It leads not only in unparalleled service, but also in pioneering technological skill. Its goal is to increase productivity by making tools work more efficiently. It works as closely with you as your own associates. Although you might not realize it, it could be your new department down the corridor, for it would like you to think of them as just another one of your company’s departments. It is Balzers, Inc., of Amherst, N.Y., and it provides the highest-quality, thin-film, wear-resistant ceramic coatings in record-breaking time to countless North American industries.
Balzers coatings reduce wear, improve manufacturing processes and reduce unplanned shutdowns of critical industrial operations. The phenomenal accomplishments of this company are a result of its resolute commitment to intensive research and development, and to its heavy capital investments, totaling more than $10 million each year for the last several years.
The most visible indications of Balzers coatings in our everyday lives are the aluminum-colored coatings on compact disks and the attractive blues, pinks and golds coloring glass windows of city office buildings (provided by other divisions). However, Balzers’ thin-film, wear-resistant ceramic coatings serve industries every day by maximizing the productivity of the tools or components those industries use or manufacture. Balzers operates nine coating centers located in heavy industrial areas of the country. “We offer a service to industries,” says Fred Teeter, marketing director. “We accept tooling into our facilities 24 hours a day, seven days a week. We are constantly receiving cutting, forming, molding or precision components, which we carefully process.” The secret of coating technology is to create superb adhesion. “And the secret behind superb adhesion is to achieve cleaning technologies resulting in microscopically clean surfaces,” explains Teeter.
Balzers is an international corporation with its worldwide headquarters in Liechtenstein, and its coating equipment is manufactured in Liechtenstein and Switzerland. It is the global leader in thin-film coating service and technology. Balzers employs approximately 500 in North America, and the ISO 9002-certified company is one of many divisions of its international parent corporation. Adjacent to its Amherst headquarters location is a technical development center, which houses a fully equipped metallurgical laboratory offering customers analytical support for developing new coating applications. This center also provides reference materials, case histories and analytical resources directly to the nine national coating centers.
Three Businesses in One
“Our three business units are fairly new developments born of our tremendous growth,” says Teeter. The Tooling Business Unit handles standard tooling classified into cutting tools, including drills; forming tools, including punches; and molding tools, including plastic injection dies. “These are three very distinct end-use application areas,” explains Teeter. “Much of what we do is coat tooling for OEM manufacturers.” About 50 percent of all cutting tools worldwide are coated using thin-film technology. “It is a newer idea for the forming and molding industries,” he states.
The Precision Components Unit coats actual parts within a component system — for example, a fuel-injection pin. “In this case, we are actually coating the final part that goes into an engine or a gearbox,” says Teeter. “This is a very challenging area because now we are not talking about doing one or 1,000 or even 100,000 parts per year. We are talking about doing millions of parts of a particular design. Greater challenges in logistics arise and we must work closely with design engineers in these intricate applications. Precision components may ultimately be the biggest part of the thin-film coating business.”
Balzers’ Equipment Sales and Service Unit is a flexible arm of the company working closely with large manufacturers that wish to purchase the multimillion-dollar coating equipment for their own facilities and do the coating themselves. “We will help them set up the equipment in their facilities and we will offer them technical support,” says Teeter. “Sometimes we will set up a cooperative arrangement with a company.”
The Ticking Clock
“Tooling is very critical in any plant,” says Teeter. “Say you are dealing with a small specialty company and they have only one or two of a key tool that does a very critical job. When they send that tool out, the clock starts ticking.” That tool must be cleaned, coated, inspected and shipped back to the customer, sometimes within 24 or 48 hours.
The company’s phenomenal turnaround puts pressure on Balzers to perform like lightning. Balzers’ delivery vans operate out of the coating centers, and vans are on the road 24 hours a day, every day. Balzers’ van service is critical to the company’s business, as about 50 percent of the work at Balzers’ coating centers is brought in by its delivery vans. Customers benefit in this arrangement because packing and handling times are reduced.
Balzers offers a wide range of coating chemistries for specific application needs. Coated tools are generally accepted as a standard product in the metalworking industry to improve tool life, cutting performance and part quality, all of which equates to bottom-line lower production costs. The company’s field application engineers work every day with industries to improve the performance of their precision components and highly specialized tooling used in forming, cutting, molding, dental and surgical applications.
Industries requiring thin-film, wear-resistant ceramic coatings are quite literally too numerous to mention. “The automotive industry is a heavy user of our coating services because of the amount of cutting, forming and molding tools and precision components they use,” says Teeter. Other industries include food processing manufacturers, manufacturers of medical equipment, aerospace manufacturers and the textile industry.
There are benefits for any company who can boast 42 coating centers in 18 countries, as Balzers does. “No competitor is close to that,” says Teeter. These benefits extend to the customer. “As our customers become more multinational, they want to be certain that what they are using in one plant here at home is the same in their plants throughout the world. With Balzers they can have that total uniformity.”
As industry is increasingly under pressure to reduce emissions, coating technologies offer workable solutions. “The government is mandating tighter and tighter controls for diesel engines to be cleaner and produce less emissions,” says Teeter. “This can be done by increasing pressure in the fuel injection system and by tightening tolerances between moving parts. Good news, bad news. You create an engine according to EPA mandates, but it fails all of its life tests because you have created more wear. So environmental legislation is helping to drive our business.”
Also under severe environmental scrutiny are lubricating metalworking fluids used in industrial applications of cutting and forming metal. These lubricants help keep the work piece cool as it is being formed or cut, and they help remove metal chips. However, these fluids create hazardous mists. “Because our coatings offer hardness, thermal protection and low coefficient of friction, they make up for the loss of that metal-working fluid,” Teeter says.
In North America…and Beyond
Balzers’ individual coating center managers handle the majority of the day-to-day operating decisions. “The reason for this is that each center is faced with unique types of tooling, depending on the industries in the area,” says Teeter. “But our corporate office establishes a strong business plan for the entire network of coating centers.”
Balzers’ foothold in the North American market is growing by leaps and bounds. It now operates three coating centers in Michigan, two in the Detroit area, and it plans to open a center in the Toronto area to service the Canadian market now served by the Buffalo center. The company is considering another center in the Indianapolis-Dayton area. Says Teeter. “Our R&D staff in Liechtenstein are highly experience and trained, and many of them are Ph.D.s. They are working on cooperative projects at a number of universities as they develop the next generation of coatings and coating equipment.”
Key industry personnel throughout the country will be booking flights to Chicago when they learn that Balzers will announce and introduce a new generation of coating equipment at this year’s International Manufacturing and Technology Show in September. “It is a further development and modification of some of the technology we are already using,” hints Teeter. “It will be a smaller, more efficient and faster-cycle flexible coating device. It can be used in our coating centers, or it will be available for purchase by larger companies to install in their facilities.”