Photo: CHIRON-Archive

Recognizing potential and forging the future

Design directed by change – this is the common thread running from 1921 and 2021 and is firmly rooted in the CHIRON Group's DNA. The company has been willing to change itself according to demands from customers and markets, to quickly recognize potential and to systematically exploit it. Or, as the Executive Board put it in their foreword to the anniversary publication, »we have the drive to produce today – or tomorrow – what will only reach the market the year after next. We've never been satisfied with creating what's already available on the market.«

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The CHIRON Group's machining centers enable precise, productive and flexible manufacturing in the automotive, aerospace, mechanical engineering, medical technology, tool manufacturing and precision technology industries. The fact that the company has these areas of expertise is no accident but the result of »continuity in mechanical engineering, combined with drastic change in technology and the product range,« says Dr. Armin Schmiederberg, Chairman of the Board at the CHIRON Group SE.

»It's noteworthy that CHIRON has created a new product range three times [...]: Surgical equipment, pressurized-air devices and machining centers.«
CHIRON publication »Recollections – The history of a company«, 2016

Where everything began: Surgical equipment
»Fabriken für feinmechanische Apparate und chirurgische Instrumente GmbH« – a precision appliance and surgical instrument manufacturing company – was founded by Otto Staebler and Gottfried Schnell in 1921. This was made possible by the invention of »stainless steel« in 1912 and the filing of another patent by Friedrich Krupp AG in 1919 which permitted stainless steel to be used in medicine. Both of the founders were quick to recognize the huge potential of this material revolution. The company went on to produce instruments that had not previously existed, which were precise, extremely sharp, stable and could be sterilized without any difficulty. By the end of the 1930s, the product range already comprised around 30,000 medical technology products. CHIRON, together with other companies, established Tuttlingen's reputation as the »global center of medical technology« and would continue to offer this product line into the 1970s.

 Over 562 pages, the main catalog No. 10 from the 1930s listed everything that could possibly be needed in practices and clinics as »the reliable assistants«. Around 30,000 medical technology products were listed, including retractors, blood-letting tools and chloroform instruments.
Over 562 pages, the main catalog No. 10 from the 1930s listed everything that could possibly be needed in practices and clinics as »the reliable assistants«. Around 30,000 medical technology products were listed, including retractors, blood-letting tools and chloroform instruments.
»All employees really contributed to the company becoming a world leader in the manufacture of surgical instruments, where precision and exceptional Swedish steel come together.«
Dr. Ursula Hatzelmann-Kick (née Schnell)
granddaughter of CHIRON founder Gottfried Schnell

What remained after the company's sale to Aesculap AG in 1977 was the extensive expertise that it had gained over decades concerning the industry's complex requirements. This expertise was then incorporated into the manufacturing technology used to produce medical technology products with a precise and high-quality surface finish in a reproducible manner. Examples of this are the precision+ machining centers from the CHIRON brand and the Medical & Precision Technology Center, which was opened in 2013 at the headquarters in Tuttlingen, Germany. This is where production-ready complete solutions made up of machining centers, tools, clamping mechanisms and automation systems are produced.

 The Medical & Precision Technology Center at the headquarters in Tuttlingen, Germany. This is where production-ready complete solutions made up of machining centers, tools, clamping mechanisms and automation systems for medical technology products are produced.
The Medical & Precision Technology Center at the headquarters in Tuttlingen, Germany. This is where production-ready complete solutions made up of machining centers, tools, clamping mechanisms and automation systems for medical technology products are produced.

Compressors: CHIRON gives itself breathing room
The business area of compressors started in the early 1950s with the production of compressors for installation in trucks for the French army and Daimler-Benz and was initially just one of many answers to the question – what can we produce with our limited production means? CHIRON recognized that there was significantly greater potential in compressors and pressurized-air devices than in portable typewriters, tedders, car washing systems, hat dryers and similar unconventional items and systematically expanded the new business area. The product range soon extended from compressors for installation to stationary compressor systems for a wide range of markets. For example, it included the CHIRON-Luftikus 200, a »multipurpose compressor system« for domestic use, crop protection devices and paint spray guns for industry and trades. High performance, a compact design and easy access are just some of the compressors' advantages. These are qualities that are characteristic of CHIRON across all product areas and continue to similarly make the CHIRON Group's machining centers stand out from the competition to this day.

