The move follows the work of three Igus engineers that set out to eliminate the use of fossil fuels during production.
They initially experimented with car heat exchangers from and computer fans. The experiments grew, and with time, a bigger area could be heated. After six months, the new concept called Machine Heat Recovery System (MHRS) succeeded in heating one of the large production halls of Igus’s factory in Germany using waste heat from the injection moulding machines. Depending on the heating requirements, MHRS directs the hot water flows from the cooling circuit directly to the fan heaters, while simultaneously ensuring that the machines do not overheat. Since heat is extracted from the hot water as it passes through the fan heater, the demand on the factory’s cooling tower is reduced, meaning that the mains gas heating system is not required or reduced, and less electrical energy is used for cooling. Fluctuating cooling circuit temperatures can be variably adjusted by the system.
According to Igus, the MHRS does not use an expensive heat pump to exchange heat and does not take a detour via a heat exchanger, which would lead to temperature losses. There is also no need to feed in the waste heat from air compressors. Igus is already gradually reducing compressed air energy to reduce energy costs.
Igus CEO Frank Blasé said: "With this in-house heating system, we will be able to reduce gas consumption to almost zero in the future. In addition, we will need less electrical energy for cooling. This saves us costs and reduces CO2 emissions and thus relieves the burden on the environment.”
Hydraulic motors of the injection moulding machines heat up during their operation. Just like in cars, they need cooling to protect against overheating. Cooling towers are used in factories, supplying cold water and to the moulding machines via pipes, the hot water then returns to the cooling tower. When re-cooled, the heat escapes into the atmosphere and energy is lost.
With the MHRS, some of the heat from the cooling circuit is tapped via a flow control system and directed into the heaters, which are located next to the old gas heating fans. To stop these heaters from clogging immediately, the solids suspended in the water are filtered out. The warm water enters the new fan heater and deactivates the old device. A fan located on the heater distributes the heated air in the hall. Only then does the water flow back to the cooling tower and the cycle begins again. Since heat exchangers are not used, the system can also be operated in the low-temperature range.
Dennis Berninger, factory manager at Igus in Cologne, said: "We are convinced by our concept and plan to rely entirely on machine heat as heating in production and offices in the future. The next plan is to equip the large logistics centre with nine fan heaters. Here alone, around 31.5 tonnes of CO2 can be saved annually. This is an important step for Igus to get closer to the goal of being carbon-neutral with its buildings and production by 2025.”
Additionally, Igus is making the technology available to other industrial companies.
Blasé added: “We see great potential for the MHRS in the industry, which is why we want to make the concept available to other companies free of charge. During our research, we did not find any published, precise instructions on how to use heat recovery systems in factories. We are already providing information on how MHRS and the developed control device works on our website. More and more details are being added."