ALTANA's BYK division is setting new standards in specialty chemicals at its Wesel site in Germany with a globally unique digital laboratory. The company invested a total of €15M in the so-called high-throughput screening (HTS) facility. The self-sufficient building on Abelstrasse was erected under an existing parking garage, making the facility also an architectural peculiarity. But it is primarily the digital technology deployed that sets new standards. “Some of the technology used in the digital laboratory had to be developed in cooperation with partners. So some of the components are unique worldwide and are only used here, at our home site in Wesel,” said Manfred Knospe, who has been responsible for the innovative facility since the initial idea was conceived.
Months become days
The HTS plant is an exciting example of how digitisation can open up completely new dimensions for the chemical industry. It can perform fully automated serial tests. More precisely, it tests how certain additives work, for example in coatings. The 300-square-metre facility can produce and test up to 220 samples a day. The largest of its kind in the world, it doubles BYK’s capacity in application technology. Thanks to the digital laboratory, from now on existing products can also be tested to see if they are suitable for other areas of application without there being a specific need for this. “This gives rise to completely new possibilities that would be inconceivable without the digitisation of series tests,” said Project Manager Knospe enthusiastically.
A look into the “engine room” shows how this works: In a first step, the HTS system fills all the ingredients needed for testing into a vessel. The latter is then sealed and the contents mixed. Finally, the system transports the finished samples to the measuring instruments, which check whether the fully automatically mixed coatings meet current or future customer requirements. What used to take months can now be done in just a few days. Innovative prowess strengthened The time saved by the automatic series tests creates equal scope for the highly qualified application engineers, who previously had to deal with uniform series tests, to now concentrate on more demanding, creative laboratory work and develop new solutions thanks to the new HTS system. “This gives our innovative prowess a new boost,” said Knospe.
Each year, ALTANA invests about seven percent of its total sales in research and development. Of the approximately 1100 employees at the Wesel site, about 340 work in R&D.