Another typical quality of CHIRON is that it intensively engages with topics. Every year, and with each new product, the Development and Production departments at CHIRON learned more and more about their machine inventory. They learned which adjusting screws to turn and how to improve the systems for metalworking so that the products were of the highest quality. This allowed them to gradually build up expertise and they increasingly focused on the production of compressors and low-pressure devices.

Concentration was also key during the period after CHIRON's takeover by Hoberg & Driesch GmbH in 1957. Peter Hoberg and Toni Driesch recognized the company's in-depth expertise in mechanical engineering that it had built up over decades. As such, other firms' machines were adapted to the relevant machining tasks, converted and had their functions extended. The technicians and engineers in the R&D department had the necessary expertise, they were innovative and flexible, and everyone in the installation team was well-versed in the various manufacturing operations. Now, they could pool their strengths and transfer their practical expertise to building machines.

New business area of machining centers
CHIRON presented its first feed units for metalworking in as early as 1958 and then further developed these units into specialized machines for machining processes. Based on its knowledge about the specific requirements of customers – and they had been customers of the machine manufacturer for long enough to know – CHIRON created the perfect, individually tailored, complete solution. Machine components, mechanisms, workbenches and tools were combined and adjusted in such a way to enable high volumes to be manufactured precisely and efficiently. The first machine – and first model of the legendary series 801 – was sold to Roland-Werke. This marked the start of a long series of customer-specific machining units and, if you will, also the start of CHIRON's expertise in turnkey solutions – a service that the CHIRON Group still provides today.

Four letters, two numbers and much more – in 1973, CHIRON showcased its first in-house innovation, the CHIROMAT RB 32 NC. This again demonstrated how quick the company was to recognize potential and to apply it to practical solutions. The eight-spindle turret-head drilling machine was the first system on the market to have numerical control. Soon after, CHIRON established CNC technology, which was still in its infancy. This allowed significantly faster movement of axes and tools, making for more efficient individual and series production for customers. With the RB 32 and the subsequent models, CHIRON had definitively positioned itself as a machine tool manufacturer and had again successfully undergone a transformation.

From machining units, components and bench drills, to specialized machines, NC manufacturing centers and machining centers – one development led to another and with every new product division and every customer-specific manufacturing task, the mechanical engineering expertise within CHIRON was further developing. With its innovative products and services, the CHIRON Group now facilitates precise, productive and flexible machining in many different industries. In addition, the company is now staying ahead of the competition by establishing new areas of expertise and developing new products that take customers' manufacturing processes forward – such as additive manufacturing, digital systems and services.

The company's industry expertise in medical technology, precision technology, mechanical engineering and tool manufacturing is drawn from its present and past product ranges. Similarly, the company's automotive department also has interesting links to the past.

From amphibious to automotive vehicles
From the »Ruck-Zuck« tire lever, to the »Pneumoskop« for checking the tire pressure gage and car washing systems – over decades, CHIRON brought a variety of products onto the market that were related to vehicles in the broadest sense. The company was also quick to recognize potential in this area, but, with the »Trippelwagen« amphibious vehicle, they were maybe slightly too early. »I think that in developing a quick but economical car, Hans Trippel was way ahead of his time«, concludes Erwin Liebermann, who worked at CHIRON between 1944 and 1992.

The Trippel SK 10, developed by the son-in-law of Managing Director Fritz Kiehn in the late 1940s, was supposed to bring CHIRON great market success and create many new jobs. The vehicle had all of the features needed to be a hit, from a top speed of 95 km/h, to fuel consumption of just 3.2 l per 100 km and a sporty and streamlined design. Unfortunately, success did not come and the Trippel left the plant site on May 8, 1951, with many eyes admiring it.

Many employees also felt like they wanted to take the company in a new direction in the automotive sector, for example, by developing machining centers for wheels. In 1993, CHIRON brought the WM 02, the first »real« wheel machine, onto the market and the CHIRON Group now manufactures machines for rim diameters of between 16 and 26 inches. These machines work 24/7 and produce between 250,000 and 350,000 wheels per year. The machining centers of the 22, 25 and 28 Series allow highly efficient machining of large and complex parts for the growth market of e-mobility.