Freudenberg Sealing Technologies has won the German Innovation Prize for Climate and Environment 2011 in the "environmentally friendly technologies" category. The jury, chaired by Prof. Dr. Klaus Töpfer, decided in favor of the patented narrow band-forming-laser welding (SUL) technology of the global sealing specialist. Previously, 77 applications had been professionally evaluated by expert innovation analysts of the Fraunhofer Institute for Systems and Innovation Research in Karlsruhe, Germany. In 2011, Freudenberg was awarded the German Innovation Prize in the large enterprises category for a new production technology that conserves energy and resources.
During a festive evening event in Berlin which was opened by the German Environment Minister Dr. Norbert Röttgen, Claus Möhlenkamp, speaker of the Board of Management of Freudenberg Sealing Technologies, accepted the prize from the CEO of "The Voice of German Industry" (BDI), Dr. Markus Kerber. "We are very proud to have received this innovation prize. It acknowledges our continued efforts towards improvements and innovations at Freudenberg Sealing Technologies. We not only focus our innovative strength on new, high-performance products, but also on lean, resource-efficient production processes."
The award-winning SUL technology combines ecological with economical sustainability. The fact that it saves nearly three quarter of the material means that CO2 emissions in the production process are greatly reduced. Parallel to that it offers the customer a variety of advantages, for example excellent quality as well as a rapid and flexible development of new products. Freudenberg Sealing Technologies has invested 3.4 million euros into the construction of the first SUL facility at the Weinheim site.
Since 2009, the Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety and the Federation of German Industries award the Innovation Prize for Climate and Environment (IKU) for ideas which help to protect the climate and the environment. The Fraunhofer Institute for Systems and Innovation Research is the scientific partner. The organizers present the innovation prize in recognition of the commitment of industry and research to protect the climate and the environment.
Last year, the jury of "Der Deutsche Innovationspreis" initiative awarded Freudenberg the 2011 German Innovation Prize in the large enterprises category for a new production technology that conserves energy and resources. This unique production technology has been in use at Freudenberg Sealing Technology in Weinheim since the beginning of 2011.
SUL technology: welding instead of punching
The technology specialist Freudenberg Sealing Technologies develops and produces sealing and vibration technology solutions - among them over 200 million Simmerrings® annually - for customers in the automotive industry, in mechanical engineering and in a great variety of other industries.
Each Simmerring® contains a carrier part made of steel which is partly or entirely covered in elastomer material. Until 2010, a subsidiary of Freudenberg Sealing Technologies, Freudenberg Stanz- und Umformtechnik, punched these metal washers solely on conveyor presses or multiple die presses. The punching process generates waste: the punching scrap as well as the punched insides from the middle of the washer.
The motto of the new SUL plant: welding instead of punching. The raw material is no longer a wide steel strip as used in punching processes, but a narrow steel strip. This is rolled via roller bending units, then laser cut and subsequently laser welded by the same laser to form rings. Immediately afterwards, these metal rings are shaped and finished in a fully automated continuous process, i.e. depending on the technical specification they are flanged, profiled and chamfered. Eventually, the finished metal rings drop out of the machine.
Climate benefit: saving several thousand tons of CO2
The major advantage of this process technology innovation: there is no punching scrap any more. The material utilization is close to 100 percent. The SUL plant produces hardly any waste and reduces the material usage by an average of 73% compared to conventional punching processes. This means in real terms that one single SUL plant saves annually 1,800 tons of steel, thereby reducing CO2 emissions by 2,700 tons. Fewer transports of material and waste further reduce CO2 emissions. In the medium term the potential savings are even higher, as and when Freudenberg Sealing Technologies takes - as planned - further SUL plants into production.
SUL technology provides two additional benefits from an ecological point of view: the exceptionally high quality and precision of the metal washers makes it possible to save elastomer material in the subsequent production of seals. Furthermore, the production process - in contrast to conventional punching methods - does not require any drawing oils. Freudenberg Sealing Technologies therefore does not need to use any chemical cleaning agents.
SUL technology also represents a step forward with regard to health and safety at work. The plant is much quieter, the usual handling of heavy tooling in connection with the punching process is eliminated and the danger that employees suffer injuries in the form of cuts is considerably reduced.