Milestone Thermal Processing
Interview Milestone Thermal Processing “360° Service Becomes a Never-ending Loop”: By Heat Exchanger into the Future
Sustainable heat transfer solutions also for brownfield plants — Christian Stoffers, Energy Division Manager at Alfa Laval Mid Europe, and Fabian Schega, responsible for heat exchangers as Sales Manager in the Service Division, work hand in hand. They are meeting the challenges of digitalization with the aid of connectivity in service.
PROCESS: In its early years, Alfa Laval was shaped by a flood of technical innovations. What strategy for innovation do you pursue today?
Christian Stoffers: Innovation is part of our DNA. Every year we bring around 35 to 40 new products to market — and since our new CEO Tom Erixon joined in 2016, the pace of innovation has picked up even more. The new developments are particularly characterized by our desire to improve efficiency and sustainability. Less material is required for more efficient and more compact units. In recent years, we have managed to make major breakthroughs on heat exchangers thanks to brand new technology like flow simulation — for example, with asymmetric plate constellations that compensate for the disadvantages of uneven mass flows.
PROCESS: Faced with the effects of climate change, industrial companies must contribute to a reduction in carbon dioxide levels. What are you doing to help your customers?
Stoffers: Energy recovery and energy savings are two of the biggest challenges of our time. Alfa Laval is making an impact here in many areas with its plate heat exchangers. We are really proud of numerous projects, for example the heat recovery system at the Aurubis plant in Hamburg. The waste heat generated there during the conversion of sulfur dioxide to sulfuric acid is fed into the district heating network with the aid of eight heat exchangers. 20,000 tons of CO2 equivalent are saved every year as a result. One of the keys to this success was the correct choice of materials. In view of the corrosive nature of the media, the heat exchanger plates were largely made from a special material called Hastelloy.
PROCESS: In Europe, a large proportion of investment is going into brownfield plants. What challenges does this pose?
Stoffers: As the example of Aurubis shows, the main issue in many cases is heat recovery rather than just cooling a process. Our customers are investing in a way that creates value and mitigates climate change at the same time — both of which are important driving forces behind investments in the brownfield segment. Here, we often encounter another challenge: in some cases, huge capacity increases are to be implemented in existing industrial buildings. We have customers who are today producing 180,000 tons from a plant that was originally designed for 100,000 tons per year. We need to respond to these challenges using all our technology, but particularly with the heat exchangers and also our separation technology, and to enable these expansion and upgrade projects to be implemented in confined spaces.
PROCESS: What other sustainable solutions can your customers expect from you?
Stoffers: Sustainability is a common theme that runs through all our customer projects and internal activities. Our heat exchangers are important elements in heat pumps as OEM components. In addition, the idea of sustainability is helping to initiate discussions between our engineers and customers in order to look at the entire process and make it more energy efficient overall. But sustainability also relates to water as a resource. Alfa Laval helps its customers to recover products from wastewater streams. Here, we are also driven by the “zero liquid discharge” concept. And, of course, with every ton of steel that we can save by making our products more compact and more efficient we save valuable resources ourselves. Our Service Division also makes its own contribution.
PROCESS: To what extent is sustainability important when it comes to service, Mr. Schega?
Fabian Schega: An obvious example is when we advise customers on how to best upgrade their existing technology. For example, often the frame of a heat exchanger may still be in good working order, and only the plate pack needs to be changed. This is not a problem with the latest series of plates. You can install a plate heat exchanger with higher performance in the same position, or alternatively you could choose to save material, or combine both approaches. This creates sustainable solutions and helps the customer financially too.
PROCESS: At Alfa Laval, service is organized in a separate division. Why?
Schega: A major reason is the positive feedback we keep getting from customers since we started putting a special focus on service. We have been steadily expanding this area for a number of years now, resulting in the creation of a dedicated Service Division at the start of 2017 as part of the reorganization of Alfa Laval. It includes a team of technicians, the field service team and back office, as well as workshop employees. This type of division creates synergies, not least because of the close relationships between service and the different product areas. The product area managers define the service offering for their product categories. We then translate this into a practice in the Service Division.
Stoffers: Particularly in our region, where not many new plants are being built, we realized that there are many old treasures in the brownfield segment in terms of building stock and equipment. So, it meets the needs of our customers to look after them holistically — not just with new equipment, but also with services for plant optimization and maintenance.
PROCESS: What does the expression “Alfa Laval 360° service portfolio” mean? Service from start-up to decommissioning?
Schega: It starts with commissioning, that is right. But ideally it shouldn’t stop with the decommissioning. Once we have reached the limits of what can be done with redesigns and upgrades, we aim to get the customer to switch to a new machine from Alfa Laval. In the ideal scenario, 360° then becomes a never-ending loop thanks to the close integration of service and new sales.
PROCESS: What types of service — apart from classics like supplying spare parts and carrying out repairs — are becoming more popular?
Schega: The digitalization of services is becoming more important. Under the keyword “connectivity” we are promoting networking with customers and their plants. This also opens up completely new options for maintenance — a move away from a fixed interval service model to preventive and predictive maintenance. Our offering in this field is ready for the market and is already in place for a number of customers. With the aid of condition monitoring and cloud solutions, we analyze the condition of heat exchangers, for example the tendency for fouling, and then provide the required service at exactly the point when it is needed.
PROCESS: Many users have a cross-plant or cross-factory approach to the topic of maintenance and service. They are reluctant to sign countless service agreements with different manufacturers. What do you do to help deliver a one-stop maintenance strategy?
Schega: This is another clear market trend. It is why, more recently, we have increasingly set ourselves up as a service consultant for complete plants. Here, the focus is on productivity, not the equipment from manufacturer A or B. We can offer the customer a holistic, integrated service concept for all brands, starting from the supply of spare parts and including everything from optimization measures to connectivity solutions. We place great importance here on audits, where we assess for example the condition of all heat exchangers on site with the aid of a thermal imaging camera. Is there a good flow through each unit? Are there any blockages anywhere? In addition, we also appraise how critical the equipment is. On this basis, we then develop a service concept, keep exclusive stocks of critical spare parts to ensure rapid availability, and thus minimize unplanned downtime. The customer benefits massively from having a single, reliable service partner.
Mr. Schega, Mr. Stoffers, thank you for taking the time to talk to us.