Blue Competence - The sustainability initiative of the European mechanical engineering industry. Since 2011 over 30 industries and more than 400 companies have joined the initiative.
The EU-based plastics and rubber machinery association, VDMA, brought the issue of sustainability to the fore during NPE through its partnership with the tradeshow’s organiser, SPI, to achieve its goals of standardisation and collaboration.
Thorsten Kühmann, Managing Director of the VDMA, and Bill Carteaux, CEO of SPI, underlined the importance of cooperation between the two associations, especially for standardisation.
“Blue Competence is the way we approach sustainability in Europe,” Kühmann explained. “We are spreading from Germany through to NPE here in the United States and onto Chinaplas next month. We do believe if we talk about sustainability issues then this can be convincing for others.”
The two associations said they want to ensure the greatest possible alignment of technical requirements, especially in matters of safety, in order to simplify machinery deliveries.
“Cooperation at the level of ISO/TC 270/WG1 for injection moulding machines represents a key milestone for us,” stressed Kühmann. Carteaux said he believes the close cooperation between the two associations has brought a breakthrough regarding the requirement for an additional mechanical device, the “jam bar,” within reach.
Kühmann said he thought that the way SPI had highlighted issues surrounding sustainability at NPE with its ‘Zero Waste Zone’ recycling initiative was “very interesting”. The SPI also launched a new conference, set to take place in 2016, dedicated to recycling.
During a panel discussion, key players from industry explained their stance and strategies on key issues regarding resource efficiency, sustainability and standardisation.
Machinery manufacturers are making an important contribution to plastics recycling. As a manufacturer of shredding plant for post-consumer waste, Werner Herbold, managing director of Herbold Meckesheim GmbH, sees the greatest challenge in developing technologies capable of dealing with increasingly complex plastics waste while at the same time being cost-efficient.
He has noticed a growing interest in plastics recycling in the US, but also in Canada and Mexico, but stresses that on those markets, even more than in Europe, recycling models must be profitable from the outset since they receive no state subsidies.
Lightweight construction: integrated processes, efficient products
Injection moulding machinery manufacturer Engel looks to lightweight construction for resource efficiency. In the automotive industry the demands for lighter vehicles in order to save fuel are often at odds with increasingly stringent safety requirements.
“The conflict can be resolved by using composite materials,” maintains Dr. Christoph Steger, CSO at ENGEL AUSTRIA GmbH. He illustrates this with the example of a brake pedal, produced in the company’s booth on the basis of a fibre-matrix semi-finished material.
Asked whether the production process itself contributed to resource efficiency, Steger replied: “Definitely yes! The lightweight construction design of the brake pedal significantly reduces the number of steps needed for manufacturing. An integrated process requires less energy than multiple individual process steps, and expenses for handling, transportation and storage of intermediate products are avoided. In addition, the integrated manufacturing cell also requires much less space. In many companies, productivity per floor space has already become an important gauge of efficiency.”
Apart from the increasing level of automation, Steger sees product liability and hence process data acquisition and data tracing as major demands on the US automotive market.
Resource efficiency through Industry 4.0 in material handling
Motan Holding gmbh is looking to provide solutions not only in the area of material flow but also in the energy consumed in the plastics conversion process itself. Carl Litherland, Head of Marketing at Motan, explained how decentralised combined heat and power systems can be deployed to optimise the efficiency of the primary energy source used for energy generation. Process optimisation in the material flow harbours considerable three savings potential in terms of the amount of material used. To this end motan uses an automated central material handling system.
The successful deployment of material management systems does not only require intelligent control technology that constantly and optimally coordinates all the stages in the material flow, it in fact requires all components to communicate with one another in real time, from the material dryer to the processing machine.
“Industry 4.0 is becoming reality. The Smart Factory is possible, and we as component manufacturers need to be ready to invest in developing the necessary communications interfaces,” said Litherland.
Ultrasonic welding efficiency through functional integration
As far as ultrasonic welding is concerned, Uwe Peregi, CEO of Herrmann Ultrasonic Inc., sees a clear trend towards functional integration. “Our customers are increasingly asking for several processes from a single source. We offer solutions which, in addition to ultrasonic welding, also integrate robot handling/feeding as well as testing and marking for traceability,” explained Peregi. To that end Herrmann Ultraschalltechnik GmbH has developed a control architecture that combines the various process stages. Control design is tailored to the customer’s requirements right at the project planning stage.
Cooperation a must for the future too
Kühmann concluded by saying that if it is to be successful in the long term, plastics conversion requires an integrated approach to all process stages. That is the only way that processes can be optimised and new products developed. And that will only work if all the partners involved cooperate.