From Medical Glassware to Successful Vacuum Equipment

Vacuum manufacturer Leybold celebrates 170th birthday

  • April 1, 2020
  • Historical Leybold vacuum pump
    Historical Leybold vacuum pump

Traditionally, companies can only be sustainable if they are innovative. The vacuum specialist Leybold succeeded with its combination of tradition and innovation over the course of its history. With this in mind, Leybold is proud to honor this important milestone by celebrating its 170th birthday in 2020.

Without the tireless work and commitment of several generations of dedicated employees, this anniversary would not have been possible. The businessman Ernst Leybold laid the foundation in 1850, when he moved from Rothenburg ob der Tauber to Cologne founding his first company. Initially as a commission and forwarding agency for medical glassware, ointment pots, thermometer and scales; he expanded his range of products in 1854 to include physical, pharmaceutical and chemical apparatus. Leybold finally sold his business in 1870, though it continued to operate under the name of E. Leybold’s Nachfolger.

Beneficial cooperation

The triumphant procession of vacuum technology began in 1906 through collaboration with Dr. Wolfgang Gaede, professor of physics in Karlsruhe. Gaede’s work ethic was characterized by efficiency: “If I pursue an idea out of scientific interest, I always come up with an invention.” The cooperation between Leybold and Gaede was accordingly beneficial, among other things it produced innovations which are still very important today, such as the invention of the molecular air pump, the basic principle of the turbomolecular pump (1911), and the use of the diffusion pump (1913). Diffusion pumps have no moving parts – their operating principle is based on vaporous propellants and enables reliable, low-maintenance operation. These robust “workhorses” are still used in applications today. Gaede’s gas ballast device for efficient pumping of vapors – patented in 1935 – is still used in many applications today.

Milestone in vacuum coating technology

The year 1913 marks the beginning of vacuum metallurgy. At that time, Dr. Wilhelm Rohn, head of the physical test laboratory at W.C. Heraeus GmbH in Hanau, developed a process for melting high-purity metals under vacuum. Interrupted by WWI the “process for vacuum melting and tempering of metals and alloys” could only be patented after the war in 1918. In 1931 Wilhelm Carl Heraeus succeeded in vaporizing metals onto glass – another milestone in vacuum coating technology.

Vacuum and process engineering in the portfolio

The Metallgesellschaft AG and the Degussa AG secured participations in E. Leybold’s Nachfolger in 1948 and 1955. This generated synergies, ensured success on the world markets and led to a merger of E. Leybold’s Nachfolger and Heraeus Hochvakuum GmbH in 1967. The result was a well-mixed portfolio of vacuum technology and vacuum process engineering. Further growth resulted from product developments such as cryogenic pumps with liquid helium (1962), and helium leak detectors. In 1963, Ion atomizer pumps were presented for the first time.

Strong growth, economic turbulence

The 1980s were shaped by strong growth. By 1987, Leybold had expanded to about 5600 employees and achieved a turnover of more than one billion D-Mark. Fundamental changes in the ownership structure took place within the same year; The Metallgesellschaft AG withdrew as a shareholder and W.C. Heraeus also disposed of its shares. This resulted in the Degussa AG now being the sole shareholder. The headquarters of the ‚Leybold AG’ and the sector of vacuum process technology moved to the Hanau location. Vacuum Technology was located in Cologne and scientific and technical teaching materials were in Hürth. With the opening of the Iron Curtain in 1989, and the economic downturn of the western industrialized countries, the new Leybold AG experienced great economic turbulence. This resulted in the Degussa AG selling its shares to the Oerlikon-Bührle Group (Switzerland) in 1994. 1995, the Leybold AG and the Balzers AG were merged into the Balzers and Leybold Group.

Acquisition by Atlas Copco

In 2016, the Swedish Atlas Copco AB acquired Leybold. Atlas Copco is a multi-brand group with customers in over 180 countries and about 37000 employees. Today, Leybold is part of Atlas Copco’s Vacuum Technique business area. Atlas Copco is relying on Leybold’s traditional brand strength and on complementing the innovative technological know-how.

Synergy between Atlas Copco and Leybold

For 170 years, Leybold - with headquarters in Cologne, Germany - has been developing and supplying vacuum pumps, systems, standardized and customized vacuum solutions and services for many different industries. Today, Leybold is leading as a supplier of vacuum technology in many industrial applications; such as metallurgy and industrial coating technology.