Getters are reactive materials placed inside a vacuum system to complete or maintain the vacuum. The getter is made from a reactive material that combines with gas molecules to remove small amounts of residual gas from the evacuated space. This reactivity also represents the main problem with the use of getters – the risk of combustion.
In the 1950s and the advent of television which relied on vacuum tube technology, SAES was the first company to solve this problem and industrialise the manufacture of getters which could be safely handled in air.
“As the television age got underway, the company was inundated with orders for getters, particularly from the US market where most television manufacturers were based,” says Business Development Director Stefano Tominetti, who has been with the company for almost 20 years. “The television market has since been transformed with the introduction of flat screen technology but evolutions of our getters are still much in demand as modern display screens still rely on controlled atmospheres to function.”
In the late 1970s, this area of activity was expanded to cover gas purification materials. Getters and equipment for these and other applications now account for around 30% of the company’s 150 million EUR annual turnover.
More recently, SAES Group, of which SAES Getters S.p.A. is the parent company, has applied its competence in special metallurgy and industrial high volume production to the area of shape memory alloys and is already recognised as a leading supplier and manufacturer worldwide.
Shape memory alloys are wires, springs and components made from titanium and nickel alloys which deform under changes in temperature and can therefore perform as actuators in place of electrical motors.
“The advantage of shape memory alloys is that they perform this function while occupying much less space,” says Mr. Tominetti. SAES Group launched its first shape memory alloy R&D programme in 2004 and products in 2008. The area now accounts for more than a third of total turnover.
The products have wide-ranging industrial applications and are also used in medical technology. Stents for widening clogged arteries are just one example of their many uses.
“Our shape memory alloys are so sensitive that they can even respond to a momentary change in air flow temperature,” says Mr. Tominetti. “They make it possible to simplify products, upgrade performance and reliability, and cut costs.”
The latest addition to SAES Group’s product portfolio are functional polymer composites. Here, the company combines its experience in getter materials with its knowledge of polymer composites to develop and manufacture a variety of gas scavengers. This are offered in a range of different formats and shapes and are designed to absorb moisture and gases in various environments.
“As the gases are adsorbed chemically by our functional polymer composites, they are locked away permanently and cannot be released later on during normal operation,” explains Mr. Tominetti. “The applications for our functional products are extremely wide and include edge sealants for photovoltaic modules and organic electronics packaging as well as dispensable dryers for OLED displays and lighting systems.”
Other applications include medical devices and food packaging. This last area is a major focus of the company’s developmental work. “Active packaging is a growth area for the future and we are currently focusing our efforts on harnessing its potential to the full,” outlines Mr. Tominetti. “We are a relatively small company with a highly diversified product portfolio. Our goal for the future is to concentrate our efforts on those areas which offer the greatest potential. Our aim is to offer complete systems by cooperating with selected partners. We are also increasing our development activities in medical and industrial applications as we position our company for the future.”