In the Research & Development department, we developed new methods, researched future products, and optimized production processes in the reporting period 2018/19. For us, research and development serve as a crucial foundation to continue improving our competitive edge and the company’s growth.
Until the middle of calendar year 2019, our work focused on further developing metallurgical processes, especially with respect to the flexibility and productivity of the complex raw materials and recycling materials we use. We carried out extensive trials on a pilot scale and worked on process models for future plant equipment.
These development results and the basic engineering subprojects we completed as part of the internal growth project Future Complex Metallurgy (FCM) form the foundation for future investments and internal growth as part of our multi-metal strategy.
On June 12, 2019, the Executive Board and Supervisory Board passed a resolution to stop the FCM project. The basic engineering results indicated significantly higher investment costs than anticipated. The project was thus no longer as cost-effective as originally expected.
In the past fiscal year, we also worked on improving metal recovery from iron silicate slag as well as the product quality of the slag itself by carrying out trials in our pilot facility and validating the metallurgical process. The results provided the basis for the technical plant engineering.
In coordination with Raw Material Purchasing and in close collaboration with leading companies from the mining industry, we are developing solutions for processing future feed materials, particularly complex concentrates from new mine projects. Our goal is to develop corresponding processing facilities so that Aurubis can utilize these concentrates in its smelter network.
Apart from the projects that are part of our growth strategy, the optimization of existing core processes played an important role as well. We’re working on improving the efficiency of primary copper production in Hamburg and Pirdop. In this context, we installed and tested various sensors, for example to continuously record the “bath level” in the flash smelter and the quality of copper matte and iron silicate stone. We use this basic data to better understand and optimize the impacts of different factors on production. With model calculations, we improved the input materials in the smelting furnace and the converter’s mode of operation.
In fiscal year 2018/19, we also investigated waste heat boiler leakages in the primary smelters and in the KRS in Lünen. The objective of this work is to develop a deeper understanding of the reasons for the leakages in the past fiscal year and how we can prevent them in the future. An interdepartmental team identified the reasons and is currently working on solutions to substantially reduce the frequency of these leakages.
Another significant work area during the reporting period was the optimization of the copper tankhouse. Through systematic analyses of the operating data and lab trials, we improved the electricity yield in this production area. We developed an IT-supported program that compiles the vast amount of data and presents it in a clear way, which enables us to monitor the performance of the individual tankhouse cells more easily.
In light of rising demands related to the reliability of automotive connectors, we researched modern coating technologies during the reporting period, which are currently being tested by suppliers. Moreover, we worked on new low-alloyed, high-conductivity copper alloys in the same area of application.
When it comes to lead-free machining materials (the BlueBrass family), we have primarily concentrated on semi-finished wire products in the last several years. During the past fiscal year, the focus shifted to expanding the BlueBrass strip portfolio.
In the area of power electronics, we introduced a new material with a longer lifespan to the market, for use in power modules. We also continued our other research activities in this business sector with academic and industrial partners. Our goal is to develop state-of-the-art material solutions especially for electric vehicles.
For the future, we plan to continue sharpening the focus of our research and development activities, placing an even stronger emphasis on optimizing production and developing products further.
The entire Aurubis Group’s R&D expenditures in fiscal year 2018/19 amounted to € 16 million, compared to € 12 million in reporting year 2017/18. We have a total of 84 employees in this area (previous year: 78 employees), who are located at our sites in Buffalo, Finspång, Hamburg, Lünen, Olen, Pirdop, Pori, Stolberg, and Zutphen.