Libmonster ID: RU-17183
Author(s) of the publication: Marina POPOVA, journalist

Just a year ago, in 2010, the Russian Renova group of companies, which holds and manages assets in the metallurgical, oil, machine-building, ore mining and electric-power industries as well as in telecommunications and nanotechnologies, and the Swiss Oerlikon Balzers corporate group, a world leader in advanced technologies, set up Russia's first Center for Application of Nanostructured Coatings at Elektrostal, an industrial town near Moscow. This enterprise ranks 89th in the global network catering to enterprises of the USA, South America, Europe and Asia in metal-cutting tools hardening, and stamping and molding equipment.

Head office of the Oerlikon Balzers Center for Application of Nanostructured Coatings at Elektrostal, Moscow Region.

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The place of this enterprise providing advanced engineering technologies to the national market was chosen quite deliberately. Elektrostal is a town with a long-standing economic potential formed by several local company enterprises. They include the Machine-Building Plant, the world's leading producer of nuclear fuel for nuclear power plants, research reactors and power plants for the marine fleet, the Elektrostal Metallurgical Works supplying high-quality alloys for the machine-building and chemical industries, jet-propelled aviation and space vehicles, and the Elektrostal Heavy Machine-Building Plant manufacturing equipment for metallurgical and rolling mills, tube mills as well as the ore-mining and cement industries. Private businesses are likewise busy here. Suffice it to say that above 30 foreign organizations are at work at Elektrostal. This is certainly an attractive town for investors. The Oerlikon Balzers Center is quite at home here.

The performance characteristics of tools and parts depend on the condition of their surface coating because it is subjected to the most severe mechanical, thermal and other effects. The conventional chemical methods of hardening are no longer good. Today the industry stakes on integrated physical protective technologies making cutting surfaces unique in their geometric shape, composition, morphology and working characteristics. In this regard, of great scientific and practical interest are processes based on the formation of film structures from the plasma of a hardening material, in particular, the so-called PVD method ("physical vapor deposition"), a cathode arc deposition technique. What is meant here is the formation of thin composite films produced by vapor condensation of applied materials (like titanium, aluminum, tungsten, molybdenum, iron, nickel, copper, graphite, chromium and their alloys) on the surface of parts, tools and equipment in vacuum conditions for making wear, corrosion and erosion-resistant and antifriction (with a low friction coefficient) coatings.

The PVD technology adopted by Oerlikon Balzers was exported more than 50 years ago from the Soviet Union. Its authors were scientists of the Kharkov Physics and Technology Institute of the Ukrainian Academy of Sciences, now the National Academy of Ukraine. At the end of the 1960s they began studying surface modifying processes by high-speed flows of metal plasma using a vacuum arc discharge, and already early in the 1970s adapted this technology to industrial production and developed the first prototypes of the Bulat industrial plants. These plants gave the name both to the method and to the coating process. As found out later, in the 21st century, this process actually became the world's first operating nano-technology of surface hardening of metal products. The Bulat plant, which provided a powerful impetus to tooling production, was protected by patents in the USA, Great Britain, France, Germany, Japan and Italy.

However, in December of 1979 the Soviet government took an unprecedented step in its openness, namely, it signed a license agreement on the transfer of titanium nitride (TiN) coating technology for high-speed steel tools and a pilot prototype of the Bulat-3 plant to the American Multi Arc Vacuum Systems (MAVS) Company. This enables MAVS to set up a network of subsidiary companies in more than 40 countries of the North American, European and Asian continents. The most effective performance in this field was demonstrated by Oerlikon Balzers (city of Balzers, Liechtenstein) within a large corporation engaged in hardening technologies, solar energy research, automobile systems, optical and space components.

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As Vitaly Kazakevich, Director General of Oerlikon Balzers Rus noted in his interview to the Internet portal of the fuel and energy complex community in May of 2011, "early in the 1990s the Swiss PVD plants differed essentially in their performance specification from their prototypes, i.e. the Russian Bulat. Besides, from experimental setups they grew to commercial industrial equipment provided with automatic devices, explicit maintenance schedules and know-how or, in other words, it was a fully elaborated commercial product widely present on the world market and providing coatings of multiple uses". In short, thanks to Renova and Oerlikon our technology returned to Russia in an upgraded form.

