The Duisburg test lab: an abundance of possibilities
With four feeding stations and the ability to trial a variety of different applications, almost any feeding task can be implemented at the Duisburg test lab. The primary focus is process reliability.
For Jochen Keesen, Head of the test lab at the company headquarters in Duisburg, every day is different. Since customer trial requests may differ due to new process or material changes, Jochen adjusts his testing to suit the new customer conditions. Keesen explains: “If processes change, for example with new production lines, our task is to usually configure the feeders at the test lab to ensure feeding accuracy. When ingredient changes on existing lines, it may be necessary to have the new material inspected at the test lab first, so the feeders can be adapted if necessary.”
More room for process reliability
The new test lab was opened in the fall of 2017. It is at the heart of the new company headquarters, which also houses the administration and the manufacturing of Brabender Technologie. Showing the entire portfolio from feeders to refill stations is no longer a problem. Jochen Keesen recalls: “That used to not be possible. We had to conduct tests in different rooms and often had to move or relocate equipment. Now we have five times as much space.” The adjacent meeting rooms allow a direct view of the test lab and of the test setups.
“Typically, our customers primarily focus on reliability for their individual feeding applications when testing,” he continues. “As an added service, we can simulate the feeding and refilling processes thereby minimizing process-related risks.” There are four feeding stations where tests – from refilling to measuring feeding accuracy – can be carried out. The test lab is also equipped with a two-ton crane, which can be used to easily transport all common containers such as bulk bags, silos, barrels and sacks to the filling level. Two additional test labs dedicated to laboratory, food and pharma applications are also available.
Real conditions for all applications
The eyes of the expert engineer light up: “This opens up a whole range of new possibilities for us. It becomes much easier to set up a test as closely as possible to the customer's process. That means we can conduct realistic tests to find suitable feeding processes even for difficult bulk ingredients which is the focus of the test setup.” This is extremely important for the manufacturing industry with its high-quality standards and precision feeding requirements.
“Our customers come from a range of different industries. A large number come from the field of plastics compounding whose products are used in the automotive manufacturing industry. We also have customers from the food industry whose applications require feeders for sensitive cereals, such as raisins for muesli mixtures,” reports Jochen Keesen. “Basically, we can run a test for virtually any application.”
Modular test setups
When entering the test lab in the workshop, one thing is obvious: Due to the modular structure of our design layout, tests can be set up flexibly using a variety of different feeding equipment, container sizes and components – adapting to the customer’s requirements. “For high feed rates in the range of several tons, we scale up. That is we conduct the test on a smaller setup and then multiply the results with the correct ratio,” explains expert Keesen. “We can also simulate long-term operation in a continuous process.”
Continuous processes are very popular with customers at the Duisburg test lab, as they are particularly interesting for high-accuracy applications. Customers also request small and large batch applications. On average, the test lab team – Jochen Keesen and two other employees – can conduct two tests per week. The test request is initially coordinated by the sales department up until the beginning of the testing period. The total process takes about four weeks. Depending on the scope and the current workload, it is sometimes possible to squeeze in urgent requests.
All tests with open results
Each test begins with an ingredient analysis, required to establish specific characteristics of the ingredient. When the sample is available, a solids analysis is conducted to determine grain size, flow characteristics, bulk density and angle of repose. The feeders are then preselected based on this data, and considering the required feed rate, a decision is made on whether a feeding test at the test lab is required. If this is the case, the suitable parameter settings such as refilling limits and container geometry are determined in the first preliminary tests. Then the feeding accuracy and consistency are recorded in a series of measuring runs and can be further optimized with adjustments of key parameters.
“At our test lab, all test results are completely open and transparent,” explains Jochen Keesen. “The focus is on finding the right feeder for the flow characteristics of the ingredient depending on the desired feed rate.” The process also includes testing of different venting systems. A direct comparison can be made between various arrangements and components.
Digital and compliant
The measurement series are run on a control platform and are digitally recorded through the feeder using special exclusive Feeder Control software. This allows the engineers to check at any time how well these comply with the requirements. All tests are stored in a joint database, including those from the two other test labs in Canada and China, allowing employees worldwide to benefit from each other’s work.
For feeding accuracy, Brabender Technologie complies with worksheet NA 40 “Dosing Accuracy of Continuous Scales” from Namur, which is an Association of users of automation technology in process industries. This instruction, similar to a DIN regulation, provides terms and definitions, identifies the permissible measuring errors and specifies measuring conditions to create a comparable basis for the different suppliers of feeding equipment.
Factory acceptance test
At the customer’s request, a factory acceptance test (FAT) can be carried out at the test lab prior to delivery and installation. This includes a function test as well as a total quality test, which ensures that the defined feeding accuracy values are achieved. “This procedure provides the production plant owner with nearly 100 percent reliability,” explains Jochen Keesen.
Potential for more
Sometimes the team is presented with challenges it cannot immediately resolve. However, in close coordination with the design engineering department, a solution can always be found, for example with adjustments or modifications to the basic unit. Jochen Keesen and his employees are continuously working on new products and further developments. They regularly discuss their experiences with the design engineering department and the service engineers, who in turn share these with the customers on site. The increase in test requests for feeding carbon fibers, for example, led to the development of the FiberXpert in 2017. A seemingly impossible task for existing feeders was finally resolved after many trials and the new FiberXpert feeder was created. This machine has now been launched successfully in different sizes.
Finally, Jochen Keesen reveals the following: “In the future, we want to make the preselection feeder process even more precise and we are currently working on a corresponding project, to offer better characterization of powder properties and more.” Therefore, the Duisburg test lab will remain eventful.
(published in FLUX 2/2020)