BASF develops automotive OEM coatings at a new level

The digitalized and automated laboratory

By Susanne Richert, Lean Lab project manager at BASF’s Coatings division’s Münster site

How can you work in the laboratory area more transparently and more sustainably while addressing customers’ needs better and more quickly? BASF’s Coatings division has found the answer to this question with Lean Lab, the new modular laboratory concept for developing automotive OEM coatings. Lean Lab ensures optimized, digitalized and transparent processes and efficient utilization of resources. The first Lean Lab was opened in September 2018 at the Münster site and is to be introduced at additional sites in Europe – in Würzburg, Germany; Guadalajara, Spain; and Clermont, France.

Since 2014, BASF has invested €24 million to completely overhaul an existing laboratory building for Lean Lab, which included adding an extra story. The building now features four levels with spacious offices and state-of-the-art lab workstations that are all digitally linked. The division of labor between the laboratory services and the process and product labs offers new possibilities for optimizing work-flows. The laboratory employees in Münster are supported by a lab dosing machine that is unique in the coatings industry. BASF collaborated with machine manufacturer FRICKE Dosing + Filling Systems from Minden, Germany, to develop the machine. At 12 meters long and weighing 8 tons, it supports the laboratory employees with producing standard formulas or frequently used mixing bases. For this purpose, a formula is prepared and the associated order is generated and guided through the process via bar codes. The machine automatically pulls in the container, scans the bar code and doses the raw materials as specified by the formula. If needed, the mixture can be stirred during weighing. The new lab dosing machine, which can prepare standard formulas from over 300 liquid raw materials, relieves the laboratory teams of routine jobs.

The processes in the Lean Lab are transparent and are traceable thanks to laboratory software specially developed to meet BASF’s needs. For example, in a laboratory sample it is possible to precisely identify which raw material has been processed in which batch. There is now only one central storage area with managed inventory of all standard raw materials. These include in particular chemicals, as well as semi-finished and finished products. Each new delivery and each consumption is recorded directly in a bar code-based system. This ensures that all the materials required for daily work are available and prevents duplicate orders. All raw materials are used optimally, which saves material and time and conserves valuable resources.

Wenn ein Rohstoff einer Rezeptur zugefügt werden soll, scannt der Labormitarbeiter zunächst den Barcode des Rohstoffbehälters. Nur wenn er den im Rezept aufgeführten Rohstoff ausgewählt hat, gibt der Computer diesen zur Einwaage frei. Am Bildschirm wird genau angezeigt, wie viel von einem Material zuzugeben ist. Alle Arbeitsaufträge und dazugehörigen Versuche innerhalb des Labors werden digital gespeichert und dokumentiert, so dass Reproduzierbarkeit und Wissenstransfer gewährleistet werden. Sowohl automatisierte und als auch digitalisierte Prozesse tragen im Lean Lab zur Qualitätssicherung und einer hohen Prozesssicherheit bei und ermöglichen ein transparentes und ressourcenschonendes Arbeiten. Letztendlich bleiben den Labormitarbeitern mehr Raum, innovative und kundespezifische Produkte zu entwickeln und flexibel auf neue Herausforderungen zu reagieren.

When a raw material is to be added to a formula, the laboratory employee first scans the bar code of the raw material container. The computer releases the raw material for weighing only if the employee has selected the raw material specified in the formula. The precise quantity of a material to be added is displayed on the monitor. All job orders and the associated experiments within the lab are digitally stored and documented, which guarantees reproducibility and knowledge transfer. Both automated and digitalized processes in the Lean Lab contribute to quality assurance and high process reliability and enable work to be conducted transparently and in a resource-efficient manner. The laboratory employees ultimately have more scope to develop innovative and customer-specific products and respond flexibly to new challenges.

Source: OEM&Lieferant, Issue 1/2019