Press release | 17.5.2022
Munich, 17 May 2022 - The European Patent Office (EPO) announced today that German engineers Frank Herre, Hans-Georg Fritz, Timo Beyl, Marcus Kleiner and Benjamin Wöhr have been jointly shortlisted for the European Inventor Award 2022 for developing a non-waste car body painting system that can paint sharp-edged designs on cars in one or two different colours with zero waste.
Customised paint jobs, such as stripes on a car hood or contrasting colour on car roof, are spray painted on to the body after the surrounding parts are masked with tape or foil. Some 20% of paint is wasted due to ‘overspray' and many custom-paint techniques also require energy-intensive heating to dry paint between coats. The invention made by the team from German engineering firm Dürr Systems AG applies paint precisely, eliminating waste and masking as well as reducing energy consumption by up to 30%.
"Every industry has a role in reducing waste and lowering carbon emissions. Thanks to Herre, Fritz and their team, the automotive paint industry has a solution that does both," says EPO President António Campinos, announcing the European Inventor Award 2022 finalists. "They've also underlined that improvements in sustainability can lead to economic benefits, which may encourage further research in their field."
The inventors are one of three finalist teams in the "Industry" category of the Award, which recognises outstanding inventors in commercially-successful technologies patented by large European companies with more than 250 employees and an annual turnover of more than EUR 50 million. The winners of the 2022 edition of the EPO's European Inventor Award will be announced at a virtual ceremony on 21 June.
The seeds for EcoPaintJet were sewn in 2006 when Herre launched a New Technologies team managed by Fritz at Dürr Systems AG. Both engineers shared a passion for developing new solutions to existing problems and soon decided to take on the energy- and resource-intensive process of painting customised car designs. Together with Beyl, Kleiner and Wöhr, they started investigating ways to make this process more precise, efficient and less wasteful, and decided to see if they could create a similar technology to inkjet printing but using paint.
By 2011, Herre and his colleagues achieved a breakthrough when they were able to automate eight jets of paint to reproduce what looked like a Ford Mustang stripe on a motor hood. The applicator used for this opens and closes all nozzles simultaneously. Six years later, they produced their first prototype, which was able to control each nozzle individually. This was further refined to become the current version, consisting of a nozzle plate with 48 tiny holes, each about one tenth of a millimetre in diameter.
Throughout development of the system, the Dürr team applied for patents, usually as soon as they realised a solution was viable. According to Herre, early patenting enables the company's marketing and sales teams to be quicker and more effective. These teams can approach customers and inform them of products still under development, with patents providing crucial cover during this early marketing phase.
Beyond paint savings, the invention is able to strongly enhance the sustainability of customised paint jobs. Currently, painting a design onto a standard car body uses about 15 square metres of foil and 20 metres of tape. This means that EcoPaintJet could help save more than 1.5 million square metres of foil and 2.2 million metres of tape a year in a standard production line painting 110 000 car bodies. The team has calculated that the new process consumes up to 30% less energy than a conventional paint job because it requires less drying, resulting in a 30kg reduction in CO2 emissions per car.
Since the invention also allows for a shorter production line, it can help customers save building space and reduce labour costs, as it only requires four people to run the system. Their process is quicker too: painting a roof with EcoPaintJet takes about two minutes, whereas conventional methods require about 50 minutes for masking alone. The technology could fuel growth in the market for customised cars, initially for high-end models or to differentiate electric cars, but also with potential for volume production.
Herre, Fritz and their team are now working on adapting their system to paint larger parts of a car or its whole body. "We are at the beginning of using this revolutionary technology for standard painting," says Herre, adding it could someday be used to apply logos to trains, buses or outside surfaces. "We know it will be possible to use it for exterior painting and this will be our work for the future: to paint entire vehicles without overspray. This will improve efficiency, lower the environmental impact and, in turn, lower costs for manufacturers."
So far, four EcoPaintJet robots have been sold for test installations to three automotive customers in Germany and two in the US, while Dürr is now gearing up for full commercial production in September 2022.
Dürr Systems has been a market leader in paint application for 30 years and has over 50% of the market share in the automotive market for applying paint on car bodies. The German engineering company is recognised as a key player in the global market for painting robots, which was estimated at EUR 1.39 billion (USD 1.6 billion) in 2016 and is expected to reach EUR 2.77 billion (USD 3.2 billion) in 2023.
Frank Herre was born in Lauffen am Neckar, Germany. After completing an apprenticeship as an industrial mechanic in 1985, he studied production technology engineering at Heilbronn University of Applied Sciences in Heilbronn, Germany and graduated in 1991. Herre was then hired as a production engineer at Schmidt Sonderanlagenbau (Inlac) and he worked there for five years. Then, in 1997, he took on a new role at Dürr Systems GmbH as team manager of non-automotive industries. In 2000, Herre was promoted to senior manager in the development of different applications and processes at Dürr.
Hans-Georg Fritz was born in Stuttgart, Germany. He studied chemical engineering at Stuttgart University of Applied Sciences (UAS Stuttgart) and graduated in 1988. Fritz was hired at the paint manufacturer Wörwag Lackfabrik and promoted to senior manager of powder paint development and production in 1996. In 2000, he joined Dürr Systems AG in application and process development and was promoted to manager of the New Technologies department in 2006. In 2010, Fritz became head of project management for research and development (R&D) of paint applications with no overspray. His role involved managing a team as well as coordinating the development and optimisation of paint processes, software and robots.
The European Inventor Award is one of Europe's most prestigious innovation prizes. Launched by the EPO in 2006, the award honours individuals and teams' solutions to some of the biggest challenges of our times. The finalists and winners are selected by an independent jury comprising former Award finalists. Together, they examine the proposals for their contribution towards technical progress, social and sustainable development and economic prosperity. The EPO will confer the Award in four categories (Industry, Research, SMEs and Non-EPO countries), as well as announcing a Lifetime achievement award at a virtual ceremony on 21 June. In addition, the public selects the Popular Prize winner from the 13 finalists by voting on the EPO website in the run-up to the ceremony. Voting is open until 21 June 2022. Read more on the European Inventor Award eligibility and selection criteria.
This year, for the first time, the EPO will also award bright young minds with the Young Inventors prize. The new prize offers a monetary reward to the three finalists to further encourage them to find creative solutions to pressing sustainable development challenges.
With 6 400 staff, the European Patent Office (EPO) is one of the largest public service institutions in Europe. Headquartered in Munich with offices in Berlin, Brussels, The Hague and Vienna, the EPO was founded with the aim of strengthening co-operation on patents in Europe. Through the EPO's centralised patent granting procedure, inventors are able to obtain high-quality patent protection in up to 44 countries, covering a market of some 700 million people. The EPO is also the world's leading authority in patent information and patent searching.
Luis Berenguer Giménez
Principal Director Communication, Spokesperson
EPO Press Desk
Tel. +49 89 2399 1833