No two days are the same for Jochen Keesen at the Duisburg Technical Center. The Technical Center manager’s responsibilities are as diverse as the customer inquiries that the Center receives. Modified processes or new materials are often the reason for that. Keesen explains: “If processes change, for example, when new production lines are commissioned, our task at the Technical Center is to usually configure the feeders to ensure feeding accuracy. Not only new plant but also a change of the materials handled on existing lines may make testing necessary. We examine new materials at the Center first and adapt the feeders if necessary.”
More space to ensure process reliability
The new Technical Center was opened in the fall of 2017. It is the centerpiece of the new corporate headquarters in Duisburg, which also houses the manufacturing and administrative divisions of Kubota of Brabender Technologie. You can even get a direct view of the test setups from the meeting rooms located next to the Technical Center. Modeling the entire portfolio from feeders to refill stations is no longer a problem in the spacious, state-of-the-art Technical Center. Jochen Keesen recalls: “That was impossible in the past. We had to conduct tests in different rooms and often had to move or relocate equipment. Now we have five times as much space – and more space to ensure process reliability.”
State-of-the-art equipment for the entire feeding process
“The tests are designed primarily to give our customers peace of mind in relation to their specific feeding applications,” he continues. “We provide them with an opportunity to minimize process-related risks, as we can model feeding and refilling processes.”
- There are four feeding stations in total where tests – ranging from refilling to measuring feeding accuracy – can be conducted simultaneously.
- The Technical Center is also equipped with a two-ton crane, which can be used to transfer all common containers such as bulk bags, silos, barrels and sacks to the filling level easily.
- Two separate test labs dedicated to laboratory, food and pharma applications are also available.
Realistic conditions for all applications
The expert engineer’s eyes light up: “This gives us a whole range of new possibilities. It is now much easier to model a test as closely as possible on the customer's process. That means we can test suitable feeding processes under realistic conditions, even for difficult bulk materials. This is extremely important for manufacturing industry with its stringent quality standards and precision feeding requirements.
“Our customers come from a wide range of different industries. A large number are involved in plastics compounding, the products of which are used in the automotive industry. We also have customers from the food industry, whose applications require feeders for sensitive cereals, such as raisins for granola mixes,” says Jochen Keesen. “Basically, we can run tests for virtually any application.”
Tests – flexible and modular
When entering the Technical Center, one thing is obvious: the layout of each feeding station enables a flexible, modular test setup using a variety of different feeders, container sizes and components – adapting to the requirements of the customer’s process. “For high feed rates in the ‘several tons’ range, we scale up. In other words, we conduct the test on a smaller setup and then extrapolate the results using the correct multiple,” expert Keesen explains. “We can also simulate long-term operation in a continuous process.”
Tests for continuous and batch processes
Continuous processes are very popular with customers at the Duisburg Technical Center, as they dovetail with high-accuracy applications. Customers also request small- and large-scale batch applications. On average, the Technical Center team – Jochen Keesen and two other employees – can conduct two tests per week. The test request is initially coordinated via the Sales team. The whole process from request to the beginning of the testing period generally takes about four weeks. Depending on the scope and the current workload, it is sometimes possible to squeeze in urgent requests.
Feeding test procedure in the Technical Center
- Survey of certain material parameters
- Submission of a material sample
- Solids analysis (material analysis) to ascertain grain size, flow properties, bulk density and dump angle
- Data from the solids analysis and the required feed rate are used for:
- Decision on the necessity of conducting a feeding test at the Technical Center
- Basis for preselecting feeders
- Preliminary tests: to determine suitable parameter settings, e.g. refill limits and container geometry
- Recording of feeding accuracy and feeding consistency in a series of measurements
(if needed: enhancement through modification of key parameters)
- Examination of various venting systems
- Comparisons of configurations and components
Series of measurements and therefore feeder accuracy are recorded using the special ‘Feeder Control’ software. This allows the engineers to check at any time how well these readings comply with requirements. All tests are stored in a cross-location database, including tests conducted by the two other Technical Centers in Canada and China. Employees and customers worldwide therefore benefit from a broadly based data pool.
As far as feeding accuracy is concerned, Kubota Brabender Technologie complies with Worksheet NA 40 “Feeding Accuracy of Continuous Scales” from Namur, the user association of automation technology in process industries. This briefing, similar to a DIN regulation, defines terms, specifies measurement conditions and defines permissible measurement errors, in order to create a comparative level playing field for the different providers of feeding equipment.
Factory acceptance test (FAT): almost 100 percent certainty
At the customer’s request, a factory acceptance test can be conducted at the Technical Center prior to delivery and installation. This so-called Factory Acceptance Test (FAT) includes a functionality test as well as an overall quality and integrity test, which ensures that the defined feeding accuracy values have been achieved. “This procedure provides the production plant operator with almost 100 percent certainty,” Jochen Keesen explains.
New products and enhancements: potential for innovations
The team is sometimes confronted with tricky challenges. However, a solution can always be found in close coordination with the design engineering department, for example through add-ons or modifications to basic units. Jochen Keesen and his employees are continuously testing new products and enhancements. They regularly discuss their experiences with the design engineering team and the service engineers, who in turn share these with customers on site.
New product from the Technical Center: the FiberXpert feeder
The increase in requests to test the feeding of carbon fibers, for example, led to the development of the FiberXpert in 2017. Feeding long, uneven fibers like carbon or natural fibers initially seemed like mission impossible. Following multiple trials and tests, the new FiberXpert feeder was created especially for recycling applications. This feeder has now been successfully launched and is available in a range of different sizes. Finally, Jochen Keesen reveals one more thing: “In the future, we want to make the feeder preselection process even more accurate and we are currently working on a relevant project, to offer better characterization of powder properties and more.” Life at the Duisburg Technical Center will therefore continue to be varied – and innovative.