Conference on developments in desalination technology
The AGRU success story has been unfolding now for more than 68 years. Founded back in 1948 by Alois Gruber senior, nowadays the company is one of the world's most important single-source suppliers for piping systems made of environmentally compatible materials like PE and PP, semi-finished products (also from fluoropolymers), concrete protection and lining systems. The ability to supply everything from a single source sets AGRU apart: it manufactures precision-moulded fittings for plastic pipes and the portfolio includes everything from semi-finished products through to the liner membranes.
The company has an export quota of 95 % and there are AGRU customers all over the world. This is the reason why AGRU products have been issued 190 country-specific approvals for supply /disposal, storage and transportation of everything from hazardous substances to ultra-pure media. The specifications for all these approvals are stringent, so the industry leader from Upper Austria processes only top-grade thermoplastic polymers in state-of-the-art production facilities. After 1½ years of construction, AGRU has just opened a thoroughly state-of-the-art cleanroom facility for manufacturing PURAD, the piping system for ultra-pure media.
To cover the worldwide growing demand for medium piping systems for high-purity applications, AGRU invested EUR 15 million in a signature production facility at Bad Hall, Austria, where the company is headquartered. Not merely a matter of course, however, because AGRU also has other plants at locations in Asia and America. As far as marketing this premium-grade piping system is concerned, however, alongside proven product quality certified compliance with Austria's high production standards is another big plus. Because in AGRU's philosophy conservation of resources and respect for the environment occupy the foreground in all business endeavours. In the final analysis, customers all over the world trust the plastics competence and expertise the company has amassed in the course of a lifetime.
The new building was planned by architect team 'x architekten' from Linz, Austria, and its characteristic features are functionality and ground-breaking design. Resembling a vastly oversized pipe, the bronze-anodised trapezoidal sheet-metal façade stretches across the entire complex. The interior carries on the modern, functional and clear architectural style, reminiscent of the cleanness and the surface quality of the PURAD products manufactured in this plant. In all, plant 5 has a usable surface area of 7739 m², of which about 60% are taken up with materials storage and infrastructure.
The new investment underscores the high customer orientation of the AGRU plastics experts: "Quality and cost leadership are two of our maxims", asserts Alois Gruber, company owner and CEO. "So our customers profit from state-of-the-art technologies at an unparalleled price-performance ratio. That's why we invested in this new facility. One major plus is our technological diversity: injection moulding is one of our core competences and another is the extrusion of thermoplastics. And working with fluoroplastics is an established tradition at AGRU."
PURAD piping systems for ultra-pure media are used for high-tech applications in the semiconductor, life-sciences, foodstuffs, petrochemical and photovoltaic industries. Uncompromising quality, outstanding customer benefit and high operational dependability are the characteristics of PURAD. Whenever excellent anti-leaching properties and high chemicals resistance are essential, PURAD is the first choice.
Requirements differ from application to application, so PURAD products are manufactured from different thermoplastic polymers selected for their specific advantages. PVDF UHP is ideal for the 'transport of ultra-pure-refined media' high-end application. PURAD pipes in PP-Pure and Polypure are the best alternative for the transport of all other highly purified media.
Plant 5, the new facility, is used exclusively for the manufacture of PURAD PVDF UHP piping components for the high-purity applications of customers from all over the world. Unlike many other plastics, this extremely pure polymer contains no stabilisers, plasticisers, friction-reducing or flame-retarding additives. The most common application is transporting ultra-pure water in the semiconductor industry. This is the sector that manufactures computer chips for PCs and tablets, smartphones, TVs and satnav devices. In chip production, a particle only a fraction of a micrometre in size can disrupt the structuring of the ICs (integrated circuits). A sophisticated cleanness concept in plant 5 ensures that all pipes, fittings, valves, seals and flanges are produced to an ultra-high standard of cleanness and are hermetically packaged and double-sealed ready for dispatch from the facility.
PURAD production in the new facility is ISO class 5-compliant from start to finish. So the facility meets hygiene requirements higher than those for hospital ORs. Under these super-clean conditions, AGRU manufactures its ultra-clean PURAD PVDF UHP piping system. The design of the cleanrooms reduces concentrations of airborne particles that can settle on the products to super-minimised counts. Suspended-particle filters, protective clothing and a constant excess interior pressure prevent particles from making their way into or occurring inside the cleanroom.
Access to the cleanroom is through a succession of hierarchical zones in which cleanroom classification rises from zone to zone. Access to the cleanroom itself is possibly only through personnel and materials airlocks, and protective clothing must be worn. Powerful airflows inside the airlocks cause entrapped particles to swirl free, so that they can be extracted into a filter to prevent the ingress of foreign matter from outside. The AGRU specialists cleared to work inside the cleanroom wear protective oversuits, masks, gloves and overshoes to protect the products from contamination.
