Oerlikon Opens Local Nano-Facility

MTOerlikon Deputy CEO Stanislav Lomachenko operating a machine that covers instruments with a nano-coating.

Swiss-based tech conglomerate Oerlikon on Monday launched Russia's first facility for covering machinery with a nanotech durability coating used by car and plane makers, more than 30 years after the Soviet-designed technique was sold abroad.

The plant opening came just days after President Dmitry Medvedev asked billionaire Viktor Vekselberg, whose Renova Group is Oerlikon's largest shareholder, to lead the development of a Silicon Valley-style innovation hub in Skolkovo, a Moscow region town just west of the city.

And while Oerlikon could eventually find a place there, the plant that opened Monday is in Elektrostal, 50 kilometers to the east of Moscow.

"This project is remarkable because it goes far beyond political statements and is a vivid example of a high-tech Western company bringing its technology and experience to the Russian market," Yury Kudryashov, director of Oerlikon's coating division in Russia, said at an opening ceremony. "This is the most up-to-date center operated by our company globally. We've opened 89 similar facilities so far, and we hope here it works out fine, too."

Unlike the innovations eventually planned for the Skolkovo center, the Oerlikon technology isn't exactly new to Russia. But the plant's opening marks the first time it has been applied here, Mikhail Liefschitz, Renova's director of high-tech assets development, told reporters.

"Russian scientists invented this method back in the 1970s, and the Soviet government sold it abroad, but today we can witness it coming back home in the form of a modern production facility," he said.

Oerlikon invested about 3 million Swiss francs ($2.8 million) in the project and expects to build several more, Andy Boeckli, Oerlikon's director for Central and Eastern Europe, told The Moscow Times.

"It is difficult to say where we will open a similar facility next, but we definitely have St. Petersburg in mind," he said. "It could be Nizhny Novgorod or Samara. We try to locate our production capacities as close to customers as possible."

Carmakers GAZ and AvtoVAZ are located in the Nizhny Novgorod and Samara regions, respectively, while St. Petersburg is home to a number of auto plants. Boeckli declined to elaborate on future projects, saying it was too early to speculate.

The facility in Elektrostal will be home to three vacuum machines that coat metal parts, such as drill bits and saws, with a nano-designed material at temperatures in excess of 500 degrees Celsius. The process boosts the durability of their cutting and drilling surfaces 100-fold, the company said.

If the Elektrostal plant is any indication, high-tech enterprises might not be a quick employment solution for replacing Russia's ailing industrial giants — the facility has just six employees so far.

Only one of the machines is operational, but the remaining two will be put into service as soon as the company gets enough orders, Boeckli said. "We're planning to reach full production capacity in two or three years," he said.

The company already has orders to supply nano-coated hardware and is in talks with local subsidiaries of its global customers, such as Swedish hardware maker Sandvik, Boeckli said.

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