Q&A: An interview with inge AG's Dr. Peter Berg

June 8, 2007
Ultrafiltration specialist inge AG is launching a new, innovative rack design for ultrafiltration skids -- the "T-Rack." Dr. Peter Berg, management board member and chief technology officer for inge AG, answered a few questions about this innovation's fields of application as well as its special attributes...

Greifenberg, June 1, 2007 -- Ultrafiltration specialist inge AG is launching a new, innovative rack design for ultrafiltration skids -- the "T-Rack." Dr. Peter Berg, management board member and chief technology officer for inge AG, answered a few questions about this innovation's fields of application as well as its special attributes.

Q: Peter Berg, up to this point, inge AG has had a presence on the market in the form of its patented Multibore® membrane and the dizzer® module series. With the "T-Rack," you are now introducing a new inge AG development -- what exactly do you mean when you talk about the "T-Rack"?

Dr. Berg: At present up to a couple of hundreds UF modules are interconnected in ultrafiltration (UF) units. This naturally entails a good deal of effort and complexity. For this reason, we've taken a first step towards optimization by increasing the membrane surface area of our 10-inch module by approximately 11% so that fewer modules would need to be interconnected. This increase in surface area was achieved by optimizing our module without changing the outer dimensions of the module housing itself. The interconnection requires end caps and usually complicated distribution headers as well as several other components in order to connect the modules. All of these additional components are no longer necessary with our "T-Rack." By using the "T-Rack," the modules can be directly interconnected. We've already applied a patent for this new construction.

Q: But your core business is in ultrafiltration modules and membranes. Why are you now expanding your product contents?

Dr. Berg: When analyzing the total costs of ultrafiltration systems, we determined that the rack costs make quite a difference. To ensure that ultrafiltration (UF) will be able to increase its market percentage in the future, it is necessary for us to reduce the total costs. Our research and development department has optimized the construction of the rack to such a point that conventional units have been improved enormously from both a technical and economical standpoint. And as a manufacturer of membranes, it makes sense for us to provide the racks at the same time because we can also produce them cost-efficiently through large-scale production.

Q: By introducing this T-Rack, aren't you talking away a part of the OEM's business?

Dr. Berg: Our scope of delivery increases because of the T-Rack, but we will pass along the cost advantages to our customers. The development of such a rack would be too expensive for the producers of the units because an individual unit producer would, in sum, sell significantly fewer racks than we are able to. In addition, we at inge AG also have the technical capabilities and tools for the necessary development and completion. These developments cost a lot of money, but through mass production, we achieve returns to scale that ultimately make this venture economically sound.

Q: What components does the T-Rack feature? How is it put together?

Dr. Berg: We have combined eight dizzer®5000plus modules, each with 50 square meter membrane surface area, into one basic unit (400 square meter). With the aid of this basic unit, racks can be built consisting of over 100 modules. This scaling is achieved through the hydro-dynamically optimized basic unit. With that, a total capacity of approximately 500 cubic meter of water per hour is possible. Depending on what amount of water needs to be prepared, the basic size of the rack can be designed flexibly. The modules are located close together in the rack and are already connected. Thus, further header construction is not necessary.

Q: Who installs the T-Rack -- is that done by the inge AG service technicians or the OEMs?

Dr. Berg: The customer can choose to have us deliver either the complete rack or the individual components as a construction set. Sometimes the import costs for individual components are considerably more attractive. In such a case, it is economically sensible to assemble the individual components on site. Another factor can be the personnel costs in low salary countries, which can make it more economically feasible to assemble the rack on site in the country of its deployment. However, we either deliver the complete T-Rack or the completely mounted basic units. It's simply placed in the waterworks, connected and there you have it, it's ready for use.

Q: Waterworks are often constructed in double rows. Is that also the case with the T-Rack?

Dr. Berg: That is a special advantage of the T-Rack because facilities can then be built in double or more rows, even in small areas. This is seen in the illustration (T-Rack with 48 modules compared with a previous 48 module rack construction): the basic units can either be placed next to each other or behind each other -- without there being any spaces. In any case, the operator still has access to each module. Arranging the modules in parallel, you will be thus able to use the two feed connectors and the filtrate connectors separately to make a double row operation within one rack possible. Thus, the installation of two independent racks is not necessary for this. This saves both space and costs.

Q: Are there other advantages?

Dr. Berg: A large advantage is the immense saving of space. For a conventional facility, the required space per rack is two times as large as that for the usage of our new T-Rack. This is especially important when conventional units are replaced by or equipped with UF units because these often need to be integrated in existing buildings. For new water preparation facilities, the building can now be built smaller and thus, more cost-efficiently.

One important advantage is in the material costs. As a result of the savings achieved through the piping and the rack, an expensive stainless steel is hardly necessary. The piping is integrated in the module and is made of the same PVC material as the modules. PVC is advantageous because it is not substantially degraded by aggressive industrial water or seawater. If requested the feed and filtrate headers can also be made of stainless steel.

Since the modules in the T-Rack are aligned very closely and the piping is integrated, the water volume in the collective pipe, the so-called "hold-up" volume, is much smaller. This is advantageous when it comes to backwashing, because during this backwashing, the remaining particles must be cleared out of not only the modules, but also the piping. The smaller the volume in the pipelines is, the shorter the process of backwashing actually lasts. This consequently increases the recovery. Even when chemicals are being used, saving can be achieved because when less water is used, then fewer chemicals are required in order to achieve the same concentrated effect.

Q: Can you estimate these cost advantages?

Dr. Berg: UF modules account for approximately 30% of the total costs of a large facility. Additional cost factors are the building, the piping, the engineering-technology and also the rack. For larger facilities, the costs for conventional racks are currently around one fourth to one third of the module costs, thus about seven to 10% of the entire costs. By using of the new T-Rack, 5% and more of the entire investment costs are saved, depending of course on the size of the facility. For a facility with a magnitude of approximately two million Euro, an amount of 100'000 Euro is already saved. Not taken into consideration in this assumption are the additional savings made due to having a smaller building.

Q: Is an integrity test also possible for the T-Rack?

Dr. Berg: We of course know that many OEMs, system integrators or end customers demand the integrity test. Although fiber breakage can practically be ruled out by the stability of our patented Multibore® membrane, we have -- as a standard -- integrated a translucent tube in the filtrate connectors of every module. As such, air bubbles can be detected during a pressurization test. We selected this variant because the pressurization test has proven to be the best procedure with respect to the sensitivity required.

Q: How do you envision the T-Rack being used for water treatment at seawater desalination plants?

Dr. Berg: As pretreatment for seawater desalination plants, the UF has been competing to this point with conventional procedures such as flocculation or flotation units, followed by sand filters. Up to now, the UF was considered to be too expensive, even if many experts are capable of seeing the economization that can be realized via the clean ultrafiltered water during reverse osmosis. Since the total costs of UF are dropping drastically as a result of the T-Rack, UF is now even more economical, especially for seawater facilities. This is particularly the case because we're talking about what are usually very large plants at which the cost advantages of the T-Rack have a special effect. We currently process, for example, requests for large seawater units in the Middle-East consisting of over 2'000 modules. This corresponds to a treatment capacity of more than 10'000 m≥/h. If, for the investment sum for such facilities, you then calculate even 5% in direct savings accumulated through the usage of the T-Rack, this example graphically shows what a large step forward the UF itself can take as a result of this new construction.

Dr. Peter Berg is Managing Board and CTO of inge AG. He can be contacted at +49 8192 997-852, or via e-mail at [email protected].

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