Industry 4.0 illustrated – Resource efficiency through digitalisation

Digital and fully-automated processes boost resource efficiency for companies in the manufacturing sector. VDI ZRE’s new video uses Blechwarenfabrik Limburg to show how this works.

There, several management systems are used to digitalise production, while a business intelligence system is deployed to network these systems together, coordinate them and control them.

For example, a production planning system (PPS) directs production processes via a manufacturing execution system (MES), and an energy management system (EMS) analyses and regulates energy flows, compressed air and cooling water. All the data is collected by a business intelligence system (BI). If, say, the BI determines that more compressed air is being used for a certain number of tins, it will alert a technician to this. The technician can look for leaks straight away and fix them immediately, thereby saving energy.

The factory’s roof is home to more than 2,500 solar panels, which provide a third of the electricity required by the factory. What’s so special about this? The warehouse management system (WMS) automatically controls the flow of goods within the warehouse on the basis of the electricity available. This means that energy-intensive stock movements are carried out when the factory’s own photovoltaic equipment is producing particularly large quantities of electricity.

Furthermore, heat generated during production is used for heating and producing hot water.

All in all, this cuts the company’s expenditure on materials and energy by half a million euros a year. It also prevents more than 2,600 tons of greenhouse gases (CO2 equivalent) from being emitted, thereby making a successful contribution to protecting the planet.

Recycling plastics – Resource efficiency with an optimized sorting method

In Germany alone, two and a half million tons of plastic packaging land in the yellow trash can.*  Since the various plastics are very difficult to separate from one another, most of the material is utilized for energy.

The new film from VDI Resource Efficiency Center, Recycling plastics – Resource efficiency with an optimized sorting method depicts an improved sorting and processing method for valuable plastics, bringing the plastics life cycle full circle.

MEILO, a company in Gernsheim located in southern Hesse, sorts plastic trash from the yellow barrels in 30 repetitive sorting processes until the maximal purity of variety has been attained. Plastics are first separated according to size and then subjected to an air separator. In the following step, a near infrared scanner scans the plastics on the conveyor belt as they pass, communicating to a compressed air jet at the end of the conveyor belt which plastics are recyclable. Finally, the compressed air jet blows these material aside. Thus, varying plastics are sorted by an up to 98% purity of variety. In addition to the three major valuable plastics, HPDE, PP and PET, four other well-recyclable plastic varieties are gleaned from the river of trash.

At Systec Plastics GmbH in Eisfeld, Thuringia, the plastics sorted by MEILO GmbH are further processed to produce a premium commodity for the plastics industry. Here, plastics are shredded and cleansed. Repeated circuits beneath a near LED scanner sort the plastic flakes according to color before they are melted and once more filtered. The 99% pure granules are then filled into containers and transported.

Werner & Mertz GmbH, manufacturing laundry detergents and cleaning supplies, uses Systec Plastics GmbH granules to produce their packaging bottles. The granules are easily processed in Werner & Mertz GmbH’s standard production plants in Mainz. Their HDPE bottles and PP twist-off lids are made of 100% recycled plastics from the yellow trash can. Their PET bottles are composed of 20% recycled PET from yellow trash cans and 80% recycled
plastic from deposit bottles.

The plastic life cycle comes full circle, the raw materials are recovered.

Further information on MEILO Gesellschaft zur Rückgewinnung sortierter Werkstoffe (Corporation for the recovery of sorted raw materials) mbH & Co.

Further information on Systec Plastics GmbH:

Further information on Werner & Mertz GmbH:

* For a better understanding: German households pre-sort their garbage into four separate trash cans; yellow for plastics, brown for compost; blue for paper and black for non-recyclables.

Comprehensive resource efficiency information:

Commissioned by the Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety

New from old: resource efficiency through remanufacturing

A new film on the subject of remanufacturing has been released by the VDI Resource Efficiency Center, showing how small and medium-size companies (SMEs) can save materials and energy by reconditioning old components. It features two firms operating in the fields of vehicle technology and water meter production.
Faulty engines, old rear axles, worn gearboxes: Herrmanns Fahrzeugtechnik in Hailtingen takes the components of old car engines and completely dismantles, cleans and, in some cases, reconditions them. The result is a fully functional engine of the same or even higher quality as a comparable new product.

The approach taken to scrapped cars also works for worn-out water meters: around ten million water meters have to be replaced every year in Germany in compliance with the country’s calibration laws. Schelklinger Lorenz GmbH & Co. KG sees to it that the old meters can be reused: in a multi-stage process, old products are dismantled, cleaned, tested and reassembled. After successful remanufacturing, the products are ready to use again.

