"We can make turnkey lines in all sizes and dimensions," Jung said. "Troester is small enough to be flexible and big enough to do major projects."
Troester employs about 600 people worldwide, with roughly 485 in Hanover, along with an additional 35 at X-Compound. The company officials said they see potential to adapting X-Compound's technology into use for tires and rubber.
"We have different thoughts and ideas on how to bridge the gap between plastics processing equipment and bringing this into the world of rubber, specifically into tires," said Zachary Boaz, CEO and president of Troester Machinery Ltd., the firm's U.S. subsidiary. Jung said the plan is to bring the technology into the rubber industry in the mid term, as implementing such a process in the short term to an industry as conservative as the rubber industry isn't feasible. He said Troester looks for the X-Compound technology to be applicable more in final mixing, rather than in the masterbatch.
"This machine is the best mixer you can have compared to an intermesh mixer, and this machine has a much higher mixing capacity," Jung said.
It's easy to control the temperature and to control the process throughout each stage, he added. Troester has presented the concept to its customers and have installed it for a trial application.
"We are starting with customers to really test their compounds and we invite them to send compounds to us, and we will process them—either with or without them—and send it back to them so they can analyze it, and compare it to their existing mixing," Jung said.
Move to automation
Troester also is stepping up its game in automation, with such technology as an automatic feeding system and a system to handle the extrudate after it comes out of the extrusion head.
"If you look to an extrusion line that is easily 120 meters long and has several operators usually, our focus is to automate the feeding area," he said.
The machinery firm has two possibilities here. One is its FeedScan system, which works like an X-ray system at the airport. The device can detect not only metal but also plastics and gives a precise X and Y coordinate, allowing any contaminant to be removed without interrupting the feeding slab, according to Jung.
"Usually when you detect something, it involves cutting the feedslab and you have to re-feed it," he said. "With this unit you are able to detect the contaminated section and only take a part of it out, and the rest you keep running."
Jung said Troester is ready to deliver the systems, but it's a question of cost. Because it is an X-ray system, it is cost-intensive, adding that the "ballpark figure" is about $340,000.
In addition, Troester has invented an automatic slab feeding unit. With the old technology, an operator had to cut pieces of the material out, and then re-feed it through the extruder. Jung said one benefit of the X-ray detection system is to protect the equipment and the tooling, as well as the product.
Once the product comes out of the extrusion head, it has to be conveyed, cooled, measured and have other steps performed depending on customer requirement, he said. Then the user has to wind it all up.
"With automation, if you're bringing in five to 10 tons (of material) per hour, you want to have automation to get five tons out again," Jung said.
Troester has a lead in this area, he said, with automatic loading and unloading systems in the market for some time. "This part can be automated according to customer needs or wishes," he added.
Closer look at tread
Another development the machinery supplier is looking to bring to market is its TreadScan system, which follows from requests not only from their tire maker customers, but also from the next step down the line, the vehicle makers.
"Tire manufacturers are audited on a regular basis," said Stefan Boettcher, the firm's tire industry sales director. "Their focus is on ensuring manufacturing quality in every step. You don't just look at the finished tire and say it is good enough for the assembly line. They start in the mixing room and go to the extruding line, which is where we are."
For example, he said a typical passenger tire has four to six compounds arranged against each other. From the outside, you can easily measure the overall dimension, and judge the shape and weight. "But for the performance of the tire and the tread, it's important that inside the tread the components are aligned to each other according to the tire design," he said. "Extrusion and calendering are the only continuous running processes. All the rest are batch or single piece. It means there is no easy way to make an entire check on the quality of your product."
Now, it is necessary to cut a piece and analyze it optically offline to make sure the alignment and distribution are good, according to Boettcher.
He added that there are different approaches to handle the problem on the market. Troester is in the industrialization phase currently with one of its customers and is close to finalization with the upgraded process.
Its new technology, he said, is one that needs tested in a real production site. "We don't need it under laboratory conditions," Boettcher said. "The operator needs to be able to handle this. The technicians and the customer's quality people need to sign off and say this is good enough."
Troester sees high interest for such a device in the market, driven partially by car makers that demand alignment of the layers in accordance with the specifications. During testing, Boettcher said they found out the process engineers, mixing experts and extrusion experts liked the TreadScan because they were able to have a much closer look at the components.
"You can see in real time how these layers are behaving," he said. "Even in a very stable process, everybody assumes up to now there is some movement in the layers interacting with each other."
The tire maker customer that currently is testing and using it will have exclusivity on the technology for a certain time period, Jung said, before it is available to other customers.
Troester is working on improving its machinery that has self-centering extrusion heads for production of hose and tubing, Jung said. It is technology that started with its cable industry unit,
Current practice calls for an operator, without an X-ray system, to cut and measure by hand. Troester's technology, allows for more precision.
"With an X-ray system, you are getting online information on how concentric the material is," he said. And if the hose or tubing goes off-centered, the system automatically adjusts it within four to five meters.
Automatic crosshead technology has been on the market for several years. Jung said the next level is to have a straight extruder to adjust automatically as well.
"We invented a system that does not need high forces and resists the possibility of a straight extrusion head and a crosshead," Jung said. "We are now able to develop a dual crosshead. That means X-ray systems are detecting both layers. We are extruding two layers in one head, and the one head is adjusting both layers independently."
This automatic centering crosshead has been sold to two customers, and should be delivered in the near future.
Boaz said once such a system is installed into a process, the return on investment comes fairly quickly, depending on the spec runs and cost of materials.