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Rusnano’s $20m investment turns into $40m spin-off

26 May '10
Oleg Kouzbit, Online News Managing Editor

Russia’s nanotech corporation, Rusnano, has launched its first production site, NIR, a new $40m company spun off of Rybinsk’s NPO Saturn engine maker. For Rusnano, its original $20m investment looks like it’s paying off—production of hard-alloy nano-coated tools began earlier this year and prospects look bright.

Russia’s first production company funded by the RF’s national nanotech corporation, Rusnano, has been put into operation in Rybinsk, Yaroslavl region. Using the premises of a large local company, NPO Saturn, the new firm, NIR, will be churning out hard-alloy toolware with multiplex nano-structured coating.

Its capacity this year will be 62,000 new tools and 150,000 of regrinds. It is reportedly expected that by 2014, when the new factory develops its peak capacity, NIR will be capable of making in excess of 120,000 new nano-coated metal-cutting tools and regrinding more than 720,000 pieces a year.

From a small seed

The project that eventually led in 2008 to the setting-up of NIR (that stands for New Toolware Solutions in Russian) was first submitted for Rusnano’s review in late 2007. By September 2008 the government-owned nanotech corporation approved its $20m commitment, making it the owner of 49.98% of the new $40m company.

The project developer, Rybinsk-based NPO Saturn, now has a 25.01% stake in NIR, matching that of the project’s financial investor and one of Russia’s three largest banks, Gazprombank.

Up and running

The new company has actually been up and running since April. Rusnano hasn’t disclosed specific figures as yet, but under a number of agreements inked earlier this year NPO Saturn is said to have been supplying trial batches of tools to Russia’s leading mechanical engineering companies.

The customers reportedly include Soyuz, UMPO, Avtodizel, Tutaev Engines and some others; there’s one Belorussian firm, VIZAS, too. After proper testing Rusnano hopes tool-making can be localized at those production facilities.

The Saturn legacy

NPO Saturn is one of Russia’s largest engine and power engineering makers with a focus on development, production and maintenance of gas-turbine engines for civilian and military aircraft, the RF Navy, as well as for energy-generating and gas-compressor units.

It is one of Russia’s oldest mechanical engineering companies, too. It grew out of an automobile-building factory, Russian Renault, set up in 1916, and has since 1924 been making and testing engines for Russia’s most famous aircraft, such as Yakovlev, Sukhoi, Tupolev, Ilyushin and MiG.

Up until the new millennium the company was known as Rybinsk Motors, but in 2001 a merger between the firm and Moscow’s Lyulka-Saturn resulted in the establishment of NPO Saturn.

In 2002, Saturn’s SaM146 aircraft engine was approved for use in one of Russia’s most ambitious (and protracted) international aviation projects, Sukhoi Superjet 100.

The RF purportedly owns 84% of the company.

Creating a whole new market

The new producer has the potential of grabbing a pole position in Russia’s metal-cutting tool market for years to come because the technology behind the development has been never reportedly utilized in this country.

NIR is confident the toolware will be a must for the national hi-tech sectors, including aircraft-engine making, rocket and space craft production, instrument-making, etc.

So far, such tools have been all imported. With the new site already in production, the project partners reportedly expect to enable Russia’s manufacturing sectors to substantially reduce their reliance on overseas makers.

NIR has been working with Moscow’s Kurchatov Nuclear Energy Research Institute, which has brought about an innovative technology of applying the state-of-the-art nano-structured coating to the tools. NIR says the combination of expertise by scientists and manufacturers has resulted in a 2.5-time increase in a tool’s service life and a substantial decrease in its price.

A Rusnano-hatched economy

Rusnano was set up in 2007 to develop Russia’s nanotechnology potential to tap into the world market of nanotechnology products.

The corporation moved slowly at first, approving only five or so projects within a year. By Q3 2009 it was endorsing 15 projects a quarter. By the end of 2009, Rusnano reportedly committed to finance 65 projects in segments as diverse as solar power and energy-saving, nano-structured materials, medicine and biotech, engineering and metal working, and opto- and nanoelectronics.

Of the 65, 48 were with startups while 17 were extension of existing projects, a Rusnano spokesman said. By the beginning of this year the corporation was said to have 1,356 applications to be evaluated.

CEO Anatoly Chubais announced last year that by 2015 Russia’s nanoproduct sales would reach $32.8bn, with sales by Rusnano-invested companies across the country hitting at least $10bn a year.

Incubating an industrial future

To make sure the new NIR company is manned with the best and brightest, Rybinsk State Academy of Aviation Technologies has been contracted by Rusnano to develop a special vocational training curriculum to meet the qualification requirements.

The program coaching students in the nano-structuring of metal-cutting coatings is reportedly expected to kick off in July with the first 25 people selected on a competition basis from among functional and future NIR engineers.

Enhancing the Academy’s existing professor body scientists and practitioners from Russia’s other universities have contributed to the development of the training program. The Kurchatov Institute is reportedly one of them.

Top engineers and managers from Germany’s Walter Maschinenbau, Switzerland-Germany’s Galika and the U.S.’ Nanotech Industries, Inc. are supposed to put a practical touch to nano-theories. The new curriculum is designed to support further Rusnano-led projects in metal-cutting tool-making and gas-turbine engineering.
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