More than a century ago, light became a mass product. The thing that opened the door for light from the electric socket was the spiral tungsten filament for incandescent light bulbs – a product that accompanied the growth of Plansee. And the lighting industry remains an important business activity for the Group.
Let’s take a look back at the period between 1910 and 1915. Excitement the world round. Electrification is coming on in leaps and bounds. Light is coming. But not in the shape of the dim carbon filament lamps that had been around in the late 19th century. Instead, people are seeing the advent of light bulbs with spiral tungsten filaments that give off far more light. The secret behind the triumph of the tungsten filament is a new technique that allows the normally brittle tungsten to be drawn into extremely fine filaments. And Paul Schwarzkopf also develops a method of manufacturing tungsten wire and starts making the sought-after wire; originally in Berlin, then in Nijmegen in the Netherlands and, as of 1921, in Reutte in the Tyrol. His main customer is the emerging lighting industry. With the companies he founds, Paul Schwarzkopf lays the foundation for a corporation that will concentrate primarily on molybdenum and tungsten for the next 100 years.
Pioneer in the lighting industry
Although the quality of the incandescent filaments is already quite acceptable, Paul Schwarzkopf is looking for ways of reducing the costs of production. Since the beginning of the 30s, he has been using another development, namely carbide. He manufactures drawing dies and the service life during production increases significantly. This was the inception of the carbide activities of the Plansee Group, which are now under the aegis of the Ceratizit division. But Paul Schwarzkopf is not simply a pioneer in the lighting industry; he is also a visionary. He knows that a world that is rapidly becoming technology-driven will become increasingly reliant on the high-tech materials molybdenum and tungsten. In the lighting industry, it’s all about material properties such as a high melting point, low vapor pressure, excellent thermal conductivity and a low electron work function. But molybdenum and tungsten, often alloyed with traces of other elements, offer a wide range of other important properties. And it is precisely these properties that have allowed Plansee to constantly open up new areas of application for their materials in the lighting industry. After all, our old friend the light bulb has long ceased to be a market for Plansee.
Nowadays, Plansee’s refractory metals are used in halogen lamps, high intensity discharge lamps and in the manufacture of high-performance LEDs. Current products for the lighting industry include fine tungsten wire for incandescent filaments, molybdenum retaining and feed wire, dipping caps for H4 lights and tungsten electrodes. Not to mention a whole range of materials needed in the LED production process. At the same time, Plansee is urgently developing thorium-free materials for the lighting industry.
LEDs: a growth market
But it has been a long time since it was only the lighting industry that needed the high-tech materials offered by the Plansee Group: Major markets also include consumer electronics, mechanical engineering, medical technology and toolmaking.
To allow Plansee to continue as a reliable supplier to the lighting industry going forward, the company is currently investing in a new plant in Mysore, India. Tungsten wire for halogen lamps will be drawn here. “Light is a basic need for all humanity, no matter whether it comes from a light bulb, a halogen lamp or an LED,” says Alexander Tautermann, head of sales for lighting products. “Alongside all the markets that Plansee has opened up over the past decades, the lighting industry has always been a key pillar of our activities. Even if traditional lighting business is declining as a result of the enormous success of LED technology, we shall always continue to offer a wide range of products and solutions for the lighting industry, whether it be for traditional applications or for entirely new lighting technologies.”