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GEA Separation celebrates 125-year anniversary and looks forward to a digital future

Process technology company GEA Separation is celebrating its 125th anniversary this week by reflecting on its history.

“It was the year of inventions that are still indispensable today, such as the diesel engine by Rudolf Diesel and the zipper by Whitcomb Judso,” GEA says, reflecting on the year of its birth, 1893.

“At the same time, the businessman Franz Ramesohl and the cabinetmaker Franz Schmidt in Oelde, Westphalia, proved their innovative strength, creativity and stamina. They opened a workshop on September 1, 1893, and produced a hand-operated milk centrifuge with the model name ‘Westfalia’.

“Ramesohl & Schmidt oHG had three locksmiths and two turners 125 years ago. They produced the hand-operated milk centrifuges with the simplest but effective equipment. Entrepreneurial skills, craftsmanship and technical expertise coupled with a love for innovation formed the basis for the following 125 years.

“The roots of the company developed into today’s GEA site, the most modern separator plant in the world. The products “made in Oelde” are supplied all over the world. The export quota is currently over 80%. GEA’s expertise now encompasses over 3,500 different processes and 2,500 products for various industries ranging from food and beverage, marine, oil and gas to power, chemical, pharmaceutical and environmental technology.”

Regionally rooted, globally active

Today, Oelde is GEA’s largest single site worldwide with a production area of around 37,000 m². Around 1,900 employees, 180 of whom are trainees, are currently working in the areas of design, production and administration. GEA invested heavily in the site in 2013.

Steffen Bersch, member of the GEA Executive Board, who worked for many years in Oelde himself, said: “We had and still have the clear ambition not simply to swim in the global competition, but to determine it by increasing efficiency.”

For example, the new building in Oelde, which was built in 2013, was essentially based on the idea of sustainability: its own combined heat and power plant with an electrical output of 1.2 MW reduces the CO2 footprint and generates enough electricity to supply more than 2,000 average households.

The new separator production enables GEA to optimise processes throughout the entire production process, according to the company.

“The use of well-trained and committed employees in conjunction with modern production machines and technologies has led to significantly reduced throughput times in the production of the separators and plants, most of which are customised to the customer’s needs, while maintaining above-average product quality,” GEA said.

The company’s own Process Test Centee (PTC), which opened in 2014 and provides extensive specialist support for customers’ investment projects, enables even greater customer orientation; starting with the specification of product properties through the determination and design of machine types to pilot tests at GEA and on site at the customer’s premises.

In cooperation with the customer, GEA Product Managers and GEA Process Development, the PTC also develops and tests completely new processes. The PTC also underscores GEA’s innovative strength as a leading international technology group, GEA says. More than 11,000 tests and process developments as well as more than 18,000 laboratory product analyses have been carried out to date. This knowhow is compiled in a database supplemented and updated every year by around 500 new product tests and over 150 process developments.

In order to reliably ensure maximum customer satisfaction and continuous machine availability during operation, the supply of spare parts is coordinated centrally from Oelde and in cooperation with renowned logistics companies via so-called hubs.

These spare parts centres are currently located in Cologne, Germany (since 2011), Singapore (since 2014) and Naperville, US (since 2017). At the European Parts Logistics Center (EPLC) in Cologne, around 21,000 different articles – from 5 mm diameter sealing rings to machine parts weighing several hundred kilograms – can be retrieved in the shortest possible time; on average, 250 shipments are handled daily.

Technology from Oelde all over the world

“Being successful for 125 years also means rethinking proven product and process solutions and pushing the boundaries to set new standards through new and further developments. In most cases it is applications ‘behind the scenes’, ie not visible at first glance, in which GEA technologies are installed. But these are not infrequently spectacular,” the company says.

An example is the The Palm in Dubai. The artificial islands in the shape of a palm tree, visible even from outer space, are built on – and thus produce wastewater. They are cleaned in an underground sewage treatment plant with GEA decanters. The plant has a capacity of up to 15 m³/h.

Another example is found in the cruise ship industry. GEA separators are used here for heavy oil treatment as well as for treating bilge water, an oil-water mixture. Simple ‘discharging’ into the sea is strictly prohibited – so solutions must be found, and GEA is developing them, it says.

Bersch says: “All these examples demonstrate our innovative strength and the commitment of the entire GEA team. I am convinced that our will to constantly develop and improve ourselves and our feeling for our customers will continue to make us successful.”

GEA has innovative service concepts covering the complete life cycle of the machine and plant, such as monitoring, asset management, consulting and performance optimisation for the customer. Continuous innovation and proximity to the customer through the global network and competence centres such as Oelde are further advantages.

GEA is already well positioned, says Bersch, however, further major efforts are needed to stay at the top of the world league. And, this is where digitalisation comes in.

Tobias Brinke, Head of Product Group Management Separation, said: “Only by using digital solutions and technologies is it possible to create sustainable and future-oriented products and structures to increase efficiency.”

According to Brinke, GEA is already in the middle of a digital journey to continue playing at the top of the world league in the future. GEA therefore fills the term ‘digitisation’ with new life every day.

“The continuously and ever faster progressing digitisation changes customers, markets and last but not least GEA. Finding the right answers with innovative digital products and services is crucial for tomorrow’s competitive advantage,” says Brinke. GEA sees digitisation, above all, as an opportunity and a pioneer for new growth and development potential, both in the new machine sector and with regard to the growing range of service solutions.

A current example from the service sector is GEA PerformancePlus, which includes service packages that go far beyond traditional maintenance and are an ideal complement to an industry 4.0 strategy, according to the company.

“This uncovers optimisation potentials that enable sustainable plant operation. Modern technologies for condition monitoring combined with the knowhow of GEA employees provide the customer with meaningful condition analyses and information for decision making with regard to possible process optimisations – with the aim of permanent availability and maximum productivity. At the same time, changed production requirements can be better assessed and orders can be scheduled in an economically optimal manner,” the company says.

“Strengthened by 125 years of success, GEA Separation continues to follow in the footsteps of digital transformation – and so this anniversary not only marks a milestone in the company’s history. At the same time, it is an incentive to push ahead with innovations and continue to improve customer processes and, not least, people’s lives in the long term – in other words, “engineering for a better world”.”