DÜSSELDORF, GERMANY — On its lavish, theatrical stand (Hall 17/A-57), Windmöller & Hölscher KG invites its customers through an "experience tunnel," protected behind a red velvet curtain to deter the prying eyes of rival firms. Readers of Roald Dahl might remember Willy Wonka taking a similar approach to foil the commercial curiosity of Messrs. Slugworth, Fickelgruber and Prodnose.
Passing through the tunnel, the visitors are treated to an anticipatory sound-and-light show before they get their first sight of W&H's latest film extrusion line. Nicknamed "Code E-24" before its K debut, it has now been revealed as Varex II, the next generation of its Varex line.
The aesthetic differences between the new machine — which replaces all existing Varex machines in W&H's catalog — and its predecessor are immediately obvious. The new Varex has sculptural surfaces, and parts that are usually exposed are now housed behind easily accessible bodywork. The automotive comparisons continue with the W&H branding. Where W&H roundels were once decals, the roundels on the Varex II are domed, three-dimensional emblems, sourced from a company that makes badges for automobile manufacturers. They were inspired by the engineers' fondness for a certain Bavarian automotive marque.
The machine on the stand has already been sold, a week or so before K, to an East European firm that wishes to remain anonymous. And W&H has already sold seven machines to the North American market and an unspecified number to the Far East.
The Varex II's improvements are more than skin deep. The company claims the new machine will see a significant increase in uptime because all sensitive components are protected. The machine on display at K 2013 is processing 1000 kg of polymer per hour through a 400-millimeter die.
"This is what I would say is 'top of the top' concerning output," said Falco Paepenmüller, general manager of extrusion for W&H.
The cooling ring, which optimizes the aerodynamics of the air being brought into the bubble — based on the Opticool technology introduced by W&H in 2009 — is now a totally enclosed design, with no exposed wiring. A specialist composite sandwich of glass, insulating material and more glass, reduces condensation on the ring. The ring housing can accommodate two variants of the Opticool system: DL, which has a dual cooling lip, or the other option, HP [High Performance] with stabilizers on top.
The Pro Controller, a 24-inch touchscreen module, is described by Paepenmüller as "intuitive, you can do pretty much whatever you need to do with one click. To make it easier for the operators to use the machine we've included a lot of automation features. So, for example, we have our new 'easy wind,' an automation feature that — in case you change parameters on the machine itself, for example the width or the thickness — the winder automatically dumps his parameters so there is no operator action needed any more."
The Pro Controller offers the operator a detailed view of energy consumption. Not just total consumption but real-time, itemized reporting of multiple process parts.
From the processing engineering side, the extruders have been optimized to work at a lower melt temperature, giving potential for additional output. The die head has a new insulated covering that the company claims lowers energy consumption.
Paepenmüller says: "The idea is that we don't need as much energy to keep the temperature of the die head up. On the other hand, if you have to do maintenance, you also have to find a way to let out the heat more quickly, that's why we have opening flaps. Two handles open six or nine flaps simultaneously so you don't have to go around doing it step by step, you just do it once."
The Varex II is a clean-sheet design, replacing a W&H line with a pedigree of more than 30 years. Paepenmüller explained: "Each component was redone and rethought. And it was a total of three years of work, with about 50 people working on it in total.
"We used this technical redesign to rethink the appearance, because for us this is also the next step in blown film when it comes to sustainability, ergonomics and the handling of the machine."
The redesign is not simply about aesthetics or health and safety concerns, Paepenmüller contends: "It's about increasing the uptime of the machine. If there are cables hanging down or sensors sticking out, and there is a fault, our operators in the field go the shortest way they can go. Often you get problems with the machine afterwards because they step on a sensor or rip off a cable. We're not just protecting the operator but also protecting the machine. We see quite a significant increase in uptime because all sensitive components are protected."