Chemiewerk Bad Koestritz ensures business advantage through targeted professional development
A company that is one of the oldest in its sector must be able to prove its flexibility on an ongoing basis. In the example of Chemiewerk Bad Koestritz this is guaranteed through the interplay of research and development with flexible plant engineering and automation, as well as through the consistent use of professional development opportunities.
In Germany, 90 percent of companies in the chemical industry are SMEs. What these approximately 2000 companies have in common is the fact that they do not manufacture their products on a global scale like the major corporations. However, they are still faced with just as much intensive competition when it comes to speciality products. Their answer to this is to develop new products and formulations on an almost daily basis as well as to cater for specialist customer requirements.
“In order to get the very best out of the built-in equipment, we train our employees in a very targeted manner”
In the case of Chemiewerk Bad Koestritz, which is one of the oldest operating chemical producers in Germany, the main specialities lie in the three product groups silicic acid, sulphur compounds and molecular sieves. A team made up of chemists and laboratory workers carries out research in each of these three product areas to create new formulations and product characteristics. The results are, for example, the manufacture of zeolite molecular sieves as a hydrophilic granulate or compact moulds without bonding agents, and parameters such as the size of the pores and the surface characteristics can be set individually for the user.
In the area of silicic acid, silica sol products and silica gels, the customer’s specific requirements are paramount too. Here, the chemists in the laboratory and later the plant operators in Production set the product parameters such as pore volumes, particle size distributions and pH values precisely for the specific application case.
Customers come from almost all sectors
The customer structure is just as varied as the formulations. Whether for the protein stabilisation of beer, anti-blocking equipment in film production or anticaking agents for powders and solid substances in the example of silicic acid, the list of the customer industries is long and, with regard to the sulphur compounds, extends to the food, wood, oil and gas industries. This broad spectrum means that the requirements for flexibility are extremely high in the production sector, too. “We are constantly developing and expanding new production lines in order to meet our customers’ requirements for chemical and physical characteristics in our products”, explains Marko Bräutigam with regard to the challenges. He is the head of Measurement and Control Technology at Chemiewerk Bad Koestritz and is responsible for the automation of the lines in tandem with the increasing requirements.
And this job is anything but boring: “We are constantly seeking ways of improving our processes. On the one hand, we take new products from the laboratory and modify them to meet the production benchmark. This requires the re-working of existing systems or even the development of new processes. On the other hand, everyone in the team is totally committed to constantly improving the existing processes.”
Automated systems despite changing product characteristics
Currently, there are nine different production lines in the plant, on which a huge number of different products are being manufactured. “When we adapt the systems, in order to generate the required pouring density, grain sizes or new surface characteristics for example, we also have to deal with the selection and procurement of the systems technology and the complete planning of the electrical engineering technology from sensor to motor.
The automated systems must also run adjusted to the relevant product. However, it is also important that we try to optimise the workplace of the individual plant operator with every change we make”, says Bräutigam. At a time of increasing pressure to innovate and to implement innovations quickly, these challenges cannot be met by internal changes alone.
Both when it comes to construction as well as operation, specific service providers are chosen time and again in order to harness vital specialist knowledge. “Let’s look at the issue of drives: one of the most important pieces of equipment in production. For us, working with energy-saving frequency-controlled motors has been standard for years. However, the commissioning and maintenance of these is becoming increasingly complex. In order to get the very best out of the built-in equipment, we train our employees who deal with this in a very targeted manner”, says Bräutigam.
“These training courses are also a welcome opportunity for our employees to benefit from an exchange of ideas outside of the company”
He chose itsme Schultz+Erbse as a partner for this training. Under the banner of itsme Industrial Automation, the supplier for the electrotechnical and mechanical needs of the industry offers more than 65 training courses and specialist workshops as well as a technical help desk and consultancy services. The training offering in Germany includes customer-specific in-house training courses, as well as training on applications and products from selected manufacturers. In the area of drive technology there is currently a special focus on ABB motors and frequency converters. The itsme experts are therefore not only in contact with the customer as part of projects and consultancy services or technical support, but also in the classroom. Here, courses such as “Basic frequency converter drive technology (ABB)”, “Advanced frequency converter drive technology (ABB)” and the “ABB ACSX80/X50 workshop”, interest users such as Marko Bräutigam in particular.
Promoting in-depth understanding of the technology used
Depending on the product groups and the manufacturers, as well as the customer-specific requirements where applicable, the relevant technical experts from itsme Industrial Automation design workshops and training courses on different topics regarding industrial automation. The courses on ABB drive technology are primarily designed and implemented by the technical consultants Martin Franz and Felix Hollstein, in collaboration with the manufacturer ABB. The aim is first of all to provide even those participants with very little prior knowledge in the area of electrical engineering with a basic understanding of electrical machines and frequency converters.
The design and function of a frequency converter as well as its parameterisation are thoroughly dealt with in the course, and topics such as EMC problems are discussed. “It is our aim for course participants to understand the correlations and better identify the impact that certain changes have”, Hollstein explains with regard to the concept. The team begins with construction and operating mode, the behaviour in operation as well as the various construction types of asynchronous motors and frequency converters.
In the practical part of the course, participants work on the parameterisation of the converters and their setup using the ABB software. “New functions such as monitoring in the case of ABB frequency converters for troubleshooting purposes for example, are well received by the participants and are worked on intensively in the practical part. And with us the participants can push the demo equipment to the extreme, which is generally not possible when dealing with complex systems”, says Hollstein.
Getting the most out of modern equipment
“The demands are becoming increasingly complex – with regard to the setting options for the aggregate too. Equipment types change and with them the setting options vary. At the same time we want to get the maximum out of the modern equipment. We have therefore decided to use only ABB motors and frequency converters, in order to keep the complexity as low as possible, and at the same time we have found with itsme Schultz+Erbse a systems partner who can tap into the latest developments with us”, says Bräutigam about the decision to work in collaboration with itsme Schultz+Erbse.
This desire to remain at the cutting edge combined with the need to train new employees at Chemiewerk Bad Koestritz ensure that Bräutigam’s employees are regular attendees at the training sessions and the professional development centre. “Fundamentally, these training courses are also a welcome opportunity for our employees to benefit from an exchange of ideas outside of the company and to bring new ideas back to us – an added value for every industrial electrician”, he adds. A tradition that will not be changed in the coming years, since “what we recently saw at the trade fair, new functions such as remote monitoring and cloud solutions that identify in good time changes in the motor and frequency converter in the sense of predictive maintenance, well, we want to implement these functions as soon as is feasibly possible throughout the whole of our operations.”
Chemiewerk Bad Koestritz
The direct predecessor of today’s Chemiewerk Bad Koestritz dates back to 1831, when the mineralogist Karl Christian Friedrich Glenck discovered a brine source close to Pohlitz and opened the Heinrichshall saltworks. 18 years later, the saltworks were expanded to incorporate a factory that is still active in the market today. Currently, different specialities in batch and semi-continuous processes are manufactured in three product lines. The products are offered via road tanker, through IBC or big bags to canister filling. Due to the different liquid flows that range from cycles over long distances to large differences in height, speed-regulated motors represent the vast majority of the drives and a key feature of the automation.