The Swiss partners brought to Elektrostal not equipment alone but also know-how and unique experience in product placement. Their company, whose total turnover made up 201 mln Swiss francs in the first half of 2010, holds 35 percent of the world market of tool coatings used in the automobile industry, shipbuilding, aviation engine manufacturing, transport and agricultural engineering, power engineering, electronics and information technologies. Its major customers, such as Audi, SKF, Sandvik (Sweden), Siemens, Braun, Bosch (Germany), ABB (Sweden-Switzerland), are operating just in these fields. Its corporate product, BALINIT® coating, used in different cutting tools, specifically, in milling tools, is in particular demand among customers. This coating, while increasing the wear resistance of tools 5 to 10 times and equipment efficiency, cuts purchasing costs by half.

The Elektrostal center, specializing yet only in the hardening of tools and related equipment (with machine parts and components in prospect), is operating on a uniform technological and institutional standard. In line

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with a process chart, each batch of drills, chisels, mills and other tools is subject to preliminary inspection and cleaning before entering a rotary loading unit. The maximum size of a tool in for superstrong film coating has to fit into a cylinder of up to 700 mm across and be not above 1 m high. About 3 t of the product can be put in this facility. After that the rotary loading unit is placed into a separator chamber, in which the desired process takes place, i.e. plasma accelerators are activated in deep vacuum, and high voltage is applied to the tool and titanium cathode, and fast ion beam bombardment of the tool takes place for cleaning its surface. Then the voltage is stepped down, and dry nitrogen is fed into the chamber. The turbulent titanium plasma combines with nitrogen and forms a 5-8 mm TiN film of golden color on the surface of the tool. This is the "facing" material. Adhering rigidly to the "body" of the tool, it makes the tool highly resistant. The nitride-titanium coating, experts say, is superior even to corundum, one of the hardest minerals on the Earth.

In just one year of its existence the center carried out above 100 product tests for aerospace, automobile and engine manufacturers. "The results are impressive," noted Kazakevich. "The lifetime of metal-cutting tools increased by 500 percent (!). As a consequence, the per tool costs were down threefold."

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Small wonder that many enterprises became interested in improving their technical and economic indicators this way. For example, the management of the Traktomy Zavody (Tractor Works) corporate group (city of Cheboksary, Chuvash Republic), a major machine-building company, manufacturing equipment for the mining, oil-and-gas and electric-power industries, agriculture and railway transport, after the conducted tests decided to use the coatings of Oerlikon Balzers at its 17 enterprises in Russia, Germany, Denmark and Austria. The first customer of this service is the Promtraktor Works in Cheboksary, the capital city of Chuvashia, the world's third manufacturer of the heavy ripper-dozer and pipelaying equipment.

While here specialists are out to evaluate the economic efficiency of hardening technology, at other enterprises they have seen for themselves this efficiency. At the Powder Metallurgy Works (at Kolomna, Moscow Region) and the Nizhegorodsky Motory Works (Nizhni Novgorod) of the GAZ group of companies the application of nanostructured films ensured a 2.5 fold increase in tooling lifetime. The wear-resistant coating of Oerlikon Balzers company on metal-cutting tools and stamping and molding equipment enabled the Metalware and Calibration Plant (city of Magnitogorsk, Chelyabinsk Region) to substantially cut per unit costs of the output and secure an edge on the Russian market.

The Elektrostal-based Center can satisfy any customer, even if his order includes just one item. The delivery time is 5 days, and it will be reduced down to 48 hours by the end of the 2011. This short schedule has become possible thanks to maximum unification of services. The company offers above 20 types of BALI NIT® coatings for tools throughout the world. One can get a specific product, that is the film coating formula online, there and then, as the company personnel uses a common base for all its centers. Even a nonstandard order will be filled in time.

"One customer asked to apply a hardsurfacing overlay to a die for aluminum section extrusion," said Stanislav Lomachenko, production director of the Oerlikon Balzers Center in Elektrostal to Russian and foreign journalists on April 5, 2011. "Our standard package did not provide for this particular technique. But I made an inquiry to the company headquarters in Balzers and sent its copies to all regional offices of the company. The next day I received from Brazil a ready-to-use formula of the production method for the hardening of that die."

In Russia the growth rates of the innovation technology market are low as yet. However, according to Lomachenko, the interest in Oerlikon Balzers services increases by 50 to 70 percent a month. The company is exploring the possibilities of setting up new enterprises countrywide.


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