A Successful Round of Research with the ZIM

Steinbeis experts present their successful ZIM projects at the SME Innovation Day

As in the past, the SME Innovation Day pulled in the crowds again this year. A good 1,800 visitors descended on Berlin to take a look at over 200 new ideas from the research and development programs of small and medium-sized business enterprises and research institutions. Something all projects had in common: They all received backing from the government innovation program for small and medium-sized business (ZIM), which is financed by the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy (BMWi) – or they received funding through the BMWi’s IGF program, which supports collective research in manufacturing. Two Steinbeis Innovation Centers were among the 300 or more exhibitors: System Solutions in Measuring and Automation Technology, which is based in Mannheim, and Application-oriented Material-, Production-, and Process-Technology from Jena. The two Steinbeis teams each showcased one of their successful ZIM projects.

There are always questions asked about the effectiveness of equipment used to clean machinery in the food and chemicals industries. This was the motivation for the Steinbeis Innovation Center System Solutions in Measuring and Automation Technology to join forces with the equipment engineer Wiedenbauer Apparatebau AG and VLB, the Berlin-based association of research and training for the brewing industry. Their aim: to develop a reliable method for cleaning equipment that could be integrated into fully automated sterilization processes. The project was given financial backing through the ZIM. The result of the collaborative development is a mobile cleaning device called Mini-CIP (“cleaning in place”). The system provides a variety of flexible connection options to automatically clean production equipment and areas containing manufacturing plant that is not or cannot be integrated into existing cleaning cycles.

In terms of the process used by the project team, the CIP adheres to a principle called “lost cleaning” – cleaning solvents are mixed separately with processing water using concentrates in a 150-liter feed vessel; this is then introduced to a cleaning cycle and removed again on completion of the cycle. Individual stages of the cleaning process can be controlled manually or regulated according to a preconfigured schedule in the cleaning protocol. If the desired cleaning results have not been achieved, a notification pops up on a display on the Mini-CIP machine. There is also an option to connect the machine to a network to store cleaning results on a server or save data to a memory stick. One of the defining features of the new cleaning device is a sensor developed by the experts at Steinbeis, which is capable of ascertaining how effectively equipment has been cleaned. The sensor takes reference solvent and uses organic methods to calculate residual soiling. The color of a reference solvent may change depending on the outcome of a cleaning process. For example if it is yellow the soiling is heavy, and if it is green the equipment is fairly clean, whereas violet indicates that there is no soiling whatsoever. The measurement device has an integrated component for producing LED white light to illuminate a medium in the measurement chamber. Next, the modified light is absorbed by an RGB sensor which captures readings in a micro-control unit and translates values into the HSV color spectrum. This makes it possible to transfer analog data to a unit with a memory-programmable control function.

The Steinbeis Innovation Center for Application-oriented Material-, Production-, and Process-Technology also took the transition to alternative energy sources into account for the project. Green energy is leading to growing demand from small-scale manufacturers, farmers, and private individuals looking to acquire regenerative energy equipment, especially for their own energy requirements.

Jan Koltermann at the exhibition booth with open and closed prototypes of the generator.

A number of studies indicate that there is strong market potential for small wind turbine power generation equipment. But in many cases, there are still some major stumbling blocks affecting purchasing: poor quality, the high initial outlay, and a lack of equipment standardization. Solar systems have run into some serious obstacles in recent years, partly due to somewhat dubious practices in overseas markets, and partly due to the slashing of subventions in Germany. Things are slightly different for small wind turbines targeted at small businesses and private households, which are benefiting from strong market expansion, sometimes fueled by international initiatives. In the meantime, there are a large number of producers that have specialized in developing and manufacturing compact wind turbine systems, and there is fierce competition selling these systems. To sidestep this competition, ways need to be found to develop small wind turbines that clearly offer premium quality, and these turbines must deliver what the manufacturer claims they do. A key component with these systems when they are used to create energy is the generator unit. Until now, there have been a number of alternatives in the market, with both asynchronous and synchronous motors. One aim all generators have in common is that they are supposed to generate high amounts of energy with a minimum number of revolutions, or offer maximum performance with relatively high efficiency. Also, by offering more effective damping, small wind turbines could be particularly effective at compensating for the kind of torque shock that is experienced with strong gusts of wind. In practice, however, it is extremely difficult to adapt generator concepts to allow for a wide range of turbine speeds on different kinds of rotors. Until now, the generators have mostly been relatively large components, and some could be extremely heavy. This was reason enough for the Steinbeis experts in Jena to team up with the drive technology and development firm ate gmbh & Co. KG and develop a special generator for small wind turbines, ideally in different formats.

The generator the specialists came up with can be adapted in terms of size to fit into available spaces. The project team managed to reduce the overall size of the units and achieve significant weight reductions compared to existing generators. The special generator they developed is already able to generate large amounts of energy at low speeds in light winds. Measurements taken on the test bench showed that it delivered significantly higher outputs. The units are currently undergoing live testing in small wind turbines. In terms of price, the team of specialists does not intend to compete with low-price products, but would rather like to differentiate the product through quality, making the units as interesting as possible to small businesses and private customers. This is to achieve quick payback. The result of the project: a generator offering horizontal or vertical operation, delivering significantly improved overall performance – with values that speak for themselves:

  • low mass inertia in the rotor (starting at wind speeds of 0.3 to 0.5 m/s),
  • energy generation at low wind speeds of 2 m/s (as a function of the rotor)
  • integrated sensors to detect torque and automate shutdown
  • speeds ranging from 0 to 150 rpm, as a function of the rotor and wind turbine model
  • temperatures ranging from -40 to +100°C
  • low-maintenance/maintenance-free and low cogging torque
  • minimum noise pollution
  • scalable output of 1 to 10 kW
  • approx. 1,000 euros per KW


Jan Koltermann
Steinbeis Innovation Center Application-oriented Material-, Production-, and Process-Technology (Jena)

Rüdiger Jung
Steinbeis Innovation Center System Solutions in Measuring and Automation Technology (Mannheim)