In September 2021, the 4.5-year third-party funded project “speedCIGS” came to a successful end with a final event. As part of the BMWi-funded project, a consortium with partners from research and industry achieved significant successes in the manufacturing process of CIGS solar modules. Among other things, the CIGS process was accelerated, which was accompanied by a significant reduction in production costs and relief from the tense market situation in this area.
Background & goal – at the beginning of the project (2016)
A consortium with partners from research and industry was able to acquire a project tendered by the BMWi. The set goal of the project was to accelerate the manufacturing process of CIGS solar modules in order to be able to produce more modules per time unit at the same investment costs. This in turn makes the production of CIGS solar modules significantly cheaper. The background of the pursued goal was to relieve the tense market situation within the German photovoltaic manufacturers.
Completion of the project
Today, around 4.5 years after the start of the speedCIGS project funded by the Ministry of Economics, those involved can look back on a successful project; with pleasing results. Thanks to the project, significant progress has been made in CIGS technology.
The successes of the project
– An acceleration of the CIGS process was achieved, which significantly reduced production costs.
– The understanding of the formation of so-called “foreign phases”, changes in the crystal structure of the CIGS absorber visible under the electron microscope, was improved.
– The project set two world records related to the efficiency of CIGS tandem cells.
Due to the pandemic, the final meeting was held virtually. In addition to the project partners, two representatives of the Ministry of Economics, Dr. Brockmann and Dr. Altemhöfer, were also present. As a “supporting program” of the event, a presentation by Prof. Dr. M. Haag was very well received. He reported on the organization of the Wilhelm Büchner Hochschule and was able to emphasize the important organizational differences to presence universities.
Afterwards, a “virtual get together” took place. As a replacement for the originally planned joint dinner. In a virtual environment, it was now possible to talk to individual project partners and – sitting at the bar, as it were – to drink a glass of wine together. This gave the participants the opportunity to look back on the project and the successful past years in a relaxed environment. Prof. Dr. J. Windeln, head of this research project, raised his glass on this occasion and reviewed the entire project in a speech.
Acquisition of Intland Software
Today, PTC announced the completion of its acquisition of Intland Software. The acquisition will significantly broaden and deepen its application lifecycle management (ALM) presence in safety-critical and regulated industries such as automotive, life sciences, consumer electronics and aerospace. The company plans to offer Intland’s next-generation Codebeamer™ ALM suite both as a standalone solution and in conjunction with its Windchill and Arena PLM offerings, as well as to further enhance and support its current ALM solution.
“We are pleased to have completed the acquisition of Intland. Codebeamer is quickly becoming the new standard in safety-critical and regulated industries as products are increasingly differentiated by software. The addition of Codebeamer to our ALM suite will strengthen both ALM and PLM growth potential by significantly increasing the strength of our products and market momentum.”
– Jim Heppelmann, President and CEO
This press release contains statements about future events and expectations, including the closing of the acquisition, the impact of the acquisition on our future growth and customer base, the expected value of the acquired technology to our business, and the integration of and expectations for the companies’ product offerings.
These statements are “forward-looking statements” that involve risks and uncertainties that could cause actual results to differ materially from those projected, including that closing conditions may not be satisfied or waived when or in the manner anticipated;
That the acquired technology may not provide the access to new customers and markets that we expect if those customers and markets are not receptive to the technology; existing customers may choose to replace their solutions with solutions from competitors; we may not be able to integrate the acquired technology when or as we expect, and plans and expectations regarding the companies’ products may change; key Intland employees may not remain with the company, which could disrupt the business and our ability to successfully integrate and operate it; and other risks and uncertainties described in filings with the U. S. Securities and Exchange Commission.
How robots, AI and lasers are revolutionizing plant propagation
For more than 100 years and already in its third generation, the family-owned company Bock Bio Science has been a leading global expert in in vitro and horticultural plant propagation. The idea for RoBoCut, the automated, laser-based propagation of plants – reliable, cost-effective and sustainable – was born 10 years ago. Today, owners Friederike and Stephan von Rundstedt lead a team of 14 experts and will begin a new generation of plant propagation in 2022.
