Advanced Materials: record growth


Advanced Materials: record growth

In 2023, the Advanced Materials business continued its success. Whereas turnover grew strongly by 15.9% to CHF 778 million, order intake fell by 11.2% to CHF 774 million, indicating that business volumes were normalizing. In local currencies, turnover increased by 22.9%, while order intake reduced by 5.3%. With these results, the Advanced Materials business confirmed that it is in an upswing mode, driven by the transitions in its industries, particularly in automotive. This has enabled it to reach a record high turnover.

The boosts that the Die Casting business area and Leybold Optics business area experienced in the previous year have settled into stabilized growth in 2023, with both business areas continuing to benefit from the optimal market positioning of their innovative product portfolios. Growth in the Die Casting business area was driven by its large megacasting solutions. The Leybold Optics business area gained significantly from glass coaters for architectural applications and for car glass, from capacitors for e-mobility, grid applications, and the ongoing strong market trends in photonics and semiconductors. Rising energy prices had an impact on customers’ business cases, with the need to improve energy efficiency driving demand for Bühler’s sustainable solutions across the board. In the Grinding & Dispersing business area, the number of large battery projects based on Bühler’s continuous mixing process decreased. The second major source of revenue in battery production, grinding of active materials, is showing increasing opportunities. Grinding & Dispersing is well positioned to gain from these with its solutions.

Die Casting

The Die Casting business area has experienced significant growth, predominantly fueled by the large Carat solutions with over 4,400 metric tons of locking force, reflecting surging demand in North America and Asia. The consistent demand for the Carat 610 and Carat 920 across Asia and the Western world underscores the burgeoning requirement for structural components for car bodies, including battery cases for electric vehicles, as well as for advanced megacasting applications. A significant milestone was reached when the first Carat 920 and Carat 840 cells were dispatched to customers. Another achievement was the casting of a rear underbody on a Bühler Carat. A major megacasting event held by the Die Casting business area attracted over 400 participants from across the industry, including representatives from 16 Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs), demonstrating Bühler’s technology and thought leadership in this area. Bühler is distinguished in being the only entity in the world capable of assembling 6,000 metric tons die-casting solutions in each of the three key regions for car manufacturers − Europe, the US, and Asia.

Challenges remain, however. The conventional die-casting market in Europe is currently subdued. This can be attributed largely to diminished demand from OEMs. Nevertheless, this has been offset by strong interest in second-hand machines and an uptick in remanufacturing projects. The reshoring movement in the US offers a promising horizon, as well as strong potential in Mexico, even though car sales figures have not yet rebounded to pre-pandemic levels. E-mobility components persist as a central pillar in the die-casting industry, with a growing call for integrated parts necessitating machines with a locking force surpassing 2,000 metric tons.

The SmartCMS, a leading-edge cell control system tailored for complex, fully integrated megacasting cells, reinforces the company’s technological edge. Customer services remained resilient, spurred mainly by robust remanufacturing initiatives, control system enhancements, and the ongoing transition from ICE to BEV drivetrains requiring cells to produce new components including structural components. 

Grinding & Dispersing

The Grinding & Dispersing business area reports a challenging year both in turnover and orders. The battery cell business experienced a peak in its first wave of growth in China, culminating in a temporary slowdown in investments. In sharp contrast, in both the European Union (EU) and the United States announcements were made for expansive capacity build-up, both from local cell entities and established Asian battery producers. Renowned cell manufacturers from China have made significant inroads into the EU and North America, striving to cater to the local automotive industry's growing needs. Bühler stands poised to benefit from its longstanding customer relationships and unmatched experience with expansive production facilities for projects abroad.

A promising development is the rise of the Dry Battery Electrode (DBE) approach in the western hemisphere, which has been identified as the linchpin for the next-generation production of lithium-ion battery (LIB) electrodes. The innovative DBE method results in a staggering 30% reduction in energy expenditure and a 15% reduction in factory footprint for battery cell manufacturing. The Bühler continuous mixing solution, rooted in twin-screw extruder technology, is a promising technology for efficient processing of dry coating. Bühler's collaboration with leading research institutes, raw material producers, equipment suppliers, and cell manufacturers, underscores its commitment to pushing technological boundaries. Electrode slurry saw growing demand in Asia driven by the photovoltaic and capacitors industries.

The surge in demand for silicon, recognized as the next-generation anode active material, has the potential to elevate the energy density of LIBs by an impressive 40%, translating to an enhanced driving range for electric vehicles. Bühler's MicroMedia Invicta technology has emerged as the frontrunner for ensuring peak efficiency in silicon production.

In the inks and coatings arena, the flagship bead mill technology, MicroMedia Invicta, has received repeated orders from leading global customers. 2023 also heralded the launch of the bead mill technology Cenomic Optima 6, boasting a 25 to 50% uptick in productivity and efficiency. Overall, the inks and coatings arena saw global market consolidation. Nevertheless, in the Middle East Africa & India region, there were good growth opportunities for packaging inks and automotive coatings.

Finally, to cater to the digital age’s demands, Bühler has introduced the Smart Dashboard, a state-of-the-art digital solution designed for seamless process data monitoring. Looking ahead, innovative applications necessitating cutting-edge grinding and dispersion solutions are gaining traction, for example, materials for fuel cells, or biomaterial-based leading the charge. 

Leybold Optics

Leybold Optics continued its growth story with increased turnover and normalized order intake. In the optics business, Leybold Optics continued to build on its excellent reputation and achieved significant success in 2023. The flagship product HELIOS 1200 proved itself on the semiconductor market and excelled in precision optical applications due to a surge in orders, particularly in optical sensing and smart glasses. A long-term agreement was secured with a premier key account paving the way for the delivery of ECS evaporation coaters over the next four years. Notably, these machines are at the forefront of green technology, boasting a 30% reduction in electrical consumption during operation.

The demand for DUV (deep ultraviolet) and EUV (extreme ultraviolet) lithography has continued to grow, signaling the industry’s persistent demand for advanced coating solutions. There has also been a significant increase in requests for the technology for large machines for astronomical and space mirror applications with diameters of up to four meters. These requests spanned various technologies from evaporation, such as SYRUSpro and ARES, to ion beam sputtering (IBS), and ion beam figuring (IBF). Besides existing technologies, 2023 also saw the successful market introduction of the Ion Beam Trimming technology (IBT), a game-changer in radio frequency (RF)-connectivity filter applications.

In the field of energy-related applications, Leybold Optics continued its successful course in 2023. The FLC 1600, a thin film coating system for flexible multi-layer applications with the latest sputtering technology, was installed at a customer site and is proof of Leybold Optics’ commitment to delivering innovation and productivity. The evolution of the CAPone for capacitor applications, with its remarkable energy-efficient features, has been seamlessly integrated into a customer’s production line. The CAPone is one of the most energy efficient roll-to-roll coating systems in the industry.

A standout milestone was the development and integration of the PlasMASTER closed-loop modules for glass coating equipment, including Leybold Optics’ own in-situ and ex-situ measurement systems. It was launched in the brand-new Leipzig facility during an open house event focusing predominantly on glass coating innovations.

Branching out, the first steps in the photovoltaic sector were met with success as partners and suppliers to three leading companies in China that focus on new solar power generation technologies expressed interest in these new products. Simultaneously, the automotive glass sector drove robust demand for glass coaters, underscoring Leybold Optics’ leading market position in the glass coating sector.

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