“High-tech materials are fundamental to the key technologies of the 21st century. Many of the latest new materials can only be characterised and processed under extremely high temperatures,” says Uwe Lohse. He is the managing director of XERION ADVANCED HEATING, a company specialising in high-performance furnace systems based in the Saxon town of Freiberg. Over the past 16 years, he has turned his start-up into an international high-tech company supplying customers as far afield as Russia, South Africa and Chile. The members of the 15-strong XERION team come from a range of disciplines and include electrical engineers, precision engineers, vacuum and measurement experts, and physicists specialising in optics. “We operate a bespoke system. Customers tell us their specific requirements for a special furnace. We then design it, assemble it and test it,” explains the qualified electrical engineer.

Customised high-tech systems made in Saxony

That’s also the reason why every product is one-of-a-kind – there’s no mass production. XERION recently engineered a special furnace with an integrated testing facility for turbine blades. “Almost every hard material undergoes heat treatment to make it durable and robust,” says Lohse. “That’s especially important in industry, where materials are subjected to particular stresses and strains.” Turbine blades are a good example of this, as they will be used in aircraft and need to be able to withstand exceptionally rigorous conditions. The material that the turbine blades are made of therefore needs to be extremely tough and hard-wearing. A XERION furnace is able to ensure that.

The Freiberg region: an ideal location for start-ups and research

Uwe Lohse is quietly proud of the fact that research institutions and industrial companies around the world rely on the precision of his products. “I’m happy that I launched my business here in Freiberg,” he states. “You can’t set up a company like ours on a greenfield site. For me, Saxony is one of the few German states that has a long engineering tradition combined with an advanced, highly productive research infrastructure.” This environment, backed up by the well established Freiberg University of Mining and Technology, was the first important piece of the jigsaw when it came to setting up his successful company. “I’d already conducted materials science research at the Berlin Academy of Sciences and at the University of Mining and Technology, I’d acquired a network of contacts and I wanted to put my ideas into practice in my own company,” recalls Lohse.

A successful take-off

With help from the Saxony Business Development Centre in Freiberg, which assisted company founders back in the 1990s, and a national development programme for technology start-ups, Uwe Lohse was able to launch his business after only a year of preparation. The company headquarters were a modernised production building on the site of the Deutsches Brennstoffinstitut (DBI), a research institute of the state-owned Schwarze Pumpe gas plant during the GDR period. A flourishing technology park now occupies the former state combine site. Regional companies coexist with global players such as Siemens, supplying innovative products developed with Saxon engineering skill to customers all over the world.