renowned as supplier for the food processing industry – with smartphone components.
However, the company has a hand in many technologies used to create a smartphone: from the grinding and dispersing processes to vacuum depositing and also die casting.
What’s in a phone?
It all starts with the shell: Bühler’s vacuum depositing technology is used to coat the shell evenly with layers of transparent materials, yielding a variety colors by the same principle that produce the colors in soap bubbles, and for adding a glass-like top layer for extra robustness. Some noble aluminum or magnesium casings are made with Bühler die casting machines. Next up is the user interface, the touch screen, which uses invisible conductive lines deposited on plastic film again by vacuum deposition. Putting two such touch panel films on top of each other in a criss-cross pattern allows the phone to locate where our fingers touch the screen.
The display technology has long been the domain of the Grinding & Dispersing Technologies business unit. The glass pastes that carried the phosphors to yield the colors in plasma display panels were produced by Bühler three-roll mills. Bühler only pursued that application for a few years, since liquid crystal display (LCD) technology won over the plasma technology. Fortunately, Bühler remained strongly engaged in the business, since high-tech bead mills grind the nano-pigment dispersion for the red, green and blue color filters used in LCDs, which are also applied today in the new white organic light-emitting diode (OLED) displays. In the future, however, the emergent RGB OLED displays will do without color filters altogether in favor of red, green and blue light sources that are produced directly by applying vacuum deposition technologies only.
While providing solutions for suppliers to the smartphone industry does not constitute the largest part of the Advanced Material Division’s business, it is a good example for the innovation pressure affecting many of its Business Units. Working a high-tech market segment where disruptive innovation fundamentally changes the technology in use every two to three years demands a great deal of flexibility and the capacity to react to alternative technology developments. Being able to offer the right capabilities for these developments is vital to stay in business. A case in point is Bühler’s forward-thinking addition of vacuum depositing technology to its portfolio with the acquisition of Leybold Optics GmbH.
Advanced Materials – diverse but complementary
With its three business Units from different technological backgrounds – Grinding and Dispersing Technologies, Leybold Optics, and Die Casting – Advanced Materials seems at first glance to be a rather disparate Division. The business Units, however, have customers in common and act complementary. If a disruptive technological development takes the business away from one unit, bühler has another business Unit with the relevant technological know-how to deliver the solutions the customer needs. This is the vision on which the Advanced Materials Division will focus its development efforts. ■