"Without wanting to boast, we offer the best expertise in separation technology in Finland," states Professor Antti Häkkinen from the Department of Chemical Technology at Lappeenranta University of Technology (LUT).
"The cooperation between Larox and LUT is extremely close, even in international terms.
"Our policy of working together with companies is embodied in the motto of the LUT Centre for Separation Technology (CST): AbsoLUTely Creative, Solutions,Together."
Larox signed on as a corporate partner of CST in 1999. Larox Chairman Timo Vartiainen had been appointed Chairman of CST the year before, and he continues to serve in this position.
"The cooperation between Larox and the LUT Centre for Separation Technology has contributed significantly to the success of both parties," says Timo Vartiainen.
"We at Larox have been able to utilize the university's basic research and scientific expertise, while supporting the inclusion of separation technology as one of the strategic areas of expertise at the university. Over the years our cooperation has continued to deepen and evolve. Larox currently has several long-term development projects in progress that will generate areal competitive advantage for the company in the coming years."
Antti Häkkinen has held the Larox-sponsored Professorship in Solid-liquid Separation Technology since the beginning of 2008. He is responsible for the details of the cooperation on behalf of the university and for overseeing the resulting research projects.
"Our cooperation has ensured that solid-liquid separation technology is one of the most important subjects taught and studied at the Department of Chemical Technology. The financial support of Larox has allowed us to recruit new research personnel and to develop our readiness, for example in terms of equipment, which would not have been possible with the basic funding of the university," Häkkinen admits.
The partnership between Larox and LUT has allowed the research team to hire specialists and acquire deep expertise. "For the university it is important that our corporate cooperation generates theses. Researchers have the opportunity to utilize Larox projects for their graduate work, and we expect the first such doctoral thesis to be completed in 2010. Basing research on real and challenging industrial problems is very positive, and it clearly motivates the researchers themselves. Our long cooperation with Larox has also increased awareness among our researchers about Larox filters and customer needs. Larox is a global leader in its field and thus a highly valued partner for us. We would be very proud if Larox was able to solve real problems and improve its processes thanks to research carried out by our university," Häkkinen adds.
Solutions to real problems
Senior Research Manager Bjarne Ekberg is responsible for the cooperation with LUT on behalf of Larox. "Our partnership is based on applied research carried out by the university. Typical tasks include solving problems, testing new products and developing new measuring techniques. The aim is to apply research results directly to Larox's business and to find solutions that will providethe greatest benefit to our customers," Ekberg says.
According to Ekberg, the list of research projects that have successfully led to commercial applications is long. "For example, together we have developed a pilot model of a filter that features ceramic media that was designed especially for iron ore, industrial minerals and chemical industry filtration applications. In particular, the R&D work involved testing at the university.
"In addition to such long-term projects, we also continuously test the performance of different types of filter discs and disc structures, as well as the trapping mechanisms and cleaning methods of various filtration materials, such as fabrics."
Many projects are confidential, however, and the most successful ones lead to patent applications. "We have an agreement with LUT that defines the forms of cooperation, the proprietary rights of research results, reporting methods and costs," Ekberg explains. "Successful cooperation entails a clear understanding of the aim of the projects by all parties, as well as tight communication."
One successful research project that Bjarne Ekberg is keen to mention involved graduate work carried out by Sanna Hirvisaari.
"The aim of this master's thesis was to improve filtration process by studying parameters' effect on vacuum belt filtration of a metal precipitate. The main object was to find an appropriate filter cloth and control parameters in order to wash chloride out from the filter cake. At the same time it was important to maintain good clarity of the filtrate and to increase the filtration capacity," Sanna Hirvisaari writes in her final report.
The study resulted in several interesting findings related to cloth structure, capacity, the amount of gypsum and cloth speed. According to the tests, the structure of the filter cloth does not have any significant effect on the wash result of the filter cake, and the tested woven fabrics, which are used in Larox Pannevis belt filters, are as good filter cloths as needled felts. It also became clear that it is impossible to wash all chloride out from filter cake because part of the chloride is chemically bonded in the cake. The best for the operation of the belt filter is to ensure that the slurry concentration remains equal. It was also found out that the durability of the filter cloth can be extended by using filter cloth with good abrasion resistance.
Leena Tanttu, Senior Engineer, Process Services, has participated in several Larox-LUT projects. "The greatest benefit is obtained by combining our practical experience with the university's theoretical and research-based expertise. It's a great combination that offers a lot to both parties, not to mention Larox's customers for whom this cooperation is undertaken," she emphasizes.
One of the projects in which Leena Tanttu was involved was entitled LabTop. "My role was that of testing expert. LapTop is a test planning program that we developed to design test filtration series and model the test results. The software provides us with more data on the effects of the variables being studied on the end result with a minimum test amount. The end result is a faster and higher quality test filtration whose results the customer can rely on one hundred percent. Successful test filtrations ensure that a production filter that has been tailored individually for the customer works as expected."