Reconditioning second-hand products allows the consumption of materials to be reduced by up to almost 90 percent. Not only do companies save on materials by doing this, they also cut the amount of energy used in the manufacture of new products, thereby reducing their production costs.

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Generating electricity from industrial waste heat

German industry releases 200 billion kilowatt-hours of thermal energy a year into the environment as unused waste heat – roughly equivalent to the entire energy consumption of the federal state of Hesse. In a new documentary by VDI ZRE entitled “Stromerzeugung aus industrieller Abwärme” (Generating Electricity from Industrial Waste Heat), two companies demonstrate how they use this valuable energy source to produce electricity, thereby making an important contribution to the conservation of resources.

BILSTEIN GmbH & CO. KG in North Rhine Westphalia processes steel strips for use in the furniture, tool and automotive industries. The strips have to be heated and then re-cooled so that they can later be formed and further processed. The waste heat generated in this recrystallisation process is used to produce electricity, with the aid of an innovative Organic Rankine Cycle (ORC) system. Unlike conventional procedures, ORC can make use of the relatively low temperatures of the waste heat for the generation of electricity. Not only does the company save electricity through the efficient use of waste heat, it can also use the heat for heating buildings and accelerate production thanks to faster cooling times.

The Gebr. Wiesböck & Co. GmbH Portland cement plant in Upper Bavaria produces cement for the construction industry. The required raw materials are heated together with various additional materials in a rotary kiln to produce cement clinker. The 400°C exhaust gases from the rotary kiln contain dust and are used to preheat the raw and additional materials for the firing process. At the same time, they are also fed into a special waste heat boiler to produce steam. The steam then powers a turbine which produces electricity via a generator. In this way the power plant can generate 30% of the electricity it needs, and save the equivalent of 80,000 tonnes of CO2 a year.

These two projects are funded by the Environmental Innovation Programme of the Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Building and Nuclear Safety.

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Industry 4.0 – Saving materials – in development and in production

There are numerous options companies can draw on to save materials and energy in production processes. The new VDI Resource Efficiency Center film, Industry 4.0 –  Saving materials in development and in production, depicts two practical, first-hand examples, clearly illustrating how digitalization measures can lead to a remarkable increase in resource efficiency.

Wetropa GmbH, in Hessian Mörfelden, designs individual foamed plastic packaging for their clients in the automobile and electronics industries, in medical and measurement engineering as well as in craftmanship enterprises. To accommodate even the smallest of lots, such as single tool or camera packaging, while increasing material and cost efficiency, the company developed an application with which customers can develop the packaging themselves. Thus, the foam lining and transport case can be adapted to specific needs. The advantages of this digitally generated construction data – easily created online – are that several smaller orders can be consolidated into one production process and customers no longer need extra test samples sent out before ordering. A doubly efficient method of saving materials.

J. Schmalz GmbH of Glatten, Germany also turns to digitalization to evoke resource efficiency. The company produces, among other products, customized vacuum grippers for machine engineering customers. Once the specific parameters are determined per telephone, the product is given a product key, which is digitally transferred to the production department. Industry 4.0 then optimizes the production procedure. According to the product key, only those components required for the so called “one-piece flow” are prefabricated, a just-in-time production allowing top material efficiency, as well as reducing storage to zero. Whether changes are made by the customer or a product becomes obsolete, this approach puts an end to superfluous inventory.

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Industry 4.0 – It’s Easy! Apps help save material and energy

Applying and combining digitalized technologies in industrial production can contribute to a significant increase in company resource efficiency. The film Industry 4.0 – It’s Easy! illustrates two examples of how smartphone and tablet apps are easily integrated into an existing company process, contributing greatly to material and energy reduction.

Such is the case at the iron foundry Kemptener Eisengiesserei Adam Hönig AG in the Allgau region, Bavaria. There are many manual steps to be taken when casting forms, each having an impact on the cast quality. To ensure production excellence each step of the way, barcodes are scanned into tablets and transmitted to an app that follows each individual process. The goal is to determine precisely the amount of metal to be melted for a specific cast, attaining an optimal molding sand to smelting ratio. Thus, a great deal of material and energy are saved. This production innovation is funded by the Deutsche Bundesstiftung Umwelt (German Federal Environmental Association) and scientifically guided by the Kempten Technical College.

