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Schaublin, S.A.

The Schaublin SA referred to in this article is the former Schaublin SA group of companies and does not refer to the current Schaublin SA of Delemont, Switzerland, maker of collets and tool holders, and which is a wholly owned subsidiary of RBC Bearings Inc.

Schaublin is a world-famous machine tool manufacturer in Bevilard, Switzerland that provided Iraq with parts and sophisticated machine tools for its gas centrifuge manufacturing program in the 1980s. In 1990 German authorities confiscated a shipment of Schaublin equipment to Iraq, although in the end no charges were filed against the company.

In the first half of 1988, Iraqi gas centrifuge experts asked Walter Busse, a German gas centrifuge manufacturing expert visiting Iraq for assistance in overcoming problems in making high precision parts. Busse told them that Schaublin manufactured some of the world's best machine tools for making high-precision components. Schaublin had in fact provided machine tools to MAN when Busse was in charge of making maraging steel centrifuges.

The Iraqis were familiar with Schaublin and had already purchased about 20 machines from this company. These machines were installed in a Yugoslavian-built factory near Falluja that was designed to make tank parts, optical sights, and barrels. However, the Iraqis were unfamiliar with how good the Schaublin machines actually were.

When Busse and his superior Dietrich Hinze, head of H + H Metalform, visited this factory, they saw that the Schaublin machines were not computer-numerically-controlled (CNC). Both realized that these machines could make high precision components, if the Iraqi technicians improved their skills. Hinze, however, wanted the Iraqis to buy new CNC machines from Schaublin in order to make a commission for H&H that would amount to about 10-12 percent of the contract price. The more sophisticated machine tools would also provide the Iraqi centrifuge program with a greater capability to make high precision parts automatically and in great numbers.

With Iraqi approval, Hinze contacted Schaublin officials to arrange a contract. Soon afterwards, Hinze received a telex from Safa al Habobi, of the Technology Development Group (TDG), that Hinze should arrange a meeting with Schaublin officials, and 3-5 Iraqis would meet him in Zurich.

In October 1988, the Iraqis finalized a contract for the supply of CNC turning and milling machines, centrifuge parts, and the "set-ups" for making 17 parts on the machines.

The machines ordered were:

  • Two small turning machines type, 102 CNC
  • Two small turning machines, type 110 CNC
  • Nine turning machines type, 130 CNC
  • Two milling machines type, M32 CNC

Figures 1-3 are of a Schaublin type 110-CNC-R machine, similar to one of the types ordered by Iraq. Figure 4 is of a Schaublin high precision CNC machining center. Figure 5 shows various types of components manufactured with Schaublin-supplied machine tools. These figures are thumb-nailed here; click on the individual thumb-nail for a larger image.

Fig. 1

Fig. 2

Fig. 3

Fig. 4

Fig. 5

This contract included Schaublin's manufacture of about 40 different centrifuge parts. Schaublin officials have stated that they did not know that these components were part of a gas centrifuge. They were told by the Iraqis that these pieces were needed to prove that the machines can produce parts to the required quality.

For seventeen of the centrifuge parts, Schaublin also supplied the sets of computer programs, tools, and fixtures needed to make each of them. Using each set, Schaublin agreed to make 30-50 pieces of each part at its factory, ostensibly to test the equipment and the "set-ups."

The machines' controllers, which are computers and the associated software, came from the German firm Siemens.1 The software was likely programmed at Schaublin. The specific software for each of the components was based on classified centrifuge design information supplied by Iraq.

Forgings for most of these pieces were included in the contract, except forgings for end caps and baffles. In mid-1989, Iraq placed an order with UNIS in Yugoslavia for about 300 350-grade maraging steel forgings for those pieces. Nassr General Establishment provided the maraging steel. Several times, however, UNIS requested H+H Metalform to ensure that Nassr would deliver more of the needed "material."

By mid-1990, Iraq had received ten machines, and was awaiting delivery of five type 130 CNC machines. Iraq had also received about 500 centrifuge components from Schaublin. These items included upper bearing magnet holders and housings, upper and bottom endcaps, baffles, feed and extraction system parts, and bottom bearing components.

The remainder of the machines and additional centrifuge components were not delivered. In July 1990, German authorities acting on a tip seized a Schaublin shipment to Iraq in addition to one from the Swiss firm SMB (for more information on SMB click here). The Schaublin shipment contained a number of finished centrifuge components (figures 6 and 7), and perhaps some machine tools.

Figure 6 shows a bottom end cap with the needle attached, where the end cap was made at Schaublin. Figure 7 shows several components of a centrifuge rotor; the end caps and baffles were made at Schaublin. Although forgings for these particular end caps and baffles were provided by UNIS, similar forgings were made by SMB. Click on the thumb-nails for a larger image.

Fig. 6

Fig. 7

The subsequent Swiss government investigation into Schaublin's activities established that Iraq received only ten of the 15 machine tools from Schaublin. Action Team inspectors said that the machine tools and associated set-ups to make end caps had not yet been exported to Iraq, although the machine tools already in Iraqi possession could be reprogrammed to make these parts. Swiss authorities also found at Schaublin forgings intended for manufacture into centrifuge components.

The Swiss government determined that at least one of Schaublin's exports required a permit, which the company did not get.2 In 1992, however, the Swiss courts ruled in a surprise move that Schaublin officials could not be cited for either intentional violation of nuclear export control laws or criminal negligence. Believing that it could not win on further court appeals, the government dropped its charges against Schaublin officials.

1 Mark Hibbs and Laura Pilarski, "Swiss Drop Cases Against Firms Aiding Iraqi Centrifuge Effort," Nucleonics Week, April 23,> [back to the text]

2 Ibid.
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