A laminar air flow is maintained inside the cleanroom at all times to ensure maximum freedom from dust. This flow is a steady current of low-turbulence air directed from the ceiling to the floor and effectively acting like a vacuum cleaner. The air entering at ceiling level is immediately extracted through the perforated raised floor, re-purified and returned to the overhead injectors. So dust can never build up inside the room or collect on the floor, and the interior air remains sterile. The entire volume of air inside the room is recirculated about every two minutes.
"Productivity means taking know-how, automation technology, meticulous craftsmanship, process reliability, lean production and energy efficiency and combining them to optimum effect", sums up engineer Johannes Haager, AGRU's Chief Operations Officer. And plant 5, AGRU's new cleanroom facility, is brimful of productivity.
The 'everything under one roof' philosophy, ISO class 5-compliant from acceptance of the granulate through production and final cleaning to packaging, ensures even higher quality, cleanness and customer satisfaction.
PURAD pipes for ultra-pure media-retaining lines are hallmarked by uncompromising precision, cleanness and durability. In this respect, functionality and cost-effectiveness are two sides of the same coin. The extruded stock with diameters between 16 and 315 mm is produced on multiple extrusion lines housed on the ground-floor level of the new facility. Surface roughness, diameter, section thickness, length and cleanness are monitored continuously in a battery of precisely defined quality tests. Special extrusion systems and innovative production technology are the key to a clear technological lead. Additionally, the process data of each system part manufactured are logged by means of the batch number. This ensures 100 % traceability over many years.
PURAD fittings, valves and flanges are manufactured by AGRU on specially designed injection-moulding machines in three-shift operation in highly sophisticated processes using state-of-the-art injection-moulding techniques. The installed capacity in extrusion and injection moulding corresponds to an increase of about 30 % over the company's former cleanroom production capability. The raw material, PVDF UHP granulate, is stored in a dedicated storage facility in the new production plant. As in finished-goods storage, here too the incoming inspections are stringent and removal from stock is strictly in accordance with the first-in first-out (FIFO) principle.
Final cleaning and packing of the injection mouldings take place in the same building. And to make sure that customers receive a truly perfect product, all system components undergo more quality checks. "In exhaustive test routines that include dimensional checks and internal-pressure creep-rupture tests with hot water at 95 °C and leak tests of the double hermetically sealed packaging, our products are tested under conditions vastly harsher than those encountered in real-world operation. These huge safety margins allow AGRU users to rely one hundred percent on the quality, operational dependability, reliability and durability of our products. Naturally, in the course of continuous cleanness validation surface quality and cleanness of all PURAD products are checked visually and assessed by arrays of sensors." says Thomas Narbeshuber, Head of Quality Management at AGRU.
For a standard of cleanness unparalleled elsewhere in the industry, AGRU has also invested in a new ultrasonic washing facility. Before being packaged, the ultra-clean PURAD components are washed with ultra-pure water and special tensides at a temperature of 70 degrees centigrade. With a system of hermetic double packaging, AGRU preserves this standard of cleanness in products destined for customers all over the world. The PURAD piping systems are stored in fully automated high-stacking stores of impressive capacity. For high-purity fittings and valves there are 2500 storage bays and 100,000 running metres of PURAD piping are always in stock. This extensive stocking of standard products and the high-efficiency global logistics network ensure outstanding delivery capability.
Naturally, AGRU backs up its products with the appropriate range of services. Along with the logistics network mentioned above, applications-engineering support is another of AGRU's unique selling points. Terms of reference for medium-retaining piping systems differ from application to application. When AGRU plastics experts set out to elaborate a solution they take all the vital parameters into account, including operating pressure, temperature and concentration of the chemical to be transported, applicable international standards and country-specific regulations, intended service life of the piping system, and most importantly of all compatibility with existing piping. AGRU conducts an ongoing program of training and certification of partner companies for professional installation of its products. AGRU supervisors with many years' field experience are available on request, so during installation their hands-on advice and assistance are always on call. User-oriented welding training and rental and sale of welding machines are also included in the portfolio of services from the AGRU plastics experts.
No-one can gauge the quality of a product better than the manufacturer. So in plant 5, where outstanding quality and operational dependability are what count, AGRU has installed only piping systems it has manufactured itself. The compressed-air system uses AGRUAIR piping, which has an ISO class 7 rating for ultra-pure air. AGRUSAN is the product of choice for the hot-water piping in the heating system. AGRU uses its PE 100-RC AGRULINE system to pipe cooling water, drinking water, wastewater and gas into and out of the facility.
One major challenge while construction was in progress was to make sure that plant traffic could be maintained unimpeded. And working to a tight schedule, the site crew also had to contend with subsoil conditions that required some 400 piles to be driven to stabilise the ground. The celebrations marking the opening of the new cleanroom facility took place on time on June 09, 2016, to the full satisfaction of the Gruber family, owners of AGRU. The opening ceremony was held in an event framework that included guided tours of the plant and was attended by customers and business partners who travelled to Bad Hall specifically to help mark the occasion. An impressive sign of the high esteem in which they hold AGRU – the plastics experts.