Added value through innovation – layer for layer.

Stellba AG’s motto encompasses exactly the things that also make the Additive Manufacturing of the CHIRON Group special. They share their three core strengths: Innovation, customer benefits and partnership. The Swiss specialists in industrial coatings and machining solutions and Axel Boi’s department are a match made in heaven. That much is clear from the pilot project AM Cube, the first industrial application for the CHIRON Group 3D metal printer.

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If you get to witness Fouad Cheaitani, Head of Sales, Customer Support and Business Development at Stellba, and Axel Boi in a discussion about digital expertise, you feel a bit like a spectator at a high-level table tennis match. The balls fly at lightning speed, the »players« are precise and each return brings a new twist. They’re in their element – a well-oiled team. They’re clearly proud of what has developed from what was initially a simple LinkedIn connection. It’s grown into a development partnership and the AM Cube, which, since its premier at the OPEN HOUSE ONLINE in May 2020, has expanded both its options and applications. One thing led to another...

Expanding and deepening expertise
As a specialist for tailored customer solutions for coatings and machining, Stellba has in-depth expertise in the areas of thermal spraying, welding and Plasma-Transferred-Arc. In 2014, they had already begun using laser technologies and selling the first laser-welding systems for »XXL-workpieces and components,« says Fouad Cheaitani. The goal of the investment was to optimize the technology for use at Stellba and to transfer the machining of particular workpieces to the factory. The particular focus was on the processes where conventional methods delivered good results, but they weren’t quite »Swiss Quality«.

Building expertise and finding new partners
The company built up its expertise and, in May 2019, took on distinguished expert Fouad Cheaitani. He had extensive experience with laser technologies, which he’d been building on since 2003, precisely tracking the development of laser deposition welding, especially in Additive Manufacturing, across all media. Fouad Cheaitani gives lectures on the subject and is well-connected with all specialists and research institutions in this area.

When Stellba was looking for a partner to expand their expertise beyond coating to the creating of workpieces, to answer requests to manufacture small batches, Fouad Cheaitani was in contact with a whole host of companies. But none of these really fulfilled his requirements for a partnership that really benefited both parties. »We didn’t want a finished system that we would need to restructure to suit our needs. We’re also a relatively small company, with only 20 employees, and we worried that we wouldn’t be heard on stage with the large OEMs.«

But, thankfully for both sides, Fouad Cheaitani became aware of CHIRON Group during his research, thanks to how active it was in the area of Additive Manufacturing. He liked a LinkedIn post by Dr. Nasim Bosh and immediately made contact. They got to know each other online, then met in person at the ETH Zurich and found they clicked instantly. The first meeting with Axel Boi took place in fall 2019, and the contracts had been signed before Christmas even arrived.

Flexibility. With Additive Manufacturing as an alternative.
Axel Boi was immediately prepared to prove that they could achieve what Fouad Cheaitani describes as »fantasy in the plant«. He wanted to work together with Stellba to put the existing qualities of the AM Cube to the test. They wanted many options which fell under the heading of »maximum flexibility«. Stellba is a service provider, and the requests can differ greatly from day to day. For example, machining with four or five axes, wire or powder, material application with lance or nozzle, preheating parts to 300 degrees, welding under argon cover gas atmosphere in the entire working area to avoid oxidation and formation of pores – every project has its own, new challenges. Challenges, which the AM Cube would need to conquer fantastically.

»We didn’t want a pre-made system. We wanted our fantasy in the factory, with a variety of options which we, as contract manufacturers, could adjust for the most different tasks.«
Fouad Cheaitani
Head of Sales, Customer Support and Business Development at Stellba

The Highlights:

  • Coating, 3D printing or repair

  • Automatic changing of application heads

  • Weld filler metals as wire or power

  • Working on three, four or five axes

  • Programming in DIN ISO or CAM

  • Easy to use with the SmartLine Module TouchLine

Always at top speed
To transfer these varied requirements into practical solutions, it isn’t just Fouad Cheaitani and Axel Boi who are constantly in discussion. In Dottikon and Tuttlingen, teams from all departments work closely and constructively together. Every two weeks there is a team meeting, where all the application engineers, material specialists and software engineers get together and to discuss issues and progress. Every department contributes different expertise and view points, which are discussed, and then discarded or implemented as quickly as possible.