The idea behind the project: to automatically propagate sterile plants in an in-vitro laboratory. The process is quickly explained on paper: detect and grab, lay cutting lines, cut, pick up and place in fresh cups. The system relies on a laser on a high-performance robotic arm instead of the usual scalpel. This allows for a clean and highly precise cut for optimal propagation.
The cell with four robots primarily serves large in vitro laboratories worldwide. These employ thousands of people at specially equipped workbenches. The automation potential there is accordingly extremely large. But the solution is also aimed at growers and seedling producers.
How did the topic get started?
The company is a classic plant and tissue culture laboratory – with the aim of automating propagation in the laboratory. Until now, this was primarily possible through work in low-wage countries. But Friederike and Stephan von Rundstedt were quickly certain: propagation should stay in Bremen, including the expertise and know-how. The journey began with the propagation of rare orchids. Initial discussions with automation partners around ten years ago initially resulted in mixed feedback:
“Too complex, more than 40 decisions per minute at the workbench, no machine can do that. With the advent of artificial intelligence, machine learning and image recognition, that changed slowly but surely.”
– Friederike von Rundstedt
In the beginning, the group was only developed for Bock Bio Science itself, but interest from outside grew rapidly after the first presentations. It was soon clear: The solution should also be offered to competitors. In the future, the machines will be supplied to former competitors.
Four RS007N and RS007L robots are at the heart of the solution
During a visit of Stephan von Rundstedt with an employee of the Hannover Messe, the first conversation took place at the booth of Kawasaki Robotics. There, they quickly got into conversation with the long-standing Kawasaki integrator DMP. The chemistry was right from the start: Managing Director Franz-Josef Diekstall was enthusiastic about the idea from the start and was on board immediately. “You have to find someone who ticks like you and thinks ‘out of the box’ – and Mr. Diekstall was just as crazy as we were,” laughs Stephan von Rundstedt.
And he also found Kawasaki Robotics’ support remarkable: “Kawasaki’s willingness to uncomplicatedly provide us with a loaner robot for trials and initial prototypes was a great help, especially at the beginning of the project – so we were able to quickly gain momentum and confidence.”
How is the system constructed?
The RoBoCut system is a fully sterile cell equipped with one RS007L and three RS007N high-performance robots from Kawasaki Robotics. Cups containing plants to be propagated are fed in via an infeed. These are opened and a single plant at a time is removed by a robot with a mechanical gripper and presented to an image recognition system – where the plant is precisely captured and the cutting lines defined within 0.3 seconds.
Removal, camera detection, cutting and insertion into the culture medium: every step of the plant propagation process is fully automatic
The plant is then transferred to the so-called laser chamber, where it is divided according to the laid cutting line. This is where the actual automatic propagation takes place: The laser divides the plant into individual shoots, which are placed on a sterile conveyor belt. From there, they are grabbed by another robot and placed in a new cup with fresh agar-agar culture medium. The cup is closed and leaves the machine via the outfeed. Automation with RoBoCut allows non-contact handling of the plants in the sterile room – without human contact.
The laser cuts precisely and quickly along the natural growth line
The advantage of the laser over conventional scalpels: A laser beam has only a quarter of the thickness of a scalpel in comparison. The cut is absolutely precise, fast and causes no damage to the plant. Combined with the system’s image recognition, the laser can also cut precisely along the natural growth line. The result: significantly better growth in the new plants, as they can immediately absorb nutrients more intensively.
Although RoBoCut was initially developed for the difficult-to-reproduce Phalaenopsis orchids, the system is also suitable for propagating numerous other plants – including ornamental plants, woody plants, perennials or nutritionally relevant plants such as potatoes. However, RoBoCut will also be used outside plant and tissue culture – in vegetative propagation – in the future. This is particularly relevant for cuttings producers, such as eucalyptus, street trees, bedding and balcony plants and much more. Several other crops will follow in the next few years. For example, there have already been some inquiries about propagating medical cannabis – a market with enormous growth prospects.
