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R&D series: Our R&D Center in Leoben (Austria)

26. September 2018
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The Technology Center in Leoben is RHI Magnesita’s largest multi-disciplinary R&D location. Since 1959, RHI Magnesita has developed pioneering technologies in Leoben and supported the global sales and production network together with other R&D sites.

In Leoben, employees from 14 different nations develop and optimize new materials, products, systems and processes for all industry segments of RHI Magnesita.

The site is located in the Austrian province of Styria, in the immediate vicinity of the University of Leoben, one of the world’s leading universities in the area of material sciences. Some key customers and several important RHI Magnesita plants are also situated near the research center.

Today, Stefan Schriebl, Head of R&D Europe, talks to us about the Leoben site and its integration into the RHI Magnesita network.

 

1) What is special about your R&D hub?

What makes the site in Leoben unique is the diversity of international employees with different experience and training backgrounds. They provide a breeding ground where unique ideas can be created and grown. This environment also allows implementing complex, multi-disciplinary projects in which material scientists and simulation specialists all pull together in order to create the most beneficial systems in the market for our customers.

The excellent equipment offers our employees and the colleagues from other R&D locations the opportunity to seek out new paths that no one has ever taken before in the refractory industry and provides our customers state-of-the-art analyses and studies.

In addition to development, support is an integral part of our activities. This support goes far beyond determining test values and also comprises questions regarding recipe adjustments and raw material selection from our plants as well as processing customer inquiries regarding the choice of the appropriate refractory materials or the clarification of wear phenomena.  

Our responsibilities also include the harmonization and standardization of the test methods and measurements at the plants, including round robin tests. This also applies to the central support for different measurement methods, for example.

Moreover, the Leoben site is home to the “Intellectual Property Rights” department, which is responsible for tasks related patents, brands and licenses for the entire RHI Magnesita Group. Currently, the active property right portfolio consists of more than 170 patent families with more than 1,900 individual patents and patent applications.

Overall, roughly 300 people are employed at the Leoben site. A major advantage is the immediate vicinity to colleagues from the areas of Technical Procurement, Supply Chain Management, Quality Management, Production, Technical Marketing and Sales, with whom many ideas and improvements have been developed.

 

2) Which research areas do you focus on?

One core area deals with the development of new raw materials, material and binder systems, and refractory mixes, bricks and functional products. Different melting and firing units are available for the production of novel raw materials.  

Another area our projects focus on is the development of concepts and systems for our production for the use of recycling material in order to reduce CO2 emissions and use resources efficiently.

The understanding of processes is essential both for us and for our customers. Therefore our goal is to further strengthen and expand our competitive edge in the simulation of thermal, thermomechanical and thermochemical correlations. A unique feature of Leoben are our water models, which are used visualize flows in a variety of customer production units and to efficiently test, develop and optimize functional products. In combination with numerical methods, we are a strong partner for our customers and, together with them, are able to significantly shorten development processes.

Test facilities designed in Leoben specifically for our plants allow not only individual manual measurement but also non-destructive 100% testing of our products in the production process. The data from these measuring instruments are analyzed together with a large number of other production and quality data in visualization and modeling methods, which are developed further by our process development in cooperation with external partners. With these analytical tools, our manufacturing processes and our products can be advanced continuously.

 

3) The objectives of the Technical Advisory Committee are to bring in new expertise and knowledge from outside, to strengthen the ties to the external world of technology and open up the innovation process. Which key partners are you collaborating with internally and externally? Why is this important?

We have a long tradition in the area of refractory materials and as a globally operating group we have great experience and expertise when it comes to the topic of refractories.

Within our internal network, we therefore keep in very close contact with our colleagues from the other R&D locations, international technical marketing and sales, who are experts for the different customer processes, and of course with the production sites.

To ensure that we are also the driving force in refractories in the future, we strive to continuously develop further and learn. This requires us to permanently acquire new skills. In part this also applies to skills that did not play a significant role in the past. Internal and external networking is the prerequisite for an intensive exchange of information.

Besides the additional technical expertise, developments of specific technologies in external collaborations often also enable advantages in terms of time and costs. Depending on the task, we therefore cooperate globally with key experts, universities and research institutions.  

Other important tasks to ensure that we keep our finger on the pulse of time include monitoring, researching and analyzing international patent activities.

 

4) “To act customer focused and innovatively” is one of our cultural themes. What does this mean concretely for your R&D center?

Many innovations and further developments are only possible together with our customers. This is why we endeavor to be present on site at our customers’ facilities with colleagues from the sales organization and technical marketing. 

A great number of customers visit us at our site in Leoben, either for guided tours, but also for further training at our Training Center. This type of networking is very important for us to find out which challenges the individual industries are faced with and how we can help to resolve such challenges.

Moreover, we develop important future topics in a partnership model in collaboration with key customers, plant suppliers and universities. The Austrian research promotion landscape offers many opportunities in this context, which we make intensive use of.