The innovative heating systems of the Saxonian start-up company watttron GmbH make thermoforming and other industrial processes more efficient.
In September last year, the World Bank warned of the drastic increase in waste around the world. The amount of waste will increase by about 70 percent by 2050. According to the report, there is currently about 2 billion tons of waste – that will be about 3.4 billion tons in 2050. Another problem is that compostable bio-plastics, which could reduce the amount of waste, are often difficult or impossible to process using current industrial processes. There is an urgent need for action. The start-up company watttron GmbH is responding with a solution: intelligent, material- and energy-saving heating technologies that can also convert bio-plastics.
Plastic packaging such as yoghurt cups, beverage bottles or coffee capsules are produced by thermoforming. Up to now, this has been done by heating the material homogeneously using heating plates or radiant heaters. The innovative heating technology developed by watttron GmbH can make these industrial processes much more efficient. This is because the smart heating system enables highly efficient, precise heating, which allows the forming process to be controlled in a targeted manner. In the production of yoghurt cups, material savings of up to 30 percent can be achieved by optimizing the wall thickness. In addition, the heterogeneous heating process consumes up to 30 percent less energy. "In Europe alone, around 3.5 million tons of thermoformed packaging are produced annually," says Marcus Stein, co-founder and managing director of watttron GmbH. "Our technology offers enormous potential for savings and represents an important step towards reducing waste".
watttrons innovative heating system, cera2heat®, is based on a so-called matrix heater. Each heating module consists of 64 individual heating circuits that are applied to ceramic substrates by screen printing. These 5 x 5 mm heat pixels can be individually controlled by software. Similar to TFT Screens (Thin Film Transistor), a thermal image with different, defined target temperatures can be generated, which is transferred by contact to the material to be heated, e.g. plastic films. This heterogeneous heating results in optimal forming behaviour and the best possible material distribution. The result is an end product with the same, usually even better, functional properties. In addition to saving material and energy, the use of such heating systems also enables more flexible and efficient production.
cera2seal® is based on a similar technology that can also be used, for example, to seal coffee capsules. The ceramic heating system was specially developed for sealing and welding lids and foils. The heating circuits are approximately 1 mm thick - can be freely designed to adapt the power and heat distribution to the respective requirements. Due to the multi-layer arrangement, sealing of complex contours is also possible.
watttron's patented heating technology is suitable for all areas where a very precisely defined and controlled temperature distribution is required. In addition to the packaging industry and plastics processing, these include, for example, medical and pharmaceutical technology or the food industry. Biotechnological processes can also be thermally better controlled and monitored. The modular design allows easy scaling to the respective application. By combining several individual modules, almost any desired heating surface can be achieved.
The innovative heating system was developed at the Technical University of Dresden (Institute for Processing Machines) and the Fraunhofer Institute for Process Engineering and Packaging Dresden. At the beginning of 2016, the three inventors Dr. Sascha Bach, Marcus Stein and Ronald Claus von Nordheim founded watttron GmbH, based in Freital near Dresden, together with Michaela Wachtel, a graduate economist. The start-up company now has over 20 employees and has already received several awards for its developments, including the "German Packaging Award in Gold" in 2016, the futureSAX ideas competition in 2017 and the "German Raw Material Efficiency Award" in 2018.