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In what way a 100-year-old German manufacturer, Claudius Peters is modernizing for the 21st century with a generative design

Claudius Peters is an international manufacturer of systems of transporting and material handling for cement, gypsum, steel and aluminum plants. The history of the company is more than 100 years – it was founded in 1906 in Buxtehude, Germany. Today it has 12 offices around the world. However, this period of production activity makes Claudius Peters a kind of "dinosaur". This means that it faces a fundamental question: how to avoid extinction?
2 july 2019

The company has set a goal – to become more modern, reduce lead times and costs, and increase customer satisfaction level. In order to achieve this, it was necessary to review the engineering processes. In 2007, the Claudius Peters started to implement the tools of digital design. Ten years later, at Autodesk University 2017, Thomas Nagel, Director of digital technology and manufacturing at Claudius Peters, learned about generative design technology and decided to test it. Just a year later, Claudius Peters was recognized as the Innovator of the year 2018 at Autodesk University for its success in implementing this technology.

Generative design and refrigerator for clinker

Cement production on an industrial scale requires a huge amount of clinker (a product that is obtained by heating minerals, such as limestone – approx.). For further use, it must be cooled from 1,400 to 90 degrees Celsius. Claudius Peters has developed an ETA refrigerator that produces about 13,000 tons of this product per day. The equipment reaches 50 meters in length and 25 meters in width – it's about half a football field. And its production includes machining of metal to create massive parts, such as cooling "tracks", which flows hot clinker. With the help of Autodesk Inventor software and finite element analysis (FEM), Claudius Peters engineers have ensured that these tracks are produced in hours rather than days.

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To test the generative design, Claudius Peters chose a part that needed to be improved – it was heavy, made of cast metal, and expensive to manufacture. Image courtesy of Claudius Peters.Caption 

This is the path that was chosen to test the generative design. This is a large piece of cast metal, heavy and expensive to manufacture. Claudius Peters wanted to reduce its weight and, as a result, reduce the cost of production and the amount of materials used. Before that, they had already made an attempt to change the design of the part – as a result, its weight was reduced from 168 kg to 80 kg. Now it was decided to try to do it with a generative design. They chose Autodesk Fusion 360 cloud CAD as their tool. After a four-hour training, the engineers designed a part that was 25% lighter than the original.

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The design variant proposed by Autodesk's generative design tool is in the upper right corner. Image courtesy of Claudius Peters 
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The final part was much lighter and easier to manufacture. Image courtesy of Claudius Peters.

Advanced design technologies and traditional manufacturing

Generative design technology is often associated with 3D printing because it designs the shapes which extend far beyond the capabilities of traditional manufacturing. Meanwhile, the production methods that are available to companies such as Claudius Peters do not always include 3D printers that print with metal.

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The company took the solution proposed by generative design and redesigned it so that the part could be manufactured using traditional manufacturing. Image courtesy of Claudius Peters. 

One of the goals of creating new parts was to make them more accessible. Claudius Peters could not afford the cost of 3D printing of parts, so it decided to use traditional methods for production. The engineers redesigned the part and added the necessary information to Fusion 360. Initially, the company planned to produce it with the help of casting, but it turned out that welding would be a more practical method. As a result, there was created a prototype, which was 70% lighter than the original. Reducing the amount of material, the team eventually reduced the weight of the part by 20 kg.

A finite element analysis was also carried out. He showed that the new part made of welded plates that were laser cut rather than cast would be more durable, simple and economical.

The new design will save about 100 euros on each part. Considering that clinker refrigerators often have between 60 and 100 of these elements, the weight and cost savings that have been achieved will be of great importance.

Another advantage was noted. "Thanks to the generative design, we replaced the heavier part that was cast in the foundry in India or Turkey and switched to a lighter part that can be welded here in Buxtehude, in our shop or somewhere nearby. This way we will save energy as we will not need to transport parts for assembly from India to Buxtehude. It will also save transportation time," says Nagel.

After the positive result of generative design was obtained, the company began to use it in the design of parts as a generator of ideas. As Claudius Peters has no plans to use 3D printing, the proposed details reverses engineer and produces traditionally.

The company's innovative strategy requires a progressive internal team and strong partners. "If we continue our journey with partners like Autodesk, we will avoid extinction and/or destruction and be able to remain competitive in the market," says Nagel.