Startup LiGenium uses an almost forgotten material to create innovative conveyor solutions
Volkswagen’s Transparent Factory in Dresden is home to an incubator program providing support for creative startups with fresh ideas for the mobility services of the future or innovative Production and Logistics 4.0 solutions. Since its launch in August 2017, the program has predominantly dealt with digitization in the automotive, infrastructure, and manufacturing sectors. In May 2019, the incubator welcomed its 4th cohort, which included a young company whose focus on an old fashioned material is taking it down a new and promising path.
The four-person team at LiGenium GmbH Chemnitz has been in business since January of 2018. The company was founded by Managing Director Christoph Alt along with his comrades-in-arms from the Department of Materials Handling Technology at Chemnitz University of Technology, with the aim of using the renewable resource of wood for efficient and sustainable mechanical engineering applications. Their expertise lies in the combination of their mechanical engineering knowledge and skills and its application to the use of wood as a structural material. “This has allowed us to occupy a certain niche and enabled us to develop an entirely new product portfolio,” says Alt, highlighting the expertise that gives LiGenium such an outstanding position in the market.
The former TU employees are building upon the success of projects they completed whilst at the university, including a skid conveyor line for in-house transport of vehicle bodies at the VW plant in Wolfsburg. In addition to state-of-the-art wooden roller conveyors with rack systems, LiGenium’s range of products includes transport carts for intralogistics and special load carriers for transporting parts between different plants. “Today, most of these load carriers of this type are made of steel, and the weight of the rack itself is sometimes up to ten times greater than the good it’s transporting. Moving this mass also drives up transport costs and fuel consumption. Wood offers an economical and eco-friendly alternative for sophisticated and durable technical plant and components,” stresses Alt, pointing out the advantages of this material, which has been “forgotten” over the past several decades. Load carriers and other mechanical components produced from wood can be up to 50 percent lighter, for example, than conventional designs, and at least as strong. The LiGenium team is also working on a standard wooden module capable of being used in driverless transport systems. The unit itself weights 15 kilograms and can carry up to a metric tonne of material.
Wood beats steel on carbon emissions
Other properties of wood include vibration absorption, noise reduction, and electromagnetic compatibility (EMC). “EMC in particular has a lot of potential, such as incorporating WiFi and other wireless technologies and functions into transport carts and load carriers. This would allow us to monitor processes in real time and get information on the status of conveyor systems at any time,” explains Alt. There’s another benefit of using wood in mechanical engineering applications, and it’s becoming increasingly important in the context of ever-intensifying climate targets. According to the German Steel Federation, 1.34 metric tons of CO2 are emitted for every ton of crude steel produced. By contrast, wood products actually store carbon. The more CO2-producing materials are replaced with wood products, the more CO2 emissions can be prevented. Experts estimate that replacing one metric tonne of other materials with wood results in an average reduction in CO2 emissions of two metric tonnes. With an ecological footprint like this, the use of wooden structures in automotive logistics is becoming more and more appealing. At the most recent VW Group Logistics Innovative Logistics Solutions Day in May 2019, representatives from all VW Group brands were keen to speak with the LiGenium team, who presented a pilot logistics processes project for the production of an electric sports car.
During the six-month incubator phase at the Transparent Factory, the Chemnitz startup has been making progress on another project: substituting a pallet-shaped steel load carrier with a multi-use wooden one that will eventually be used at the factory to transport seats via elevator from the truck to the installation site. They’re also working on an idea for a new picking wagon, and other projects for the automotive industry. “We want to use this time to gather and try out as many ideas as we can, and use this experience to develop a range of base modules that can be used by big corporations and small and medium-sized companies alike,” says Alt.