What do you see as the biggest benefit of the Test Center for our customers?
Marco: Trials with the customer's bulk material are helpful to test and confirm the exact design of the equipment configuration (feeder, pneumatic refill, etc.) being purchased. For example, there are a variety of feeding solutions possible when feeding plastic pellets: screw feeders, vibratory feeders, Bulk Solids Pumps. By doing a customer trial, we can ensure selection of the optimal solution for each individual bulk material and assure the customer that we can achieve the desired accuracy with the selected equipment. This means the customer can rest easy that the equipment purchased will meet their needs.
If a customer has problems with existing equipment, we have the possibility to reproduce the customer’s setup in the Test Center and test it with their bulk material to troubleshoot the issues they are experiencing and find a solution.
Furthermore, customers can see the equipment live on-site and test it themselves. Personal contact between the test lab staff, the sales department, and the customer promotes better dialogue and often leads to the discovery of additional problems or difficulties that might otherwise have been overlooked.
Coperion K-Tron also benefits from trials run in the Test Center. Setting up and running trials is part of a continuous learning process and at the same time gives us confidence in the products we sell. This ensures that the customer is satisfied and avoids the costly replacement of a device.
The testing of new developments is another responsibility of the Test Center. The test results, together with the accumulated know-how of the team, are important contributions to the product development process.
Every trial has its own requirements. What are the challenges when doing trials for plastics applications?
Marco: When you talk about plastics applications most people think of pellets. Since they are generally free flowing and quite easy to convey and feed, we rarely need to do trials for pellets. However, if a formulation includes an expensive masterbatch, it becomes very important to ensure excellent short-term accuracy. Also, most plastics formulations include a variety of additives that either give color or influence the properties of the end product. Often these additives are poorly flowing powders, which can be a challenge to handle. In this case doing trials with the actual product can be extremely helpful in configuring the optimal solution.
We recently conducted a customer trial with a difficult powder. The aim was to find out whether we would be able to pneumatically convey the powder and continuously feed it within the required accuracy range. Since the powder reacts extremely badly to moisture, we needed to control the ambient conditions of the entire test laboratory. This also allowed us to determine the influence of excessive humidity on the entire process.
After extensive preparation work (protocols, clarifications and installations), the trial ran smoothly, and the customer was delighted with the results.
What challenges have you experienced in recent months?
Marco: Recently it seems customer requirements are increasing. Above all, managing environmental conditions is becoming more and more challenging. More trials are being conducted where the air temperature or humidity is critical and therefore needs to be regulated, such as the powder feeding trial mentioned above. Previously this was only 1-2 times per year but with this possible increase in these types of tests, we must slowly consider adapting the test lab setup in the future to meet these requirements.
There are also more and more test trials with hazardous substances, for example in battery applications. This massively increases the time and effort required, as more care must be taken with such products (handling, storage, disposal, etc. of the bulk material as well as protective measures for the personnel).
Most Coperion K-Tron customers are outside of Switzerland. What challenges result when receiving/shipping material?
Marco: Since Switzerland is not part of the EU, we have to pay attention to the applicable rules when importing/exporting bulk materials, otherwise there may be problems with customs. Our import department has created a document for this purpose, which gives customers clear instructions for importing their materials into Switzerland as smoothly as possible.