A good job well done: Krones recycling technical center

From a proprietary test workshop to a fully equipped test laboratory for customer material, the Flensburg recycling technical center has had a steep development curve.

When Krones went into recycling technology in 2008, it quickly became clear that anyone looking to survive on the market would need a lot of experience. To get this as quickly as possible, Krones set up its own technical center in its Flensburg plant.

“This is where of course we subjected our PET washing technology to rigorous testing and refinement,” explains Timm Kirchhoff, Plants Process Engineering. “But we also took a very close look at how the various systems of related process steps function – and we then configured our technology in response to these requirements. This enabled us to quickly offer our customers solutions that complement each other ideally.”

That’s because if plastics are to be processed in our MetaPure W washing module, they must first be pre-sorted, foreign matter has to be removed, and the input material must then be ground into flakes – which is all done by systems of other suppliers.

A real one-off

We have long since stopped using the Flensburg technical center just for tests on PET, though: that’s because – almost as if Krones had already foreseen the intense debate currently raging on the use of plastic and its recycling capability – the recycling colleagues have now been working for more than three years on how the more commonly used types of plastic, such as polyolefins (PO), can also be processed using our technology. At the start of 2019 we brought the MetaPure W-PO, a washing module that is tailored precisely to PO-specific requirements, onto the market.

Our customers are also becoming aware of Krones expertise in this field – and are increasingly turning to us to have their materials tested. That’s hardly surprising, though, given that the recycling technical center in Flensburg is one of the few in the world to offer a full-service package for test material, from sorting and grinding through washing to decontamination. “That means what we have in Flensburg is a real one-off,” says a delighted Timm Kirchhoff. “Because if customers want to have their material tested by a competitor, there will always be at least two companies involved. We, on the other hand, can do everything in-house.”

Rigorously tested

For such a test, the customers ship their material to the Flensburg technical center, usually in the form of plastic containers compressed into bales. Often these have already been roughly pre-sorted. “With material from Bangladesh, for instance, even the labels will have been removed,” explains Timm Kirchhoff. In the technical center the bales are first separated, sorted and ground. At least 500 kilograms of input material are required, because after washing in the MetaPure W module there of course needs to be a sufficient quantity of flakes left over so that the customer is then able to conduct further material tests, e.g. with the use of injection moulding machines or stretch blow moulders.

If the customer has chosen the full-service package, after washing the flakes are sent to our own plastics lab, where they are subjected to rigorous testing. Among the criteria applied are the quality of washing, bulk weight and particle size distribution. At the end the flakes are returned to the customer with a recommendation regarding the condition of the input material and whether it is suitable for recycling. “It would be ideal, of course, if the customer were then to talk to us about a specific project,” explains Timm Kirchhoff. The recycling experts also obtain support from Plant Engineering, because it is not uncommon for the recycling industry to attract newcomers who do not yet have their own plastics recycling plant.

98 percent of tests for customers

Word is already spreading in the industry that our Flensburg colleagues are doing a great job. “Our recycling technical center is working at full capacity,” Timm Kirchhoff reports with pleasure. “We are handling up to 20 test orders a year.”

It is not only the customers, though, who are benefiting from the many tests of different materials – so too is Krones. It is building up a database, for instance, into which the test results will of course flow. The experiments are also helping us spot new trends in the industry at an early stage, enabling us to kill two birds with one stone: “98 percent of our tests are for customers – which means we are gaining valuable insights into our own technology. “It’s definitely a win-win situation,” says a contented Timm Kirchhoff.