In view of rising raw materials prices, we need new solutions for the interaction between cost, process and resource-efficiency. ACO Guss has made significant investments in
highly-automated equipment and evolved into a high-tech foundry in Kaiserslautern.
EBN24: Mr Gründemann, ACO Eurobar, a subsidiary of ACO Guss and a manufacturer of continuous casting products, places much importance on the quality of its products. It produces castings based on the new European standard DIN EN 16482 – Continuous cast iron bars. What exactly does this mean?
Gründemann: Our continuous casting products are used in very demanding applications, for example in the hydraulics and pneumatics industries, mechanical and machine-tool engineering, the automotive industry etc. In these industries, only those companies that can supply products with a favourable combination of cost and quality will survive. This was why ACO Eurobar was also an active participant when the industry’s own, generally-applicable standard for continuous casting was developed for the first time in the form of DIN EN 16482 – Continuous cast iron bars. This standard is used by manufacturers as a guide and makes it easier for customers to prepare tenders and compare continuous-cast materials. That is also the reason why the new DIN EN 16482 is the basis of our technical specification. ACO Eurobar guarantees certain additional characteristics for its continuous-cast products above and beyond the requirements of the standard. For example, these are important for estimating the useful working life of new components at the construction stage.
EBN24: Many customers want greater availability in the shortest time possible. How do you ensure this assurance of quality taking into account the availability of raw materials and the accompanying logistics?
Gründemann: For one thing, we work closely with customers, who send us their requirements electronically, such as via EDI. We also permanently hold over 6,000 tonnes of continuous-cast products in our warehouse. We round off our “just-in-time” concept with a network of qualified logistics service providers, suppliers and machining specialists for our continuous-cast products from the local region. And we are currently discussing new production concepts such as an “express line”.
EBN24: Raw materials and energy costs are rising rapidly and determine the price of the end-products to a large extent. In the future, only those companies that use materials and energy sustainably and efficiently will survive. What investments have you been able to make so far in this respect?
Gründemann: ACO Eurobar is a subsidiary of ACO Guss GmbH, which has become a high-tech foundry over the last few years through significant investment in highly-automated plant. The new machine park allows us to produce with greater efficiency in relation to both energy and resources. And our energy management system according to EN 50001 contributes to the systematic and long-term minimisation of CO2 emissions and further reduction in energy needs. For example, our new annealing furnace is equipped with a heat recovery function. Less well-known, by the way, is the fact that foundries per se are also recycling operations, as they use mainly scrap metal and metal turnings as raw materials.
EBN24: The fact that CO2 is released in steel production, for example, is unavoidable. How can emissions from foundry operations be reduced further?
Gründemann: We do that with new filter techniques for air purification and noise-reduction. Instead of extracting and cleaning all the air in the hall as we have been doing so far, ACO Guss now extracts smoke directly at the furnace cover. We also make our employees more aware of making more responsible use of resources and switching off everything that isn’t needed right at that moment.
EBN24: Do these measures improve working conditions at the same time?
Gründemann: Yes, efficient extraction and filter equipment also improves the employees’ working environment because they no longer work – as used to be the case in foundries – in an atmosphere severely contaminated by dust. Even though we are a foundry with a tough working environment, we still have to be an attractive employer, otherwise we will have difficulty finding suitably qualified employees. Today, people expect – quite rightly so – high standards. We are continuing to work on this topic in order to be seen as an attractive, modern employer in this region and in order to be an exciting company in regard to vocational training. School pupils and potential apprentices and trainees who have a brief look at our company are always pleasantly surprised how clean the foundry is and at the qualified employment opportunities that we offer. For example, our apprentices and trainees have a choice of eleven different trades and professions and can be trained as model-builders, industrial mechanics, materials testers or foundry mechanics.
EBN24: Where do you see the greatest hurdles in energy-efficiency?
Gründemann: As a company with energy-intensive production, we are eligible for reinbursement of the German EEG surcharge imposed under the Renewable Energy Sources Act. Without this reimbursement it would be almost impossible to operate a foundry in Germany profitably as energy costs are going up all the time and official regulations and requirements are becoming increasingly stricter. Legislation is not always clear and often highly complex. Ultimately, investments in this type of activity, which, of course, always bind staff capacity, are difficult to amortise. And of course, every company only has limited financial resources.
EBN24: Chinese companies in particular are some of the world’s largest manufacturers of steel and castings and are pushing their way onto the European market. Where do you see the advantage for the German industrial sector and what are Kaiserslautern’s strong points?
Gründemann: We and the German industrial sector as a whole create and preserve jobs for skilled personnel in Germany and Europe. We invest for long-term development in our respective locations. Our standards in respect of energy efficiency, environmental protection and workplace safety in Germany are very high. We are very well-positioned logistically in Kaiserslautern because we are located in the heart of Europe from where we can reach our markets and customers very easily. With MTU, the Institute of Technology, the Fraunhofer Institute and other research centres, we have a good institutional foundation for promotion of talent, training, recruitment of skilled employees and in addition for transfer of knowledge and technology. Not the least of Kaiserslautern’s advantages is that it offers a high quality of life, such as proximity to the Pfälzerwald biosphere reserve at reasonable property prices.
Bernd Gründemann has a graduate-level degree in business administration and has been managing director of ACO Eurobar GmbH and authorised company officer at ACO Guss GmbH, Kaiserslautern since 2014. He previously worked in the company as a sales manager. From 1995 to 2011, Bernd Gründemann was heading International Sales at BITO Lagertechnik and previous to that, worked in various positions in industries in other sectors.