Cooper Standard Automotive in Swabian Schelklingen also applies an app to reducing energy consumption. The company, located in the Swabian Alb, produces brake lines for the automobile industry. To this end, compressed air is sent through a one-kilometer long conduit, serving 150 machines. To track down leakages where the air escapes the conduit, the company implements a special ultra-sound microphone. When leakage is discovered, a technician marks the spot with a QR code, scanning it into the tablet. The app transmits data covering the precise leak location, the amount of air escaping and the materials required for repairs to Mader GmbH & Co. KG, where it is centrally stored. The app informs technicians not only of the leak’s exact location in the production line, its dimensions and repair costs, it also calculates how much energy the company will save upon repair.




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Good advice saves resources


The wood processing company Holzwerke Bullinger GmbH & Co.KG in Neuruppin, Brandenburg is one of the largest European manufacturers of composite lumber. While timber prices have been steadily rising over the past years, the significance of efficient regenerative raw material handling has become equally important.  VDI Centre for Resource Efficiency (ZRE) online tools provide co-workers with an overview of possible resource efficiency potential. The resource check delivers the initial indicators. When further information is required, the VDI ZRE telephone service office provides assistance. Calling in an external advisor may also be a shrewd step. Implementing the VDI ZRE cost structure calculator, advisors gain an initial impression of company overhead. The cross-sectorial comparison quickly reveals whether and which costs are higher than average.

Once this groundwork has been laid, the resource efficiency advisor now analyses the production process. Step by step, each work procedure and the corresponding flow of material is examined. At Holzwerke Bullinger, a simple one-time investment of 4,000 to 5,000 euros brings a savings of 81,400 euros. As a result of the consultation, Holzwerke Bullinger has increased composite lumber production efficiency, an important step in holding one’s own in global competition.

VDI ZRE does more than provide advisors with the tools to unlock company resource efficiency potential.  Every year, VDI ZRE carries out in-house hands-on training or learning factories such as the one at the Ostfalia College in Wolfenbüttel. There are also seminars to train resource efficiency advisors, running over several days. In addition to the general basics, participants learn to compile the energy and material usage during a given process, as well as the knowledge to correctly analyse this information with the appropriate tools.

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Rescued fruit

In Germany, several tons of consumable fruit and vegetables are thrown away every year simply because they display tiny defects. These small flaws in no way impair the fresh foods’ quality. A Berlin business has found a way to make good use of these rejected wares, creating a new product.

The film Rescued fruit – Reducing food waste increases resource efficiency introduces
Dörrwerk GmbH, a company producing fruit paper with an energy-saving technique. The Berlin manufacturer processes solely rejected fruit collected directly from regional farmers, or, in the case of tropical fruits, from retailers.

Not only the fruit paper contributes to reducing food waste, the process itself is resource efficient. Dörrwerk GmbH has developed a unique drying oven that implements intelligent waste heat usage and an inventive ventilation control, reducing energy costs by 66 percent compared to conventional methods. The energy efficient oven is economically viable in Germany, giving the company a competitive edge via resource efficiency.

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Less is more – Packaging machines that conserve packaging materials

Resource-efficient material usage in production reduces waste, protects the environment and saves costs. The film, Less is more – Packaging machines that conserve packaging materials, introduces two innovative systems that remarkably reduce packaging materials.

Project Automation & Engineering GmbH in Kranenburg, North Rhine-Westphalia has developed a machine which encloses and contains PET bottles with merely a plastic banderol instead of the customary all around shrink-wrap packaging. This new procedure, equally appropriate for other loose goods, is an excellent packaging alternative, reducing packaging material by approximately 75 percent.

watttron GmbH, a spin-out of the Dresden Technical University’s Institute for Processing and Mobile Machines (Institut für Verarbeitungsmaschinen und Mobile Arbeitsmaschinen der Technischen Universität Dresden) and the Fraunhof Institute for Processing Machines and Packaging Technology (Fraunhofer Institut für Verarbeitungsmaschinen und Verpackungstechnik) in Dresden, has developed an innovative heating technique, cera2heat, which is an integrated, modular matrix heating system. Point accurate heat area tempering allows plastic packaging foils to be more precisely heated, attaining a much more material-efficient plastic moulding. This conserves material and energy by approximately 20 percent.

A resource efficient country inn – avoiding food waste in gastronomy

Bavarian cuisine and joie de vivre go hand in hand with sustainability and resource efficiency at the country inn Vogelsang. The Hammer family sets a shining example for not only excellent quality in food preparation, but also for maximum foodstuff efficiency. Keeping food waste to an absolute minimum in their energy-efficient kitchen, applying modern energy management and many other measures, reveal the optimal marriage of the Bavarian country inn culture and resource efficiency.