25 Dec 2023
Maybe more impressive than Ramesohl and Schmidt’s original breakthrough is the fact that they continued growing in the face of such stiff competition. Named “Westfalia Separator” in 1941 the company was incorporated into the GEA Group in 1994. By that time, Westfalia Separator owned more than 1,000 patents worldwide and 210 different inventions for different industries. Today, some 150,000 of its high-tech centrifuges serve customers in 153 countries.
Ramesohl andSchmidt would be proud – and rightly so. Today,GEA is one of the leading companies in the global centrifuge market, withGEA separation technologies now extending way beyond dairy. Wherever liquids need to be processed, wherever solids need to be separated from liquids, GEA centrifuges are at the heart of the production process.
In the pharmaceutical and chemical industry, where innovation is critical, GEA centrifuge applications also play a major role around the globe, with applications in the area of vaccine development, blood processing and protein recovery as well as chemical and mineral processing. In the area of renewable resources, GEA centrifuges are key to the production of all manner of plant-based products – from olive oil to pea protein to industrial starches for paper, textiles and building materials. In the beverage industry GEA separation technologies ensure high yield, optimum hygienic purity and premium taste for beer, fruits juices and today’s growing array of plant-based beverages.
And there are many more areas where GEA centrifuges contribute to a better world: for example, in cleaning waste water and treating sludge, whether industrial or residential. They play a key role in removing water and salts from crude oil. And they are used to process feedstocks for bioethanol production as well as ensuring fuel oil and process water on ships is recyclable and safe for disposal. In all, GEA boasts some 3,500 applications of its separation technology.
Stefan Pecoroni is Vice President Process Technology & Innovation and responsible for sustainability at GEA’s Separation & Flow Technologies (SFT) division – which includes manufacturing separators and decanters. Pecoroni attributes the success of the GEA centrifuge to the company’sfocus on innovation andhelping customers stay ahead of the curve – a challenge that has evolved over time.
“In the most basic sense, a centrifuge helps a customer convert a low value material through mechanical separation into a higher value product. A good centrifuge will do this with greater yield,” explains Pecoroni. “It also needs to recover valuable ingredients from side streams in a way that improves the customer’s bottom line, their CO2 balance and eco balance.” And in 2023, those centrifuges ahead of the curve will tap the power of data and digitalization so customers can continuously optimize performance and lower the machine’s total cost of ownership. As Pecoroni points out, this becomes all the more important today given the scarcity of qualified personnel. “Customers today need centrifuges that not only maximize efficiency and sustainability, but that perform well independent of employee training and expertise level,” says Pecoroni. These days, the centrifuges themselves need to be smart, and ideally, also self-optimizing.
GEA’s Intellicant solution is such a solution. It has added “eyes and ears” to decanter centrifuges used for wastewater treatment. Sensors gather data and feed it to AI software that acts as a virtual operator on site. The system has already proven better than a manual operator at maximizing the recovery of solids. Intellicant can also be used to minimize the machine’s power consumption, reduce inputs such as cleaning agents, or increase the lifespan of a centrifuge – depending on the customer’s needs.
In the food industry, GEA is harnessing AI to better manage complexity. “With food production you’re dealing with biological raw materials with a lot of variation, so it’s helpful to have a big data approach and the ability to upload data sets from different places and different raw materials,” says Pecoroni. As he explains, this helps the AI learn and results in more efficient separation processes that reduce losses, increase yield and give customers more stable, predictable results.
“It’s an exciting time because digitalization and data allow us take these machines to the next level while also expanding our expertise and the services we can offer,” says Pecoroni. A typical service level agreement today between GEA and a centrifuge customer might specify that GEA handle machine maintenance, make sure it’s available 90 percent of time and ensure safe operation. “Digital solutions will enable new process level agreements that guarantee that the centrifuge is not only available, but also generating yield at a specified standard,” says Pecoroni. “This is the way of the future – and it’s high-value for the customer.”
- Stefan Pecoroni, Vice President Process Technology & Innovation, GEA
The GEA Intellicant team for example estimates that one percent more dry substance “cake” recovered during wastewater treatment can save up to €60,000 per year depending on the country. Pecoroni gives a different example from the unrefined edible oil industry of a company processing 800 tons of oil per day: “A one percent reduction in product loss means saving €6,400 per day at a plant operating 320 days per year. Over the course of 20 to 25 years of operating lifetime, that makes a huge impact for the customer.”
The efficiency gains that digital solutions can deliver on a consistent basis across the lifetime of 150,000 or more GEA centrifuges will also have a big impact on GEA’s own climate targets. “The vast majority of GEA’s climate-relevant emissions occur at the customer during product use, so Scope 3,” says Pecoroni. “Reducing these emissions is essential to achieving our net-zero target for 2040.”
But even with the efficiency gains made possible by data and digitalization, GEA engineers are working on entirely new designs to achieve more radical sustainability breakthroughs. One focus is the development of a new series of “Big Bowl” separators – larger centrifuges that operate at lower speeds yet deliver the same separation performance. GEA projects like these will reduce power consumption by 45 to 70 percent. These are important steps to meet EU targets and GEA’s own climate targets, Pecoroni adds. “But our job as engineers is to make sure these groundbreaking solutions also remain cost effective for customers.”
- Stefan Pecoroni, Vice President Process Technology & Innovation, GEA
The original hand-powered Ramesohl and Schmidt centrifuge exerted enough force to revolutionize milk separation at the time. Today, GEA’s high-tech centrifuges exert up to 20,000 g (or 20,000 times the force of gravity). But keeping customers a step ahead in 2023 depends on a lot more than just stainless-steel. It requires value-add services across a 20-to-25-year product lifecycle; the know-how to integrate machines effectively into larger production processes; performance optimization powered by digitalization and data; and targeted solutions for minimizing resource use and
“One of our products is the marine separator,” says Pecoroni. “What will the shipping industry look like 20 years from now? This is not clear. But there will be new needs, new demands for more sustainable processes and economies. This is what our centrifuges are all about. And our holistic approach means we will continue to offer the best quality, most cost-effective, sustainable solutions – regardless of the customer, industry or challenge.”
GEA is one of the world’s largest systems suppliers for the food, beverage and pharmaceutical sectors. Our portfolio includes machinery and plants as well as advanced process technology, components and comprehensive services. Used across diverse industries, they enhance the sustainability and efficiency of production processes globally.
GEA is listed in the German MDAX and the STOXX® Europe 600 Index and is also among the companies comprising the DAX 50 ESG and MSCI Global Sustainability Indices.
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