© Photo | ebm-papst

“Being fit for the future means running a sustain­able busi­ness”

Inter­view with Dr. Bruno Lindl, Managing Director Research and Devel­op­ment ebm-papst Group

In which areas do you antic­i­pate signif­i­cant devel­op­ments for the future with regard to fan tech­nology? What form will these take?

Our aim is to continue increasing the power density of our motors whilst main­taining the high effi­ciency levels of up to 90%. That will certainly be in keeping with our Green­Tech devel­op­ment philos­ophy. The phrase so aptly coined by Gerhard Sturm on founding the company in 1963 is still our guiding prin­ciple today: “Every new product we develop must be econom­i­cally and ecolog­i­cally supe­rior to its prede­cessor.” Even though our motors already attain extremely high effi­ciency levels, new geome­tries and mate­rials will create scope for yet more improve­ment in the coming years, partic­u­larly in terms of aero­dy­namics.

What poten­tial exists specif­i­cally in rela­tion to aeroa­coustics and aero­dy­namics?

The main thing to bear in mind here is the instal­la­tion situ­a­tion in different customer devices. It is only possible to obtain optimum results with a profound under­standing of how a fan will operate when fitted. From the point of view of noise and effi­ciency, the impeller offers the greatest poten­tial for devel­op­ment.

Moving on to the topic of Industry 4.0: ebm-papst makes prod­ucts which are compat­ible with Industry 4.0. What advan­tage is this to customers?

Fans are the essen­tial driving force behind all building services. The building control system coor­di­nates oper­a­tion of the heating, air condi­tioning and venti­la­tion units. For this purpose, all the compo­nents have to commu­ni­cate with one another and form a network for the exchange of infor­ma­tion. In concrete terms this means that the inter­face does not just receive infor­ma­tion, but also actively trans­mits data such as the oper­ating status, running time, fault and emer­gency oper­a­tion messages to other compo­nents in the system to trigger a reac­tion. This leads to consid­er­ably lower oper­ating and main­te­nance costs, to the finan­cial advan­tage of our customers. We employ Industry 4.0 processes at our own manu­fac­turing facil­i­ties as well to opti­mise the produc­tion flow and logis­tics. Since 2009 we have, for example, been regarded as a show­case for SAP ME, a soft­ware module which controls the produc­tivity of machinery and systems and helps to shorten processing times.

Our strategic aim is tech­nology lead­er­ship.

At around 6% of the Group turnover, the level of invest­ment in research and devel­op­ment continues to remain well above the average for the branch. What are the main prior­i­ties?

Our strategic aim is tech­nology lead­er­ship. In addi­tion to highly qual­i­fied scien­tists and engi­neers, we invest heavily in simu­la­tion tools and measure­ment and test labo­ra­to­ries. We have also put a lot of effort into devel­oping our R&D facil­i­ties in China and the USA – with the corre­sponding finan­cial outlay. At present we are plan­ning to set up a research insti­tute for elec­tric drives at the Künzelsau campus of Heil­bronn Univer­sity.

Simu­la­tion tools have become an inte­gral feature of modern devel­op­ment work. Which simu­la­tion tools are used at ebm-papst?

We employ a variety of simu­la­tion tools in the fields of aero­dy­namics, motor tech­nology and elec­tronics. This enables us to not only shorten devel­op­ment times but also to discover tech­no­log­ical poten­tial which would other­wise not come to light. Exam­ples include: Finite element simu­la­tion for calcu­lating the static and dynamic mechan­ical prop­er­ties of the housing and motor. CFD simu­la­tion (compu­ta­tional fluid dynamics) for deter­mining the aero­dy­namic prop­er­ties of impellers. The RadiCal, a centrifugal fan for a wide range of venti­la­tion and air condi­tioning appli­ca­tions such as switching cabinet coolers, duct fans, domestic venti­la­tion units and heat pumps, was our first “synthet­i­cally” devel­oped product, in other words it was created without conven­tional proto­type opti­mi­sa­tion. Concepts for control elec­tronics are devel­oped with the help of func­tional and thermal simu­la­tion. Motors are designed using tools to simu­late static and dynamic elec­tro­mag­netism.

We coop­erate closely with our customers when devel­oping new prod­ucts to achieve the best possible results.

Around 40 % of ebm-papst’s turnover comes from prod­ucts devel­oped in the last four years. How does ebm-papst handle the constantly mounting pres­sure to inno­vate?

By increasing our rate of inno­va­tion, firstly with the aid of the simu­la­tion tools described above and secondly by working closely together with univer­si­ties and colleges. With these two approaches we are able to try out various ideas for new prod­ucts and inno­va­tions in shorter periods of time. And research results can be converted into real prod­ucts more quickly. At the same time it is a way of acquiring new personnel for our research and devel­op­ment activ­i­ties. By erecting propri­etary rights barriers for existing prod­ucts we also manage to effec­tively put a brake on the fast follower strate­gies of our competi­tors, even if we cannot put a complete stop to them. To sum up: The ideal recipe is to always stay on the offen­sive and keep the prover­bial one step ahead.

Customer involve­ment in devel­op­ment work. How do customers benefit from this?

Medium term plan­ning requires famil­iarity with the market to be able to antic­i­pate future customer require­ments with a view to working together on the devel­op­ment of inno­v­a­tive solu­tions for the industry to remain both compet­i­tive and fit for the future. This is why we coop­erate closely with our customers when devel­oping new prod­ucts to achieve the best possible results.

Compet­i­tive and fit for the future: What exactly does that mean?

Being compet­i­tive means attaining a high level of prof­itable market accep­tance in the coming years through the devel­op­ment of prod­ucts with tech­nical and economic features repre­senting unique selling propo­si­tions. This involves organ­ising devel­op­ment and produc­tion processes along strin­gent lines. Being fit for the future on the other hand is more of a long-term strategy requiring creativity and access to the latest research find­ings. It is however essen­tial to be compet­i­tive now in order to be fit for the future and have the resources to engage in research. To put it in a nutshell: Being fit for the future means running a sustain­able busi­ness.

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