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innovatherm on Course for Success with Intelligent Solutions for the Energy Transition

Already on 01.01.2021, 100 % shares in innovatherm Prof. Dr Leisenberg GmbH + Co. KG were taken over by Frank Appel (FA) and Andreas Lingl (AL). Since September 2021, the cousins have been Managing Partners at innovatherm. The two gentlemen were previously Managing Partners at Hans Lingl Anlagenbau und Verfahrenstechnik GmbH & Co. KG (Lingl) today Schug Group for more than 20 years. innovatherm’s roots go back to 1992, when innovatherm was jointly founded by Lingl and Prof. Dr Wolfgang Leisenberg (who was previously Managing Director at his father’s company, Manfred Leisenberg KG, which had specialized in the development and production of burners for kilns and dryers in the ceramics industry). Today, after over 30 years, innovatherm has developed into a world market leader for firing and process control systems, especially for anode furnaces for the production of primary aluminium. The new management team updated us on current developments at innovatherm.

cfi: innovatherm’s focus is in the aluminium industry. Are you intending to strengthen other segments in the future? 

FA: It’s really impressive what the management team at innovatherm has built up over the last three decades. To this day, worldwide more than 260 firing systems are in use in over 90 different anode furnaces for the production of primary aluminium. The international network (JV in Bhubaneswar/IN and subsidiary innovatherm USA Inc. as well as representative offices in Beijing/CN, Manama/BH and in Moscow/RU) is correspondingly wide. In addition, the company is also successful in the sector for Flue Gas Cleaning (FTC) as well as in firing systems for manufacturing cathodes and electrodes. Just think: Our orders in the aluminium industry can sometimes run to volumes of several million euros. Naturally, we want to get our contacts in the ceramics industry – especially those in heavy clay ceramics – more involved. With the takeover, innovatherm has evolved into a legally independent and autonomous enterprise – a good basis for strategic further development. 

AL: However, we have to proceed cautiously as growth today is supported by qualified personnel, which, as everyone knows, is difficult to get at present. We have young engineers in the team, one of whom is working together with six other colleagues to explicitly take on the ceramics business. These topics were ultimately addressed in the forerunner company Manfred Leisenberg KG. Today, with the energy transition, there are, of course, new important tasks. cfi: What is the organizational structure of your company today? 

FA: We depend strongly on the successful management team, some of whom have held responsibility for far more than ten years. Domenico Di Lisa is our Sales Director, Christian Hossbach is Commercial Director and heads up the Butzbach site. Dr Frank Heinke (Director of Processes and Process Engineering), Hans-Jörg Seifert ( (Director of Automation and Head of the Weimar Office) as well as Klaus Prinz as Head of the Mechanical Engineering Department complete the innovatherm management team. Detlef Maiwald, who led the business very successfully from 2010, will leave the company with all honors on 30 June and go into his well-deserved retirement. Our premise is therefore clear – continuity! 

AL: Interesting for us was to learn how the team of 35 employees, who work spread across three sites (Butzbach, Weimar and Moers), has successfully coordinated and organized themselves long before home office and web meetings became a central part of office work. Prof. Dr Leisenberg always prioritized getting the best specialists on board – and handling the question of location flexibly. This way, he was able to retain experts in the company long term. We want to continue that but also ensure that there is effective communication on site. Today, innovatherm is a globally operating engineering company with an established network of qualified suppliers. That means we advise, plan, design, engineer, commission, and we optimize – in short, we process orders – but we don’t do the manufacturing ourselves. To deliver optimum quality under these conditions, diverse coordination work is needed. 

cfi: Sustainability, reduction of energy and material costs are called for all industry segments, especially in high-temperature technology. What development approaches do you see for your product portfolio? 

FA: Familiar to ceramics customers will be the pulsed firing technology presented by Manfred Leisenberg back around 60 years ago and steadily further developed to this day. To describe this briefly, short firing gas pulses (in the range of a tenth of a second) ensure effective turbulence and therefore more balanced temperature distribution over the kiln cross-section. As a side effect, excess quantities of air are reduced and the energy consumption lowered commensurately – a big topic of discussion at the moment. The key success factors for this are our own short-pulse solenoid valves, which deliver 500 million switching cycles without problems. They have unparalleled lifetimes of up to 20 years – working in continuous operation! Naturally, we are working on the further development of our firing technology and, at this juncture, I should like to mention the technical paper published in this issue on our new innovatherm air dosing valve. Another exciting topic that we are addressing is the use of hydrogen. Hydrogen has a lower density and, above all, a much lower calorific value than natural gas. For this, we can draw on our portfolio of pulse burners that are suitable for hydrogen and we offer on top of this our solenoid valves that are suitable for use with higher gas pressures. Because higher pressures are possible with our valves and because the introduction of hydrogen will be gradual on account of a lack of availability (with the addition to other firing gases in increasing percentages), it makes a lot of sense to use this technology to carry on using the existing supply network in the factories and mix in hydrogen. We are currently in the process of equipping our existing pilot plant in Butzbach, where our magnetic valves and burner systems for the aluminum and ceramics industries have been tested to date, for the use of hydrogen as well. We continue to regard cooperation with external institutes as essential. In our second office building in Butzbach, which was newly constructed in 2015, we provide an attractive setting for expert conferences and user meetings with our training rooms. 

AL: Besides the pulse burner technology, we should like to mention our own process control systems for the ceramics and aluminium industry. In our ProBake control system for the aluminium industry, all of the features that we have developed for optimizing energy consumption and NOx emissions in anode production are implemented. The innovatherm ProBake control system has now become a virtual industry standard in the aluminium industry. In ceramics, we can say proudly that the architecture of our novacontrol control systems remains extremely innovative to this day. Our strategy of open programming on an industry PC basis has proven effective because in this way we offer interested users a highly flexible platform in which they – without external support – create controller links and so can quickly try out “something new”. On the other hand, the system is very rugged with an extremely lean program structure. Certainly, in this connection, our market experience in ceramics has benefited us, and we are steadily advancing our core expertise in respect of process optimization and modernization of plants and control systems. 

cfi: Do you have to further develop structures internally? 

AL: As a trend-setting company, we are thinking intensively about new business models with our customers. At the moment, the optimization of data management is a big issue. Together with external consultants and our own experts, we have recently launched an industry-wide project for redesigning CAD and ERP landscape. The topic of data integrity is immensely important for our customers as well as internally for efficient working. 

cfi: Thank you for talking to us.