Innovative heating technology for thermoforming

Scientists in Dresden have received an award from the Free State of Saxony for the market-ready development of a new technology for thermoforming plastic films.

Two developments of the Fraunhofer Institute for Process Engineering and Packaging (IVV) in Dresden have made it from the innovative idea to the marketable product. The „Cera2heat“ heating system and self-learning assistance systems (“SAM”) for machine operators,  were awarded the futureSAX Innovation Prize in Dresden. The Cera2heat heating system won the jury over with its material-saving and energy-saving thermoforming of plastic films. SAM increases the efficiency of production systems by learning directly from the operators and helping to eliminate malfunctions more quickly.

As futureSAX is the innovation platform of the Free State of Saxony, where company founders and entrepreneurs from Saxony receive impulses for growth, the certificates were presented by Martin Dulig, Saxony’s Minister of Economic Affairs. Innovators from the fields of science and industry can network across industries there.

„Cera2heat“ is an innovative modular heating technology for thermoforming. The highly efficient contact heating system permits precise temperature control through its matrix-like arrangement of the individually controllable heating particles. Plastic films can thus be partially preheated during thermoforming. Cera2heat saves up to 30 percent in packaging material and energy due to a lower starting material thickness, without endangering the barrier effect or the compression strength. The technology can also be integrated into existing industrial plants.

The Cera2heat heating system, as one of three particularly outstanding packaging solutions, won the German Packaging Award in Gold already at FachPack 2016 in Nuremberg. The technology was developed in a cooperation arrangement between the TU (University of Technology) Dresden, the Fraunhofer IVV in Dresden and the Fraunhofer Institute for Ceramic Technologies and Systems (IKTS).

The award winner for this innovation is Prof. Dr. Jens-Peter Majschak. He heads the Processing Technology Division of the Fraunhofer IVV in Dresden and holds the Chair of Processing Machinery and Processing Technology at the University of Technology (TU), Dresden. An outstanding factor in the development of Cera2heat is its success from the innovative idea up to the marketable product. It is now being further developed and marketed by watttron GmbH, a start-up company that was established as a joint spin-off of TU Dresden and Fraunhofer IVV.

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Peerox GmbH, another spin-off of the Fraunhofer IVV, Dresden, received the futureSAX Audience Award 2019 at this year’s Innovation Conference. The team, led by Andre Schult and Markus Windisch, competed as SAM Assistance, which won the majority of the 3,100 votes. The self-learning assistance system SAM for machine operators was developed in several research projects at the Fraunhofer IVV. SAM increases the efficiency of production machinery through an intelligent knowledge management system built up by the various operators of a machine. This is based on a self-learning search algorithm that analyzes the current situation in the event of a malfunction and compares it with database entries of comparable malfunctions. The proactive support from the combination of human experience and machine learning trains employees according to the training-on-the-job principle, strengthens their motivation to contribute their own knowledge, and reduces downtimes during production.

The technology is being developed further at the Processing Technology Division of the Fraunhofer IVV in Dresden. The spin-off Peerox GmbH is delivering the innovative software into commercial exploitation. The first pilot tests of the basic software in production work will start in summer 2019. „Digitization affects all of us in our everyday lives, but also scares us regarding our jobs, and especially in production,“ explains Andre Schult, CEO of the newly founded GmbH, adding „For a long time, automation was regarded as a danger to the skilled worker. We are convinced that digital transformation is a symbiosis in which man and machine will complement each other and not replace each other“.

„We see confirmation that we are on the right track with our technological approach and work on a topic that affects many,“ says Markus Windisch, CTO of Peerox GmbH. „When operators communicate with their machines and increase production efficiency by exchanging experiences, they are perceived as a valuable know-how base for the entrepreneur. Our Assistance System forms the digital basis for this and prepares the way towards “Industry 4.0”, the fourth industrial revolution, without deserted factory floors.