With a tailor-made software solution, the only one of its type in the world, Rhenus Lub has catapulted the production of special lubricating greases into the digital age of Industry 4.0. As a result, the medium-sized company based in Mönchengladbach, Germany, is taking a quantum leap into automation technology, with production now being digitised using standardised and reproducible processes. Drawing on heavily scientific benchmarks and the strictest industrial standards, as required in the automotive industry or mechanical engineering sector for example, the owner-managed company is now producing lubricants of higher quality with the utmost precision.

Rhenus Lub has long been preparing for its ascent to the top of “Industry 4.0” in the oleochemical industry. Back in late 2005, when its specialist grease factory was brought into operation, the family company wisely installed around 1,200 sensors, process encoders, servomotors and actuators on the 15 production lines, almost all of which could be controlled electronically.

But it is not just data from the processing plant itself that goes into controlling the production process. Information from goods in, raw materials planning, additive picking, filling and logistics is brought together centrally for comprehensive process planning and control. Together with experts from M + W Process Automation GmbH, a solution has been developed in line with state-of-the-art industry and IT standards, which enables batch control on a largely automated basis.

Leader in oleochemistry

“What makes the automation at Rhenus Lub so unique is the vertical and horizontal integration of all data flows in the company and how they are used for production control. This makes our customer a leader in its sector”, explains Dipl.-Ing. Stephan Engels, automation technology department head at M + W. Unlike the chemical industry, which generally produces large batches on a continual basis, the lubricant specialist offers a wide range of customised lubricating greases for the mechanical engineering sector, automotive industry, rail and energy technology, agriculture and forestry.

Up to 1,000 product variants must be carefully planned and controlled, all involving complex chemical processes. The production of highly specialised greases has more than 30 individual process steps for example. At each stage it must be ensured that the right additives are added to the right production kettle at the right time. Similarly, each and every process parameter must be right, such as the kettle temperature and the speed of the mixers.

Comprehensive recording of process data and its use in the new IT solution enables production to be more precise than ever before. Customers also benefit from a further increase in quality and greater transparency in the production process since all process parameters are documented meticulously. And Rhenus Lub is able to achieve this higher precision even though it sometimes uses natural raw materials that have varying properties. Dr. Max Reiners, owner of Rhenus Lub, sums it up as follows: “The intelligent use of data and individual algorithms means that we can truly master the various interactions that take place in complex production processes, allowing us to control production more precisely and to avoid bad batches”.