Head of Development gives some insights into research at BINDERJuly 2018
Innovations at BINDER
Just recently, you were raring to go with lots of new units at ACHEMA. What innovations are you particularly proud of?
We have revised most of our product families over the last three years. Our units are now more energy efficient, precise, and robust, plus they come with a modern man-machine interface. And I'm very pleased about all of that.
Which technical enhancement made to the BINDER chambers gave you the biggest headache?
The units have to perform better than their predecessors. And what's more, we want to get the edge on the competition. We have really progressed in terms of energy consumption and temperature accuracy in particular. Reducing production costs at the same time, or at least keeping them constant, is an organizational challenge.
What is the next technical achievement you have in mind?
We want to more closely integrate the latest development methods into our product development process. For example, this includes expanding the use of simulations in thermodynamics and control engineering, as well as lean and agile approaches to development.
How long do you need in total to develop a new unit?
From the idea to series production, our product development process lasts around two years for a typical product. We have defined three standard project duration periods (short, medium, and long, as it were), according to the complexity of the project, and we track them meticulously by their milestones. We are working together with Product Management and Production on reducing this time to market even further.
How have simulation chambers evolved over the years?
In the last three years, we have really modernized and simplified operation of the controller, i.e., the man-machine interface. Together with Product Management, we have designed the menus to be much more intuitive – previously you had to really study the operating manual before you could understand the buttons. Enormous improvements have been made to the robustness of the controller electronics too. Some chambers can test themselves, so they can give the customer or the service department a heads up when maintenance or troubleshooting is required. If we look at the outer appearance, the design, we can see that we have enhanced and modernized the new generations in detail; but we have remained true to our corporate identity at the same time. That is exactly how we have made the door handle more ergonomic – the design of the triangles has become more attractive and dynamic.
How do our chambers differ from those offered by the competition?
A huge competitive advantage is how energy efficient our chambers are. Our new products, such as the Avantgarde.Line, consume around 30 percent less electricity than their predecessors and other comparable products available on the market.
The units are also much more compact now, as illustrated by our new CO2 incubator. We carefully consider every single millimeter when it comes to width and depth, so we can keep the footprint required at the customer's premises as low as possible. Laboratories are often not big enough and our products are placed right up against one another. This presents us with very particular challenges in terms of how to incorporate the cabling and door hinges well, for example. But on the flip side, such demands do spur us on to come up with even greater innovations.
Has work in the Research & Development department changed in recent years? Are there new demands to be met?
We are trying to think more in terms of platforms and modular kits than before. In the past there were not many versions, then a new size might join the range a few years later, followed by a new function variant after that – it's how product families evolved historically. In future we want to consider ALL future variants right from the start, so we can plan common parts better.
Do you personally still get to tinker with the units?
Yes, sometimes; it is good fun to lend a hand. Recently we wanted to demonstrate a new type of door lock on a prototype, but it was proving pretty cumbersome. My experience of making things with moving parts, both during my childhood model-making days and later as an engineer, turned out to be very helpful.
On average, how many individual parts are in a BINDER chamber?
Our simplest chambers have about 50 different parts, whereas the most complex have over a thousand. We want to use platforms and modular kits as a smart way of bringing this number down. At the same time, we will need to offer the customer greater scope for individual variance – in terms of sizes and functions, for example – in order to become even more competitive.
BINDER only manufactures at the Tuttlingen site, so its products are "made in Germany". Is that a mark of quality?
Yes, education and training here are excellent. We get students from the university in Tuttlingen on board at a very early stage and get them involved in practical work. It also helps that we are close to our production site, as regards both chamber installation and sheet manufacturing at the COMPETENCE FACTORY. At other companies, developers have to take a two-hour flight to see production for themselves – we just walk over the road. This close cooperation between Production and R&D fosters quality. But we can also see that competitors from Eastern Europe and Asia are creating better and better products. So we have to ensure that we stay one step ahead every single day.
BINDER chambers are used in lots of different ways. Which application do you find particularly fascinating?
It is our mission to improve people's health and safety. That is a huge motivator for me personally. We sometimes work very closely with medical facilities, such as those doing research into new ways of providing burns victims with new skin cells.
Whenever they show the opening of a high-tech, high-security lab on TV and in the background you can see the red triangles, I am proud of our products and of the team that made that lab possible.
What will simulation chambers be like in ten years' time?
In ten years' time, customers will have five times more variants to choose from and our factory will be home to a lot fewer parts than today.