Winner of the Innovation Award 2023
Oct 17, 2023
From the pan to the semiconductor:
INNOVATION PRICE-Dr. Christoph Stecher has taught big players in the coating industry to fear
"The 3-star chef Juan Amador works hard for them-for the pans and pots from Wilhelmshaven. The man has the highest standards, does not compromise. Several Michelin stars have already risen for him. The Wilhelmshaven cookware manufacturer acs-Coating Systems GmbH basks in its splendor. Others can press pans. The special thing is the coating-an in-house development of the acs Coating Systems, more precisely by the doctor of physics Dr. Christoph Stecher (60). “With this coating, we are ten to twenty years ahead of the competition,” says Stecher. In addition to its mechanical resistance, the hallmarks of the coating are its heat resistance, its anti-stick properties and, above all, the fact that it does not require Teflon or similar chemical compositions (PFAS) that are suspected of endangering health. It works on a ceramic basis.
Father Friedhelm founded an engineering office in 1987
In addition, Acs now has a portfolio of new coatings for a wide variety of applications, from fuel cells to wind energy, which, as Stecher assures, are superior to the "Teflon coatings" used so far and make the "Teflon" superfluous. Four new patents were recently registered for this, and more are in progress. This convinced the jurors of the first Wilhelmshaven Innovation Prize to award the company as a winner in the existing company category. The company acs Coating Systems would not exist without the former Olympic plants. They gave Stecher's father Friedhelm an important start-up aid in the early 1990 s. The engineer was previously head of development at a major automotive supplier. The company earned a lot of money with the patented cylinder head seals developed by him as a young engineer, which is why Friedhelm Stecher decided to act on his own account in the future. He founded his own engineering firm in 1987 and later the company STE Seichtungstechnik.
Meanwhile, Christoph Stecher studied physics and helped his father with the development work in his engineering office in Cologne. Their goal was to invent a new particularly resistant cylinder head gasket made of embossed steel.
It quickly turned out that the usual Teflon and rubber coatings were not durable enough for this. Stechers changed the chemistry and used a new high-performance polymer with only a little Teflon. They were the first in the industry to develop a powder coating for seals, which is applied using an electrostatic process instead of a wet process, in order to then be baked in an oven.
For this development work and later application they needed an industrial partner-the Olympia-Werke offered themselves. Here they looked for ways to replace the product range-instead of typewriters, it could also be cylinder head seals. At that time, Olympia belonged to the Daimler Group through AEG, whose automobile construction was a possible buyer.
First tenant in the start-up center
“My father was given half a hall with machines, where the development work was practically implemented with the Olympic staff,” says Christoph Stecher. But then the Olympics went bankrupt. Wilhelmshaven's economic developer at the time, Gernot Beutner, convinced Stecher to be the first tenant to move into Kutterstrasse in 1993 in the newly completed start-up center. There, Stechers continued development work with the newly founded STE sealing technology with the acquired Olympic employees, financed by venture capital.
Stecher junior, who was just in his late twenties at the time, was not only involved in the development work, but also in the contract negotiations from his father and switched completely to STE in 1996. “We were taking a high personal risk at the time. But we believed in our product, and in the end we employed 14 people with our development work without having any major economic income, ”says Stecher.
The first market successes at VW, Audi and BMW made the industry sit up and take notice from 2001 onwards. The single-layer seal, developed by STE, proved more resilient than more elaborately manufactured rival products, which, according to Stecher, threatened their business model. Because that consisted of multi-layer seals with up to six layers of spring steel, the sale of which generated beautiful profit margins. The one-for-all seal was a nuisance.
After ten years of expensive development work, Stechers rated breaking the phalanx as not very beneficial. They sold their patent rights for the cylinder head coatings exclusively to one of the oversized competitors and looked for new fields of activity for their novel coating. Because the sales contract did not rule that out.
New production should save a lot of energy
That's how they came up with pans. But while Friedhelm Stecher was also sticking to engine construction, Christoph Stecher saw no future in it. Fifteen years ago he came to the conclusion that the combustion engine had no future. He founded his own company acs in 2008 and decided to coat others with the new developments-in addition to pans, pots and baking trays, products for semiconductor production, machine bearings or whatever.
The young company initially developed and produced in the Voslapper start-up center before it moved to its new production hall on the other side of Kutterstrasse in 2013 and built another hall in 2016. In 2019, Stecher introduced the four-day week in production with the consent of his employees and had photovoltaics installed on all hall roofs in 2021. The first plant for laser coatings was completed in 2023. With this technology, up to 95 percent (fossil) energy will be saved in the future."
Source: WZ (Wilhelmshavener Zeitung); Release date: 16.10.2023; No. 241; p.6