The worry that the CHIRON Group was too large to move at this pace quickly dissolved. The Additive Manufacturing division has, according to Axel Boi, »A start-up character – very dynamic and flexible. On the other hand, we have access to CHIRON Group reserve resources and support, and more experts that we can call upon if necessary.«

Stellba’s focus is new materials and possibilities
Fouad Cheaitani is on the »side of material«. One of the reasons why Stellba decided to collaborate with Axel Boi’s team was, »many companies got involved on the software side or the technology side – but for the perfect results and more applications, the material had to be perfect. As a distinguished materials expert, Dr. Nasim Bosh is the ideal sparring partner for us.« Eventually, in the future, Stellba doesn’t just want to build components with the existing material range of wire or powder, it also wants to develop new specially adjusted materials and coating materials for Additive Manufacturing. They should help achieve the required mechanical values and realize new material properties – for example with new additives or new compositions.

Will this work better with wire or powder? On the one hand, this is a matter of experience, on the other, a case of experimenting. Of course it will take time, but in comparison to developing and gaining approval for completely new materials, the desired results are found much more quickly. Not least thanks to the idea-ping-pong going on between them and Axel Boi’s team, where ideas and approaches are communicated openly, and jointly tested and fleshed-out for feasibility.

Easy to use: a real USP
And now, back to reality, after a brief foray into the future of Additive Manufacturing. The important thing is the safe mastery of these highly complex technologies to minimize operating errors. According to Fouad Cheaitani, one of the central benefits of the AM Cube is »automatic changing of the application heads. Whether wire or powder, 3D printing or coating, internal or external... Things that take hours for other manufacturers take only minutes here, and without the need for manual interference. It’s unrivaled.« Equally unrivaled – and incidentally a small but positive surprise for Axel Boi too – is that the AM Cube takes just five days to install and set up.

 One of the three AM Cube application heads for applying powder using a lance for the interior coating of components. The three different application heads allow the application material – wire or powder – to be changed in various phases of production.
One of the three AM Cube application heads for applying powder using a lance for the interior coating of components. The three different application heads allow the application material – wire or powder – to be changed in various phases of production.
»The automatic changing of the application heads is a key advantage of the AM Cube, and a true USP. It’s unrivaled.«
Fouad Cheaitani
Head of Sales, Customer Support and Business Development at Stellba

Variety as a goal – check.
Coating, 3D printing or repair – It’s all possible with the AM Cube. And the various applications at Stellba prove that anything is possible. Since it was commissioned, various research projects have been run on the 3D metal printer in collaboration with prestigious Swiss universities and, since December, it has taken on even more different orders. It has been welding half-shells for brakes in locomotives, coating the inside of components with aluminum-bronze and repairing turbine blades.

Currently, they are building an impeller for a turbine fully additively. Stellba also carries out repairs on various components using the AM Cube and is working hard on qualifying new materials such as tungsten carbide or materials based on nickel.

 Welding test with aluminum-bronze to calculate the process parameters – magnetic brakes for locomotives
Welding test with aluminum-bronze to calculate the process parameters – magnetic brakes for locomotives
 Cable guide with anti-wear coating made from Stellite® 6
Cable guide with anti-wear coating made from Stellite® 6
 Kneading cogs coated in tungsten carbide
Kneading cogs coated in tungsten carbide

The development partnership is a resounding success, not just in finding more options for all AM Cube users, says Fouad Cheaitani, »to our delight, and that of our owner and CEO Philipp Jutzi, the system is already making us money.«

The trial phase is now complete and the AM Cube has already mastered a huge variety of industrial tasks at Stellba, with flying colors.

This begs the question, will Additive Manufacturing replace existing technologies? Fouad Cheaitani and Axel Boi are united in thinking that it won’t. But the engineers have more possibilities when developing components, both regarding the lower weight of the part and saving energy, and the design.

Click here to find out more about the highlights of the AM Cube, applications and options.

Interested in more information or a personal discussion about the AM Cube and its industrial uses at Stellba? 

Axel Boi welcomes your request and would be happy to put you in contact with Fouad Cheaitani.

Axel Boi
Head of Additive Manufacturing
Tel. +49 7461 940-3871

[email protected]

Stellba AG
Stellba AG was founded in 1957 and has its headquarters in Dottikon, Switzerland, with a large-scale production center in Baden. Today, it is one of the most in-demand global specialists on tailored customer coating and machining solutions which protect products and components from erosion, abrasion, corrosion and oxidation, thermal loads or combinations of various types of wear. The applications for the high-tech finishings include hydro-power plants, thermal power plants, pumps and compressors, components in high-temperature zones and thermal barrier coatings (TBC). Stellba is a contract manufacturer and a partner in the energy supply, oil and gas, maritime, and printing industries, as well as the chemical-pharmaceutical industry. It develops innovative processes in its in-house material laboratory and is a leader in future-focused technologies like laser deposition welding and additive metal machining.