, surface solutions and additive manufacturing with Safran’s R&D roadmap, we will help make aerospace more efficient, safer, quieter and faster.”
Full-service supplier at the Paris Air Show
According to Richard Schmid, “Neil Armstrong was right. The moon landing 50 years ago was a giant leap for mankind. But many smaller steps were needed to make that leap possible — and the same principle applies today. At the Paris Air Show, all Oerlikon business units show how we as a full-service supplier implement such steps and such developments to produce technologies and solutions for our customers. We achieve this with the help of our partners, and we do it across the entire innovation chain. Our aim is to ensure that these developments benefit not only the aerospace industry, but also all sectors and markets and ultimately, all of us as end users.”