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Sustainability -- the New Buzzword; Improving Energy-Economy and Resource-Efficiency at the Same Time

Everyone's talking about sustainability and energy-efficiency. But in this context, production must not be regarded in isolation. Sustainability, in the sense of "using a regenerable system so that it is preserved in terms of its essential characteristics", has to focus on the entire value creation chain. The EMO Hannover 2013 will show how sustainable production, from raw materials to recycling, secures global competitiveness.

In the forestry sector, it has been accepted for centuries that you must not fell more trees than will actually re-grow. This natural principle of sustainability is inexorably being adopted in today's production technology and is fittingly reflected in the motto of the EMO Hannover 2013, "Intelligence in Production". Because "for more and more manufacturing companies, ecological efficiency is the obvious complement to economic efficiency," concurs Prof. Dr.-Ing. Christoph Herrmann, an executive board member of the Institute for Machine Tools and Production Technology (IWF) at Brunswick University of Applied Science.

"But changes towards sustainable production", says Herrmann, "are possible only if the product's entire life-cycle, from raw material procurement, part manufacture and assembly, actual use, all the way through to final disposal, is taken into due account". Without this perspective, "potentials can easily be overlooked, or worse, problems merely relocated from one phase in the life-cycle to another." Because when we're talking about the entire value creation chain, "we have to think in terms of beginning-to-end, or complete product and material life-cycles", explains Professor Herrmann, who at the IWF heads the Product und Life-Cycle Management Department, and as a sideline is also the Academic Executive Director and a member of the board at Lower Saxony's Vehicle Technology Research Center (NFF).

Innovative, But Insolvent?

A company's competitiveness, of course, remains its paramount goal: "Green does not sell." Besides the price, a product's quality and function continue to demand an appropriate focus. Weaknesses in these areas cannot be made good by an ecologically sustainable production operation.

Herrmann summarizes the importance of sustainability for innovation as follows: "Innovation usually needs drivers. We're already seeing today how rising energy costs are triggering many new technical and organizational solutions, in terms of either new factory concepts, more efficient drives or in metrological applications and energy management.

When sustainability is properly applied, the user benefits as well -- twice over: First, he receives a product that has been produced with both economic and ecological efficiency. And second, since for energy-operated products, in particular, a substantial proportion of the life-cycle costs and the environmental impact are linked to the utilization phase, he benefits from the fact that the product he has purchased uses less energy and consumables compared to any of its competitors -- without any loss of quality or functional efficacy."

One example is Volkswagen: "With its 'Think Blue Factory' initiative, all measures aimed at improving energy-economy and resource-efficiency are being synergized." The target is a 25 percent reduction in environmental impact by 2018. One very specific example is the Energy Path at the facility in Wolfsburg, where any measures implemented are rendered visible for the staff. Of course, says Herrmann, "there are fully functioning examples not only in our own region".

One project is particularly dear to the professor's heart: "The (green) learning factory Brunswick University of Applied Science supports the transfer of research results to operational reality." It focuses on the practical "experiential relevance" of methods, tools and technologies in the fields of energy-economy and resource-efficiency, on raising awareness among specialists and managerial staff, and also among students or trainees as future drivers and "influencers".

Urban Production of the Future

One example of sustainability already validated in practice is the low-noise, low-emissions production facility for gearing solutions of Wittenstein Bastian GmbH in Fellbach, inaugurated early in 2012.

To quote Dr. Manfred Wittenstein, Managing Board Chairman of Wittenstein AG: "Here in Fellbach, we have built a demonstration factory in which step by step we shall be progressing exemplary integration of the concepts laid down in Industry 4.0." The idea is that in the future machines, production equipment and semi-finished products will be continuously interlinked via the internet, so that you can alter the specification of a gearwheel at the last minute, for example. The preconditions for gradually integrating into the processes elements of a future-friendly "thinking" production operation -- known as cyber-physical systems -- are thus in place. This development thrust towards Industry 4.0, says Wittenstein.

The new urban production facility is quite something: the building automation system and the machinery have been designed for minimized resource consumption coupled with maximized precision. All eco-relevant issues like noise, flue gas, waste, CO2 emissions, water and effluent are just as exhaustively addressed as architectural integration into the residential environment directly adjoining the facility. And although the new production hall is fully air-conditioned, in comparison to the old building around 35 percent of energy costs per square meter are saved.

"Integrating a factory into a densely populated urban environment was a major challenge", say the two General Managers Philipp Guth and Michael MÃ��Ã�¼ller. "You have to make do with limited space, you want to avoid creating any pollution, and you also want maximized energy-efficiency and resource-economy, so as to minimize the impact on human beings and the natural environment."

Energy-Efficiency at the EMO Hannover 2013

Blue Competence, the sustainability initiative of the machinery and plant manufacturers, will be showcasing its capabilities with a shared stand at the EMO Hannover 2013. Machine tool manufacturers and their component suppliers will be exhibiting the latest results of their research and development work themed around the issues of energy-efficiency and resource-economy. At a dedicated specialist forum, sustainability-related activities will also be explained and discussed.

With Blue Competence, the sector is synergizing its strengths and its know-how, so as to secure and maintain in the long term its global role as the technology leader in issues of sustainability. The message is clear: when it comes to sustainability, the mechanical engineering sector is the enabler. This relates to both sustainable production and to sustainable products. This positioning is essential in order to exploit the enormous market opportunities that the issue of sustainability offers. And it will develop even greater attractions in the competition for new talent.

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EMO Hannover 2013

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