Process innovation: How LEAD users supported the Voith Group
Voith is regarded, among other things, as a pioneer in the processing of waste paper. With the help of the LEAD user method, the company was able to develop a new process that saves up to 50 percent energy compared to the old method. LEAD users from completely different areas helped in this. The background of the project "Low Energy Paper Mill" can be found in this blog post.
Waste paper is a valuable raw material that helps to save resources. A calculation example: To produce one kilogram of new copying paper, about 50 litres of water and five kilowatt hours of energy are required. However, the production of recycled paper requires only half the energy and two thirds of the amount of water. In addition, up to 2.2 kilograms of wood can be saved per kilogram. And: One kilogram of recycled paper can be produced from 1.2 kilograms of waste paper.
Role as a Pioneer Committed to Process Innovation
Voith is one of the largest family-owned companies in Europe and operates in several markets, the paper industry being one of them. The Group's customers, headquartered in Heidenheim/Brenz (Germany), come from the paper industry. Voith supplies new plants, rebuilds existing ones and offers maintenance and service for its machines. Voigt technologies are used in all areas of the paper industry. However, the Group is also regarded as a pioneer in the processing of waste paper.
The key process in paper recycling is the removal of the old printing ink and other hydrophobic, i.e. "water-avoiding" impurities from the waste paper. Experts call it deinking. A water-waste paper mixture passes through a flotation process. This is a physicochemical separation process for fine-grained solids due to the different surface wettability of particles. This process makes use of the fact that gas bubbles easily attach themselves to water-avoiding surfaces and then give these particles a boost. To put it simply, the undesirable substances dissolve and float on the surface, making them easier to remove.
Less energy for the key process
Voith set itself the goal of saving energy in deinking flotation. This should be done using the LEAD user method. The project received the title "Low Energy Paper Mill" and the innovation team (Voith and LEAD Innovation) defined the following search field:
- "We are looking for innovations to increase the energy efficiency of paper mills.
- The energy issue is of great relevance to paper manufacturers.
- The target market wants a holistic view of the processes.
- The target market wants more services in this area.
- Monitoring and benchmarking are considered essential.
- technical improvements are seen as a comparative advantage over the competition."
LEAD users from six different industries
The flotation process is used in many and completely different industries and areas. Therefore, the selection of LEAD users from the analog areas was particularly important in the "Low Energy Paper Mill" project. After all, there may already have been solutions to the challenges facing Voith in other branches of industry.
Voith and LEAD Innovation were able to recruit six experts from outside the industry for the project. They came from the glass industry (Bischoff Glastechnik AG), industrial gas production and sales (Linde Gas), immunobiological research (Polymun Scientific), mining (Vattenfall Europe Mining), energy industry (EVN AG) and textile production (Getzner Textil).
LEAD User Conference brought the breakthrough
At the two-day LEAD User Conference for the "Low Energy Paper Mill" project, every single LEAD user was able to make valuable contributions. This was the challenge of reducing the energy requirements of particularly energy-intensive processes. The glass industry faces a similar problem in the production of flat glass. The drying process plays a central role in textile dyeing, just as it does in deinking flotation. Immunology is also often confronted with the problem of removing fluids and uses various methods to do so. These and other impulses from experts in other industries have been instrumental in developing a patentable concept for process innovation.
Based on this concept, Voith develops LowEnergyFlotation (LEF) - a patented energy-saving deinking flotation with minimal fiber loss. The yield of impurities is higher and the energy requirement significantly lower than that of the predecessor models. At the heart of the LEF are the newly developed injectors. Together with the modified pumps, these lead to a reduction in energy consumption in flotation of up to 50 percent.
LEF technology saves Voith customers resources and costs and is already in use in several plants worldwide. And at the European Paper Recycling Award, which was presented by the European Recovered Paper Council (ERPC) in fall 2013, Voith's LEF technology won the "Technology Improvement and R&D" category.
Conclusion: Process Innovation at Voith
The "Low Energy Paper Mill" project shows how much it is useful to look beyond one's own nose and to look at challenges from different perspectives. It's hard to do on your own. LEAD users from analog areas, on the other hand, do. This is what makes them so valuable for your company.
Born in the Salzkammergut. After working for Shell and Porsche, he concentrated on innovation management as a study assistant at the Innovation Department of the Vienna University of Economics and Business Administration. In 2003 he founded LEAD Innovation and manages the company as Managing Partner. Lectures at MIT, in front of companies like Google or NASA.