Interview with Sylvain Le Mézec, Managing Director at Visval AG.

Easy Engineering: Tell us a short story of origin of the company.

Sylvain Le Mézec: Jean-M. Cuennet has been working his whole life in the powder industry. First for a company producing packaging equipment for foodstuff, then for companies engineering powder handling equipment based on pneumatic conveying and cone valve principle.

In 2005, he invents the SoliValve®, a revolutionary system designed to facilitate the discharge of big bags, providing as one machine, a metering device, an opening and closing device all in a fully contained way, the company Visval was founded to support his invention. Inspired by the way a pressure valve is attached to coffee packages to release CO2; he found a solution to attach a Passive-SoliValve® to a big bag. This transforms the big bag from just being a storage vessel in to a process equipment from which the powder can be discharged, dosed, interrupted at any moment, and this in a fully automated and contained way.

E.E: Which are the fields of activity where you are operating?

S.L.M: We are operating primarily in the food, pharma and chemical industries. These are sectors very stringent for hygiene, automation and accuracies when it comes to dosing. More recently, with the emerging battery industry, we have been focused on handling raw materials, semi-finished and finished products, in a fully automated and contained way.

E.E: Which are the most significant projects in the history of the company?

S.L.M: The first important project for the company happened in 2012. A major Infant Nutrition Producer has selected a system integrator which presented the SoliValve® as a key component in its turnkey package. The SoliValve® was proposed to fill and discharge spray dried powder into big bags serving as intermediate storage. Using big bags instead of rigid IBCs or silos provided the customer flexibility and removed the risk of cross contamination without the need for cleaning the storage vessel. This company built two factories in Asia. For these two plants, we supplied 22 Active-SoliValves®250 and SoliBags® to suit their process needs. These installations are still in operation and we are in direct contact with the end user for their continued needs.

E.E: What projects were the most challenging?

S.L.M: The most challenging project from a technical stand point is the HOCHDORF project in Switzerland. Again, here we worked with a system integrator to supply to the customer a fully automated formulation system for micro and minor ingredients for the production of Infant Nutrition Products. The challenge here was the large range of weighments (160g to 140 kg) and coping with the required accuracies. The system had to incorporate two weighing equipment to cover the accuracy range whilst meeting the throughput rate. This project backed up the development of the SoliValve®100 which is the dosing device for this project.

We have also been challenged during the Covid times where travel was not possible. Two significant projects (one in Ireland, one in Indonesia) had to be commissioned remotely. Thanks to the competencies of our partners in both countries and the skills of our customers, these installations have been put in production in time. At the time travel was permitted equipment was checked by our team and only minor adjustment had to be made to fine tune the system.

E.E: What are the ranges of products and what types of services do you offer?

S.L.M: Our company portfolio is articulated around two products. SoliValve®250 and SoliValve®100. We have engineering capabilities to build around these two products complete process modules including dosing and weighing to supply turnkey systems to our customers or key components to our various partners around the globe for them to build complete installation in the world of powder handling.

E.E: Which are the most innovative products / services and what special features do they have?

S.L.M: Our innovation is the combination of parts that are plastic injected together with stainless steel fabricated components to provide high containment docking systems. The plastic injected parts are used on the mobile container and the fabricated part is static on the process. Plastic injection requires tooling which allows low cost per part, this is for the Passive-SoliValve® and the fabricated parts will be the Active-SoliValve® which is typically in lower quantity and where the technicality resides.

SoliValve®100 has been tested according to SMEPAC and achieved OEB5 (<1 µg/m³ of dust exposure) and SoliValve®250 achieved OEB4 (10-1 µg/m³). In combination with the containment performance, the SoliValve® is also a direct dosing device reaching accuracies down to +/-1g for SoliValve®100 and +/-20g for the SoliValve®250, of course this being dependent from weighing configuration and product characteristics.

E.E: What was the research behind the products/solutions and how important is R&D?

S.L.M: The goal for Visval was to provide a unique docking device that would be adaptable to all sorts of recipients. With the SoliValve®250, we are able to discharge drums, big bags, rigid IBCs when they are all fitted with the Passive-SoliValve®. Further development has led to launching the SoliValve®100, expanding applications coverage. 

We always listen to customers and have a solution provider approach. We identify needs and come up with solutions. R&D is a pillar for the company growth, as our markets are typically niche.

E.E: What products / solutions are you going to launch in the future?

S.L.M: As per the below, new products are driven by customer needs. In 2024, the new generation of the SoliValve®250, the version HC (for high containment) will become our standard machine, still continuing the supply of the original version for existing customers. The new version provides better containment/housekeeping even though the containment level of the former version were far superior to traditional cone valve technology. For a modest investment, most customers equipped with the original version will be able to upgrade their machine to the HC version. We cannot stand still and have to improve the performance of our equipment for the benefit of our customers.

E.E: How important are the after-sales services?

S.L.M: After sales is key to the longevity of our equipment. Visval is now 18 years old, and machines sold back then are still in service. Again, we listen to our customer philosophy. Whether they want to do the service themselves, to send the equipment to our factory or to have Visval personnel on site, we accommodate all situations. We provide on-site training for the customer personnel such that they can carry out regular maintenance themselves. We propose to install a modem in our control panel such that we can pose a diagnostic remotely saving precious time and travel when the fix is simple.

E.E: Tell us about social responsibility and what part does it play in the company?

S.L.M: Switzerland is a very dynamic country. Unemployment levels are very low. Social responsibility goes beyond our walls. First and foremost, our employees are our company. Without them it is an empty shell. We strive to provide best working conditions such that they want to stay with us. We work flexible hours; we organize common time together to enjoy life outside of the office. Our management style is participative, such that everyone has words to say about the company, the way we operate, the way we are organized. And then, our surroundings. Most of our suppliers are located in Switzerland and for the large part, they are within a 50km radius of our offices. We know them well as they are our partners since many years, and the work that we give to them contribute to the GDP of our country, at our scale. Their work is premium quality service, which contributes to the Swiss Quality reputation that we are very proud of.