Varinia Ruano has been head of the W. MÜLLER technical center since January 2021. In this interview, she explains what she is currently working on, what needs to be considered when using recycled material for blow-molded containers, and what distinguishes W. MÜLLER as an employer for her.
Best conditions for the development of optimal containers
Varinia Ruano has been head of W. MÜLLER's technical center since January 2021. In this interview, she explains what she is currently working on, what needs to be considered when using recycled material for blow-molded containers, and what distinguishes W. MÜLLER as an employer for her.
Ms. Ruano, how did your path lead you to W. MÜLLER?
Varinia Ruano: I started at W. MÜLLER in 2018, initially as an employee in the technical center. Before that, I had started my master's degree in industrial engineering at the University of Oulu in Finland in 2015, with an Erasmus year at RWTH Aachen University, and graduated two and a half years later. I wrote my final thesis on a topic in the field of extrusion blow moulding at the IKV in Aachen. This was also when I first came into contact with W. MÜLLER. After an internship at LyondellBasell in Kerpen, I started working here.
You come from Guatemala. So your path to W. MÜLLER is not preordained, is it?
Ruano: No, really not. I was actually born in Guatemala and grew up there. I earned a bachelor's degree in chemical engineering in Guatemala City. Even then, I was involved with my education and was president of the student committee. Thanks to a scholarship from the US Department of State, I was able to spend a semester abroad in the US. Back in Guatemala, I wanted to give back to society and got involved with Engineers without Borders. We designed a water distribution system in a no village in Guatemala. And after I graduated, I worked for two years at the Sports Federation of Guatemala. There I was responsible for 14 swimming pools and was involved, for example, in ensuring water quality and training staff.
In what way do you benefit from your international training and your diverse experience?
Ruano: I have learned to deal with other cultures and approaches. This is particularly helpful when dealing with our international clientele.
I quickly feel comfortable in an international atmosphere and can work well in multicultural and multidisciplinary teams.
What is a typical day like in your position as Technical Center Manager?
Ruano: My work is very varied. I am constantly in contact both directly with customers and with my 3-person team in the technical center. We do material tests, sampling and work on research projects. In the mornings I usually start with office work, as the machine has to warm up first. During this time I do other things, such as documentation or administrative work. If necessary, I also prepare material mixtures. When we are at the machine, we follow a test plan that can be flexibly adjusted depending on the results. The rest of the time we evaluate the results and write reports to present to the clientele or our management.
What are your current projects?
Ruano: At the moment I have two main projects: We are investigating how to reduce color change times in blow molding machines. To do this, we are optimizing extrusion and experimenting with coatings on parts of the machine. The second area we are experimenting with is the use of recycled material. With our in-house multi-layer process ReCo3, we can already offer a tried and tested concept here. In this process, a layer of recycled material is surrounded by two layers of virgin material and thus shielded from the environment. However, we want to explore further options for our customers, such as coating with plasma.
In which area of hollow body production do you see the greatest potential at the moment?
As in many other industries, sustainability and digitalization are becoming increasingly important. Our customers are increasingly asking for opportunities to use recyclates in packaging. Meanwhile, you can already find plastic bottles made from 100% PCR in the supermarket. In addition, the amount of material used is being reduced more and more. I believe that there is still considerable potential here.
As far as networking and digitalization are concerned, I also see enormous development opportunities. More accurate process monitoring or control systems could be used to control the process more precisely and reduce batch fluctuations even further. This is particularly important when using recyclates, because if the quality of the input material fluctuates, I have to be able to adjust the process accordingly.
How do you assess the possibilities of using recyclates in blow molding technology?
Ruano: Brand owners are placing more and more emphasis on recyclability - to meet their own environmental goals and because consumers want environmentally compatible packaging. To achieve this, we first need high-quality input material. The industry is doing its utmost to continuously develop the collection, sorting and cleaning of plastic waste. On the other hand, we need packaging solutions that are designed to be recyclable. It is very helpful that new additives have facilitated the use of recyclates in recent years.
We have already carried out trials here in the pilot plant with different PCR materials and have not encountered any major problems. Both with pure PCR bottles and with those produced using the ReCo3 process, the processing procedure as such has always been easy to control. The bottles are visually flawless and approved for rinse-off products such as shower gel or shampoo. Tests are currently underway to determine whether it is also possible to use ReCo3 to manufacture containers for leave-on products.
What aspect of your work at W. MÜLLER particularly fascinates you?
Ruano: I find it particularly interesting to develop or perfect new products together with our customers and employees. I like developing theories and then actually testing them in the laboratory. Regardless of whether the underlying assumption was correct, you always gain new insights in the process. We can use these to improve our test series and in turn help our customers in more and more specific ways. I also enjoy working with the very experienced colleagues here at W. MÜLLER.
Does the Corona crisis affect your work?
Ruano: Yes, we normally have much more frequent contact with our customers during sampling or other tests. That is missing at the moment. The samples have therefore become fewer. But on the other hand, this gives us the opportunity to push ahead with our own projects. When we still had a sampling every week, there was much less time for that.
So there's time for basic research?
What makes W. MÜLLER special from your point of view, what do you particularly appreciate?
Ruano: Three points immediately come to mind: The working atmosphere, the flexibility and the quality. W. MÜLLER has an excellent working atmosphere, which is also evident from the fact that staff turnover is very low. Once you are here, you are happy to stay. Colleagues who have been working here for 15 or 20 years are not uncommon. The interaction is very personal. Teamwork and mutual support are a matter of course on a daily basis. Whenever I needed support, I got it, whether from direct colleagues or the management.
As a medium-sized company, we act flexibly and unbureaucratically. We have the experience and know-how to understand the needs of our customers and the skills to more than meet them. Our service and technical centre are also as flexible as possible in order to be able to offer our customers a suitable solution quickly with article samples, material tests, new developments and the further development of their products.
After all, the quality of our products is very high. On the one hand, W. MÜLLER's employees are extremely experienced and well trained. In addition, the management attaches great importance to keeping the level of knowledge constantly at the highest level through further training. Our products reflect this.
What does the future hold?
We want to invest more in digitalisation, and we are also planning new products. However, it is still too early to talk about these. The product development process is to be standardized and digitized. In this way, we want to become even more agile and flexible.