1952 is seen as the dawn of electron beam technology. The physicist Dr. h.c. Karl-Heinz Steigerwald built the first electron beam processing machine. What had to be laboriously worked out at that time is taken for granted today.
The history of electron beam technology began with the experiments by physicists Hittorf and Crookes. They first tried to generate cathode rays in gases (1869) and to melt metals (1879). These cathode rays were an interesting physical phenomenon and lead to the discovery of a particular type of ray by Roentgen (1895), Thompson (1897) and Millikan (1905), which were described as “fast moving electrons”.
The heat generated by the impact of the electrons was considered rather to have a damaging effect at the time of those experiments and attempts were made to prevent this by means of cooling. The physicist Marcello von Pirani was the first to make use of this effect. He built a piece of apparatus for melting tantalum powder and other metals using electron beams. In the following time, more and more scientists experimented with electron beam technology, which lead to the development of oscillographs, microscopes and the drilling of metals. The main obstacle at this time was the lack of sufficiently powerful vacuum pumps.
In 1948 a new era in material processing began with the physicist Dr. h.c. Karl-Heinz Steigerwald. At that time, he was working on the further development of electron beam sources with higher powers for the construction of electron microscopes.
His experiments with the electron beam as a thermal tool for drilling watch stones and for soldering, melting and welding in a vacuum were very promising and from then on development progressed faster:
- In 1952 he built the first electron beam processing machine.
- In 1958 he butt-welded 5 mm thick Zircaloy together and thereby he discovered the "deep welding effect".
- In 1963 he founded the company Steigerwald Strahltechnik GmbH, which is still engaged in the development and construction of electron beam processing machines at the highest level. The permanent innovative energy of the company, from those days until today, brought Steigerwald Strahltechnik in the markets the eligible label "The Innovators of the Electron Beam".
Based on Dr. Steigerwald's fundamental work at Zeiss, companies in other countries began to develop electron beam technology and build EB machines. Hamilton Standard in the USA and Heraeus in Germany realized the potential of this technology very early. These two companies together with Steigerwald Strahltechnik and the company founder and inventor of electron beam technology Dr. h.c. Karl-Heinz Steigerwald, refer to a more than 40-year history with constant development.
Today, the Steigerwald Strahltechnik GmbH in Maisach near Munich, the PTR Strahltechnik in Langenselbold near Frankfurt and the PTR Precision Technologies INC in Enfield near Boston operate under the holding company of Global Beam Technologies AG as innovative partners for users of the electron beam technology around the globe. From a historic point of view, PTR Strahltechnik has emerged from Leybold Heraeus and PTR Precision Technologies INC in Enfield near Boston from Hamilton Standard.
"The electron beam as a tool" is the business basis of all company units of Global Beam Technologies AG. Electron beam technology is used worldwide with an increasing tendency. Even today, new applications are being developed and used industrially, especially where other beam processes reach their limits.