Corenstock Chair: a Trial Cylinder for the Heating Industry

Technological innovation goes hand in hand with work towards the transformation of the company and the entire production chain (elm.leblanc production site).

As 2021 begins, IMT and elm.leblanc launched the Corenstock Industrial Chair to address issues in energy and digital transition in the domestic heating industry. What is the objective? Within four years, to present a demonstrator for the hot water tank of the future: more resistant, efficient and durable. Behind this prototype lies the development of new economic models for the global transformation of the industry.

The principle of Corenstock Chair (Lifecycle design & systemic approach for energy efficiency of water heating and storage devices), launched in early 2021, is to consider an equipment of the everyday-life to be optimized and used as a model for the transformation of an entire industry. The objective is to present within four years a demonstrator for an innovative hot water tank, more energy efficient, more sustainable and more connected to its users. The project is however not limited to the design of a new domestic hot water tank: it covers the transition problematics of the heating industry as a whole. In line with new business models development, the underlying interest is to redefine the dedicated design methodologies, to generalize sustainable production and end-of-life recovery to implement new economic balances.

The Chair lead by IMT is co-funded in equal parts by the ANR (French Research National Agency) and elm.leblanc, a company specialized in the production of water heaters and boilers. The project relies on the complementary skills of the academic and industrial partners. “We are exploring two key avenues: on the one hand, technological innovation, involving design, materials and smart controls issues” says Mylène Lagardère, a researcher at IMT Lille Douai. She holds the Corenstock Chair, which is jointly coordinated with Xavier Boucher, a researcher at Mines Saint-Etienne. He is responsible for the operational management of the Chair and adds:  “on the other hand, we are working on innovation capabilities, decision-making support for new design methods and the transformation of the production chain together with the company organization”. The two researchers mention that they have “established a trusting and long-term partnership with elm.leblanc, with the goal of pursuing future projects in this area”.

What would be the tank of the future?

The goal is to improve the energy efficiency of a product that everyone owns at home,” says Mylène Lagardère. Moreover, this equipment is crucial for various thermal systems; whether gas, oil or electricity is used as a source of energy, all of us need to store domestic hot water. To find ways to improve thermal performances, or to select materials to make the cylinder as efficient as possible, involves a significant amount and diversity of research actions. The Chair will thus benefit from the recruiting of 5 PhD students, 4 post-docs and 3 engineers.

Product durability is one of the main areas for improvement. In this sense, predictive maintenance is promising. The use of smart sensors is essential, both to better evaluate the tank performances and to foresee necessary repairs before it breaks down. Mylène Lagardère specifies that the objective is to have “the best compromise between each component, each function of the tank, while taking into account its integration in the environment and the management of the end-of-use”.

Behind the project’s targeted product, general reflection on the entire product life cycle is emerging and address the resources needed for its production, the product durability or the management valorization at the end of use. The project advancements on the improvement of the value chain are expected to be generalized to the entire industry :“The work conducted on the hot water storage tank tank is the entry point for more general work on the economic model itself,” says Xavier Boucher, and these questions are completely integrated in the Corenstock Chair program.

Evolution of the industry

Xavier Boucher emphasizes that “these hot water storage tanks are at the heart of a variable system and a transformation of this sector involves industrial actors at different levels, including the customers as well the maintenance providers”. As a result, the relations to the customers will naturally be modified. The two researchers mention: “this is part of a fairly strong phase of transition in the industries business. It is no longer simply a matter of selling a hot water storage tank, but of including the tank in a multi-actor performance contract.”

From the point of view of companies, they now need to develop customer loyalty and sustainability. “These different levers are necessary to establish a win-win relationship between the customer and the manufacturer,” says Xavier Boucher. Intelligent management offers opportunities to improve energy costs, reduce maintenance costs, and ultimately reduce the final energetic bill. This also reduces for manufacturing and maintenance internal costs.

Mylène Lagardère reports that they aim “to enlighten decision-makers on their economic transformation, particularly through the research for more sustainable indicators”. Her colleague from Saint-Etienne adds “virtualization proves to be a key tool in planning this transition”. The Corenstock Chair assumes the role of simulator of this transformation by observing the behavior of users and various partners. The project combines several routes of innovation, whether aiming towards digital, networking or what is known as digital servicing. This is a strategy converging towards a long-term customer relationship through digital services. “The challenge lies in the evolution of value creation mechanisms,” says Mylène Lagardère.

The Chair is also driven by the dissemination of the results generated and knowledge acquired towards students and future engineers in the field, but also towards the technical and innovation staff of elm.leblanc through professional trainings. Xavier Boucher notes “there are two aspects of training: short modules to increase professional skills, and a specialized master’s degree to integrate more largely the solutions into the industrial framework.” One of the objectives of the specialized master’s degree is to mutualize the skills of each school to encourage interaction between the different expertise domains required.

Generally speaking, the Chair cannot be simply reduced to technological innovation. On the contrary it covers a global reflection on what the industry of the future is” says Xavier Boucher. This includes facilitating collaboration and opening among different sectors: industrial, technological, and economic. This collaboration is essential to ensure that these transformations are a lasting part of tomorrow’s industry. “The Chair marks what elm.leblanc is building with IMT: a new way of approaching these innovation processes, through a strong collaboration and a relationship of trust to increase the capacity for innovation,” concludes Xavier Boucher.

Tiphaine Claveau.

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