He has always set himself high goals: Whether in athletics or in the laboratory — he tackles every hurdle and never shies away from a challenge. Lars Ruchel, Head of the Quality Assurance Laboratory, gives us a look behind the scenes and tells us what moves him in his job and in his free time.
Lars, how did you get into your profession?
I grew into my profession — but a little coincidence and luck were also involved. Initially, I came to the company via REACH. That’s an EU chemicals regulation and it also concerns plastics and their recycling.
Originally, my interest was in recycling. My path led via chemistry to environmental and process engineering. In this field, you deal with the real processes of industry. These involve completely different aspects than chemistry per se.
And how did you become interested in plastics?
That happened over time, once I’d started to look into it more closely. Polyamide in particular is an attractive material for recycling. Unlike other plastics, it can be re-melted and reused much more easily.
So, recycling and sustainability are important to you?
Yes, why use new goods when you can use recycled goods?
What are your tasks at ENNEATECH and what does your day-to-day work involve?
We are responsible for the quality assurance of the products. In other words, we process samples from the raw materials on the one hand, and from the finished products on the other. Thanks to our devices, many measurements now run automatically, sometimes even overnight. Only in the case of special analyses can it also happen that these are passed on to external laboratories.
You said that your devices measure the samples at night. How much of your work is automated?
A lot. Many processes have been optimised today also because of my contribution. In the evening, for example, we prepare samples that are measured overnight and evaluated the next morning. Efficiency has also increased many times over due to automation.
What are the most important analyses you carry out in the laboratory?
On the one hand, there is the purity control — as a quick test for our raw materials, the heating bench is particularly suitable for this. This is followed by the so-called DSC thermal analysis, which is much more precise. This is based on the principle that substances have a specific melting range. If we heat a plastic sample, we can see at which temperatures individual components melt. If other measurements are taken besides the melting temperature of polyamide, we know that the sample is not pure polyamide. Using FTIR, we can quickly obtain further information in parallel on the type of plastic in a sample based on an infrared spectrum (similar to a fingerprint).
On the other hand, we measure the solution viscosity of the raw materials and products by dissolving the sample in sulphuric acid. The flowability of the polymer solution is then measured in the viscometer. Different viscosities are required, depending on what our product is to be used for.
Measuring the moisture content and residual heat of the raw materials and finished products used is also part of our standard analysis.
Customer requirements indirectly determine the raw material mix in production. This requires precise knowledge of the necessary parameters, which we can provide in the QA laboratory.
Of course, this also means that we have to recognise and sort out defective raw materials. However, this prevents contaminated granulate from being produced in the end.
Does it sometimes get dangerous in the lab?
The danger is low: we tend to do physical measurements, and handle dangerous chemicals less often. Only the sulphuric acid can very rarely cause a hole in the sleeve. Of course, we always wear protective clothing, so this risk is also minimised. In my experience, the cutter knife for sampling is almost more dangerous than some other things.
What do you like most about your work at ENNEATECH?
I like the variety. I’m not just in the lab, I’m all over the ENNEATECH site, whether it’s at the truck for a raw material delivery, in production or in the warehouse. That gives me the opportunity to exchange ideas with the staff. I also notice time and again how great the cohesion is in the company. We are all working towards the same goal. The team spirit is also promoted by ENNEATECH through the Christmas and summer parties. These are special highlights of the year, and give us the opportunity to get together and exchange ideas outside of work.
Speaking of “outside work”: what else do you do to balance out your working life?
And what are you looking forward to at ENNEATECH?
There is also a lot going on at ENNEATECH. We will also be producing compounds for the first time. This step will help us evolve from a pure manufacturer of recycling granulates to a producer of a wide variety of materials for even higher-value applications. That will enable us to fulfil customer wishes even better and more individually. Another huge area is being built. In the laboratory, we will need new analytical methods and thus additional testing equipment due to customer requirements. We will measure the mechanical properties of the compounds, for example, with various impact and tensile tests. And we will carefully check whether the formulation of the compounds is as desired. It’ll be a new, exciting challenge.
Click here for the interview with our trainee, Svea Röben.