Steadfast and Functional - Wacker Chemie AG

Steadfast and Functional

WACKER invested €30 million in LP180b, a new lab building in Burghausen. The new premises will not only increase the accuracy of the analyses – they will also provide an ultramodern setting for training customers and employees, befitting the high levels of quality and expertise expected by the Group.

With its transparent facade and set-back upper floor for building technology, the new lab building LP 180b (right) harmoniously attaches to the existing lab complex LP 180 (left).

With its clean lines, edge-to-edge windows and functional facade, the new laboratory building, designed to complement the existing LP180/180a building in the Burghausen plant, seems bent on showing the world outside what is going on inside: high-precision analyses that produce results which are unequivocal, objective and verifiable. Since the summer, it has been progressively occupied by production-related QC departments of the WACKER SILICONES business division and Corporate Analytics. Before then, they had been located either in the existing lab wings next door or scattered around the site. The new building now houses them all under one roof, pooling together a substantial slice of the Group’s analytical capability.

Dr. Klaus Pohmer, senior manager at the Performance Silicones business unit's Quality Management department, expects the new premises to yield practical advantages for his work. “Being so close to Corporate Analytics colleagues will make it easier to share information on new analytical methods on an informal level.” He adds that, although they all sit on various committees together where they augment the institutional memory by sharing information and advances in analytical methods, having someone right next door makes communications that little bit easier.

“Many of our projects transcend departmental boundaries and include collaboration with customers. This collaboration will be a lot simpler from now on.”

Dr. Jutta Matreux Dr. Jutta Matreux, vice president of Corporate Services and Sustainability at WACKER

Better Working Conditions

Above all, though, the employees will find that the new labs are more conducive to work – some of the old labs could be overcrowded at times. Now there is much more space to accommodate all the different instruments needed for measuring the full range of properties possessed by silicone products, such as refractive index, color index, viscosity and foam stability. “We now have a pleasant and bright working environment where employees will find it easier to concentrate on their work,” states Pohmer. “This advantage compensates for the fact that we have to travel further to the production plant to fetch samples for QC analysis,” he explains.

The new laboratory and analytical services building in Burghausen.

Investment: €30 million

Ground-breaking: October 23, 2010

Occupied: progressively since summer 2012

Total floor space: 11,800 square meters

Usable floor space: 6,800 square meters

Lab space: 4,200 square meters

Employees: 220

Another person who hopes that the new building will bring major improvements is Dr. Andreas Moser, director of the Group’s Corporate Analytics department. He bears responsibility for an area in which analytical instruments can each cost half a million euros and more. “There were times when we were unable to extract the maximum accuracy from them,” he explains. “Our electron microscopes and NMR spectroscopes were located on the fourth and fifth floors of the old building next door. Even the tiny vibrations experienced in a building at that height were enough to greatly restrict the instruments’ capabilities.” Modern scanning electron microscopes can resolve structures down to one nanometer in width (around one fifty-thousandth of a human hair). However, the building vibrations reduced the resolution of the images by a factor of ten.

The same applied to the NMR spectroscopes. The vibrations in the old building created problematic interference signals in the measurements and increased the background noise by a factor of two. “We can solve these problems now, because the instruments are installed on the ground floor,” reports Moser.

Detection without Blank Values

A further beneficiary of the new laboratories is ultra-trace analysis. For the electronics and photovoltaic industries, in particular, the analytical methods employed need cleanroom conditions – otherwise they have no chance of detecting traces of up to 30 interfering elements, such as iron, aluminum, copper and alkali metals, without using blank values. “Now that we have a proper cleanroom laboratory with the necessary airlock, we can reach very low levels of contamination and thus get very accurate analytical results,” emphasizes Moser.

The applications laboratory of the Performance Solutions business team has also found a new home in LP 180b: team members test DEHESIVE® paper and film coatings in this lab.

For Dr. Bernd Pachaly, head of the Engineering Silicones business unit, a non-technical aspect to the advantages of the new lab building should not be overlooked. “Many of our customers come to visit us here at the plant,” he says. “The new premises allow us to receive them in a suitable setting that is an outward expression of WACKER’s expertise.” And then there is the WACKER ACADEMY, the Group’s advanced training center, which now has modern rooms for holding customer seminars on silicone products. Until now, when holding these seminars, which include practical exercises on using the products, Pachaly’s business unit had to call upon the laboratories and facilities of other business divisions. “Now we have our own rooms that we have fitted out with everything we need specifically for our applications,” stresses Pachaly.

Investment in Customer-Oriented Processes

Dr. Jutta Matreux, vice president of Corporate Services and Sustainability, values these kinds of improvements highly, too. As her area of responsibilities includes Corporate Analytics, the task of overseeing the new €30 million construction project fell to her. “Some 80 percent of this investment targets customer-oriented processes, such as quality control and application technology,” estimates the chemist. She, too, considers the bringing together of Corporate Analytics, Quality Control and Application Technology to be hugely beneficial. “Many of our projects transcend departmental boundaries and include collaboration with customers. This collaboration will be a lot simpler from now on.” For Dr. Matreux, the new lab building is definitely money well spent.