Artificial intelligence defines perfect cutting lines
Artificial intelligence (AI) plays a key role at RoBoCut: In addition to the four controllers for the robots, three industrial PCs and an AI server are installed. 16 cameras provide the necessary input for the vision recognition software. The AI is used in almost every step of the process, such as post-removal recognition. Based on these images, a 3D model is generated, on which the cutting lines are defined using AI. Before the laser cut is made in the next step, the plant is recorded again and the 3D model is aligned – so any displacements during transport can be easily compensated for.
The neatly separated offshoots are placed in an agar-agar medium
The final challenge in the process: removing the correct plant parts from the assembly line in the appropriate position and placing them in the agar-agar medium. By using AI, the robot receives the exact information to sort out unwanted plant parts and precisely remove and place the correct offshoots.
Focus on sustainability and environmental protection
For Friederike von Rundstedt, the factors of environmental protection and sustainability were in the foreground right from the start: “With one unit, we can replace up to ten sterile workbenches and save energy. This also makes on-site production worthwhile, and emissions from thousands of air miles to favorable production countries are avoided.” The rapid and healthy growth of the precisely cut plant cuttings also significantly reduces the use of crop protection products in the downstream production process.
With more than five billion plants produced in vitro and an annual growth rate of twelve percent, the global demand is enormous. “Our solution is urgently awaited on the market,” adds Stephan von Rundstedt. In the future, plants that are not yet produced in vitro can also be produced using the same method – locally, sustainably and always with consistent quality. The team is already looking into the question of which additional processes in plant processing can be automated.
Change in the management team at Bosch Industriekessel
Since the beginning of the year, Sven Rathmann and Michael Schiller have formed the new management team for the three Bosch industrial boiler sites in Gunzenhausen (Germany), Bischofshofen (Austria), and Engels (Russia). The focus of the new team includes climate-neutral boiler solutions and strengthening the service business in order to set the course for the future.
Sven Rathmann (49) has already been with the company for 20 years and was managing director at Bosch Rexroth’s Swedish site for the last four and a half years. Born in northern Germany, he now lives with his family in Ansbach and has been responsible for the entire Bosch Industrial Boilers division since the beginning of the year. His goal is clear: “We want to continue to grow and focus fully on our industrial customers. Our global sales network, expansion of the service business, and great products for CO2-neutral steam and hot water generation offer us huge potential.”
Bosch boilers are used in almost every industrial sector, in addition to district and heating applications: process heat is indispensable, for example in the production of food, pharmaceuticals, and building materials. Topics such as hydrogen and electrification are playing an increasingly central role here, and the new electric steam boiler “ELSB” can already be operated with 100 % green electricity. This is an enormous opportunity to offer industries climate-neutral solutions for their heat generation.
Just how great the demand is for energy-efficient or even CO2-neutral boilers is made clear by the good order situation. This is also confirmed by Michael Schiller (54) in his new role responsible for finance, controlling and production at the three industrial boiler sites: “Based on the current order intake, we expect 2022 to be a very promising year. We are happy to take on the challenge of meeting the high demand.”
Michael Schiller has been with the Group since 2006 and brings with him relevant experience from his previous position as commercial manager for the floor-standing boiler division at the Lollar site in Hesse. His focus is also on necessary investments and process improvements along the value chain in order to achieve the ambitious growth targets. This means very good future prospects for the industrial boiler team and for the skilled workers of tomorrow.
“We have a really great team on our side and an innovative product portfolio to respond to changing customer needs in a focused way in the future. A climate-neutral industry is the future – and that includes environmentally friendly steam and hot water boilers from Bosch, which we supply to more than 140 countries around the world.”
– Sven Rathmann