As 2021 begins, IMT and elm.leblanc are launching the Corenstock Industrial Chair to address issues of energy and digital transition in the heating industry. What is the objective? Within four years, to present a demonstrator for the hot water cylinder of the future: one that is more resistant, efficient and durable. Behind this prototype lies the development of new industrial economic models that are part of a global transformation of an industrial sector.
Taking a common everyday object, optimizing it and using it as a model for transforming an entire industry: this is the principle of the Corenstock Chair project (Lifecycle design & systemic approach for energy efficiency in thermo-energy devices) launched in early 2021. The objective is to present a demonstrator within four years for an intelligent hot water tank, one that is more energy efficient, more sustainable and more responsible. But the project is not limited to the creation of a new hot water cylinder: it represents a major project for the heating industry as a whole. Indeed, the underlying interest is to redefine the design methods of this industry and to generalize sustainable production and end-of-life recovery, in line with new business models.
The Chair is co-funded in equal parts by the ANR and elm.leblanc, a company specializing in the construction of water heaters and boilers, and relies on the complementary skills of each partner. “We are exploring two key avenues: on the one hand, technological innovation, involving questions about design, the materials used, intelligent controls, etc.” says Mylène Lagardère, a researcher at IMT Lille Douai. She holds the Corenstock Chair, which is jointly coordinated by Xavier Boucher, a researcher at Mines Saint-Etienne. He is responsible for operational management, and adds, “on the other hand, we are working on design methods, decision-making support, and the transformation of the company and the entire production chain”. The two researchers mention that they have “established a trusting and long-term partnership with elm.leblanc, with the goal of continuing future projects in this area”.
Which cylinder for the future?
“The goal is to improve the energy efficiency of a product that everyone has at home,” says Mylène Lagardère. Moreover, it is a tool that is central to the different thermal systems; whether we heat with gas, oil or electricity, we all need storage. This involves a significant amount of research to find ways to improve thermal performance, or to investigate the materials used to make the cylinder as efficient as possible. In fact, the Chair is accompanied by the opening of positions for 5 thesis students, 4 post-docs and 3 engineers.
Product durability is one of the main areas for improvement. In this sense, predictive maintenance is a promising avenue. The use of intelligent sensors is essential, both to better evaluate the cylinder’s performance and to foresee necessary repairs before the cylinder breaks down. Mylène Lagardère specifies that the objective is to have “the best compromise between each organ, each function of the cylinder, while taking into account its integration into the environment and end-of-use management issues”.
Behind the project’s flagship product, more general reflections on the entire product life cycle are emerging. These concern the resources needed for its production, the durability of the product or the management and recovery at the end of use. These avenues for improving the production chain will then be used to generalize the results to the entire industry. They generate new discussions on value chains. “This cylinder is the entry point for more general work on the economic model itself,” says Xavier Boucher, and these questions are an integral part of the Corenstock Chair program.
Evolution of the industry
Xavier Boucher emphasizes that “these cylinders are at the heart of a variable system, and a transformation of this sector involves the players, the customers but also maintenance providers for example”. Customer relations will naturally be modified as a result. The two researchers mention that “this is part of a fairly strong phase of transition in the industry’s professions. It is no longer simply a matter of selling a hot water cylinder, but of including the cylinder in a 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 amount of the invoice. This also reduces the cost of manufacturers and maintenance providers internally.
Mylène Lagardère reports that they aim “to enlighten decision-makers on this economic transformation, particularly through the search for more sustainable indicators”. Her colleague from Saint-Etienne adds that “virtualization is proving 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 avenues of evolution, whether it be 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 transmission of the progress made and knowledge acquired. This information is passed on to students and future engineers in the field, but also through professional training for the actors represented by elm.leblanc. Xavier Boucher notes “there are two aspects to the training: short modules to increase skills, and a specialized master’s degree to integrate the solutions into the industrial framework.” One of the objectives of the specialized master’s degree is to draw on the skills of each school to encourage interaction between the different fields.
“Generally speaking, this is part of a reflection on what the industry of the future is, and cannot be simply reduced to technological issues,” says Xavier Boucher. This includes facilitating collaboration and openness between different sectors: industrial, technological, and economic. This collaboration is essential to ensure that these transformations are a lasting part of the 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 tenfold,” concludes Xavier Boucher.