With more than 15 years of experience, Dr Carsten Puke can look back on a long and intensive corporate affiliation with Rhenus Lub. With a PhD in chemistry and an 18-strong team behind him, the Head of Grease Research & Development and Quality Control ensures that customers can count on flawless products both now and in the future. In an interview, he tells us which steps are involved and explains why it isn’t always an easy task.
Dr Puke, you are responsible for the quality of all lubricating greases at Rhenus Lub. This isn’t straightforward, is it?
Dr Puke: Quality control is an extremely important part of our work. Ultimately, it is important to deliver goods to our customers that meet the high quality expected of us. That’s why three to four employees deal exclusively with checks, analyses, system releases and critical control of our high-performance lubricating greases. I must say that the quality control is rather more complicated in comparison to standard industrial products.
Why is it more complicated?
Dr Puke: We always have a dual release. Some of our employees are very active on a production level and ensure that the product receives filling approval. However, they also monitor this once more in the laboratory a day later. These are advanced tests that are required for delivery approval. The processes here may sound very cumbersome, but this two-pronged approach is essential for ensuring that customers always receive lubricating greases of the highest quality.
What role does digitalisation play here?
Dr Puke: In terms of Industry 4.0, which we have been promoting intensively for more than two years, digitalisation plays an equally important role for us as a central quality assurance element within process assurance. We ensure that the manufacturing process is correctly set-up, continuously reviewed and constantly developed so that everything runs steadily and reliably in the lab as well as in production. In doing so, we are faced with the convenient yet difficult situation of disposing of lots of data through digital processes. The precise nature of our expertise in this area lies in analysing and evaluating process data and opening up new potential for optimisation.
As Head of Research and Development, you ensure, so to speak, the use of sustainable raw materials.
Dr Puke: In order to both keep up with current trends and remain prepared for the future, we examine the raw materials on a regular basis. Example: Our department is always prepared for a situation where a base oil—an essential component of lubricating greases—is unavailable or no longer available. We look into alternatives at an early stage and are able to ensure that our products can be supplied at any time. Needless to say we also keep the REACH legislation on chemicals in mind and only offer products that comply with REACH.
Rhenus Lub promises to develop solutions that match the customer’s requirements as closely as possible.
Dr Puke: Yes, that’s true. This is where our test field management comes into play, in which everything revolves around the question: how can we develop solutions that resolve the issue that the customer has tasked us with as closely as possible? We use our existing machines for this and always try to reproduce the customer’s situation as well as we can. When we judge the reactions of our customers, the results are generally very good — even if there are, of course, occasional setbacks during the field trial. Although much is standardized, we are constantly finding creative ways outside of the norm to adhere even closer to the customer’s needs. This is what it means to be flexible and is a typical feature of a mid-sized company such as ours: providing options for reproducing the customer’s wishes as well as we can and uncovering hidden potential with great ideas.
As it were, we have a very sophisticated system for keeping test equipment up to date, therefore we ensure that the results obtained using the machines are reliable at all times. This helps us to deduce valid information that is important both for quality assurance as well as for R&D and, ultimately, for customers too.
At Rhenus Lub, we always follow the characteristic style of research activity. This means abstracting the problem to find a hypothetical solution. There is always some residual doubt — but that is typical in research. We take the question or the problem apart, strip it down into individual aspects and translate it into concrete experiments. We just need to be clear on what we want to achieve, as only by keeping our goal in mind will we be able to observe our work with the necessary level of criticism. This is our premise for ensuring that the customer receives tailor-made products.
So customers can always rely on this?
Dr Puke: Yes, of course. This is one of our defining features as a company. We see ourselves as a development partner, working in collaboration with the customer and coming to an agreement. The two sides must come together and understand each other, word for word. I collaborate regularly with machine manufacturers or other engineers that do not have a background in chemicals. It is very important that I wrap up my chemical understanding in their language, and vice versa. This is one of the challenging aspects of my work that we cope with very well. We understand our customers and our customers understand us.