Reifenhäuser still pushing the bounds of innovation

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Caroline Seidel, Plastics News Ulrich Reifenhäuser of Reifenhäuser GmbH & Co. KG Maschinenfabrik

DÜSSELDORF, GERMANY — Ulrich Reifenhäuser smiled: "It's crazy, I didn't know it was possible, we have the patent, nobody else can do this for 15 years."
The managing director of Reifenhäuser GmbH & Co. KG Maschinenfabrik (Hall 15/C22) described the new motor control in the firm's prototype polishing stack, one of its innovations at K 2013.
Reifenhäuser's slogan at the show is "rethinking technology," and in a mature industry, where change from year to year is incremental, Reifenhäuser said his ambition is for giant steps.
"The plastic industry is an established industry," he said.
"Blown film has been around for 60 years. When you look around the market the developments are a bit like the Olympic Games: They run the 100 meters and every four years they break the record by two-hundredths of a second or two-thousands of a second. This is how it is in the plastics industry, and it's not good enough."
The executive said the firm's strategy 18 months before K was "to think and to do differently."
"We didn't want a little bit here and there, but real [innovations]. And to prove that these are genuine, there are the rubber stamps that say 'patented.'"
Through growth and acquisition, Reifenhäuser Group has become a giant, encompassing six separate business units, each with its own management, development and marketing team. A recent rebranding exercise has brought consistency across the business units with the dominant "R" logo and corporate font, giving each division an unambiguously Reifenhäuser identity.
Because the firm serves very specialized markets, it needs a separate business strategy for each, the executive said. "You can only do this with dedicated people," he said. "The individual units are fast and strong, and that's how they can fight the competitors.
"We undertook a two-year project to build a clear structure. The units have to be strong in themselves but, on the other hand, they have to have the group feeling. We talked about company strategies, about the values of the group. It gives a strong message inside the group, and it gives a strong message outside the group," he said.

As for product innovations, Reifenhäuser pointed to an extruder on its stand that looked more like a high-speed train than your everyday extruder: "When you see this beautiful extruder, the 2020 prototype, it has a new screw design," he said.
"We reduce energy input. When you reduce energy input you reduce heat in the melting process. If you reduce heat in the melting process, you can [extrude] harder. If you [extrude] harder, output goes up."
The firm also has a new feed block for cast film: "We can rearrange the single layers and this can be done with nine or even 11 layers. Each layer can be adjusted to certain thickness parameters. We have seven pedals, and we can achieve perfect uniformity and thickness tolerances and thickness control in any layer, and we can do this during production," Reifenhäuser said.
In blown film extrusion, the company offers a new cooling ring, the Evolution Ultra Cool, which he called "a very simple idea."
"Everybody talks about cooling from the outside. But they forget about the inside cooling, the inside of the bubble. Now [with Ultracool] the cooling is absolutely 50-50. With this we achieve output that is remarkable," he said.
"It is when you put the prototypes together that the true efficiency picture emerges," he said.
The Troisdorf, Germany-based company's lab is alive with the new technology. There, a form-fill-seal line for heavy-duty sacks runs with a newly designed screw and the new Ultracool cooling ring. Since the firm exhibited at K 2010, it has boosted production speed from 320 kilograms per hour — a rate Reifenhäuser said already had a "wow" factor — to 450 kg per hour. The company is shooting for 480, he said.
"The potential for this line is unbelievably good, it's absolutely record-breaking. … But we're not compromising on quality ... heavy-duty sacks have to perform."
Other prototypes include the new Evolution Ultra Stretch, which offers an alternative to monodirectional-orientation stretching, and the Mirex-MT-V polishing stack with a patented control mechanism for thermoforming sheet.