The carbon-neutral Green Factory

Carbon-neutral production is possible! Combine photo voltaic panels, a thermal power station, pellet heating and a production process aligned with the energy the system generates.

In 2019, Alois Müller GmbH in Allgäu opened their Green Factory in Ungerhausen, Germany. The Green Factory is a practically energy self-sufficient office and production building manufacturing heating and ventilation facilities as well as components for metal constructions. Over 200,000 solar cells on the roof provide two-thirds of the carbon-neutral electricity which is used directly onsite. Surplus electricity flows into the grid.

Production steps are aligned with the quantity of electricity available. High-powered electrical machines such as the laser are prioritized when the PV facility provides enough electricity. The same applies to lacquer and sandblasting work as well as production entailing various mediums such as liquid nitrogen, purified water and compressed air.

An important step toward carbon-neutral production is analyzing all material and energy flows required for manufacturing. An ERP system balances incoming orders and production data with the current weather prognoses. On days when there is not sufficient sunshine, the Green Factory draws its energy from a thermal power station. Additional energy is also supplied by a wood pellet boiler during extended cold periods.

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.

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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Bionic vaulted structures – Nature’s own resource efficiency model

Bionic structures have become an integral part of industrial processes. The hexagonal vaulted structures found naturally in turtles or honeycombs is used for a variety of industrial products. The form provides materials with a strong stability and stiffness.

Dr. Mirtsch Wölbstrukturierung GmbH in Berlin has developed an innovative process for producing vaulted materials. The bionic structure is relatively easy to install in metals. The sheet metal is rolled over a mill equipped with lined braces. The varying levels of pressure cause the metal to ‘plop in’. What’s special about this, is that the bionic structure comes about automatically. Compared with conventional procedures for inducing stiffening structures, this vault structuring technology requires but a tenth of the re-shaping energy. Furthermore, vault-structured sheet metal is easier to continue re-shaping, thus, simplifying additional processing.

Gestamp Umformtechnik GmbH applies this production advantage to manufacture construction elements for the automobile industry. The rigidity inherent to vault-structured sheet metal allows the use of thin aluminum, with the aim to reduce weight. In addition, the thusly domed material eliminates the intrusive rattling that usually accompanies thin construction components.

Siteco Beleuchtungstechnik GmbH produces LED designer lamps with vault-structured aluminum. The structure provides an optimal reflecting surface for the LEDs, creating an exceptional light quality. The material serves as both housing and reflector, resulting in an enormous material savings of 80 percent. And yet another advantage, vault-structured sheet metal incurs less tension, even at higher temperatures.

Vault-structured materials are not only material and energy efficient, but have numerous other advantages. For this reason, they can be found in many other products such as catalyzers and washing machines, not to mention their frequent usage in architecture.

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Micro processing techniques in the chemical industry

Many processes in the chemical industries – these include pharmaceuticals and cosmetics – implement a batch reactor. Still, even in the large facilities, chemical procedures are similar to those in a laboratory. Reagents flow together in a reactor, but do not immediately blend smoothly. The reactor then holds various concentrations of individual components (concentration hotspots) of varying temperatures (thermal hotspots).  Experts speak of a reduced process control.

To ensure the most efficient use of raw materials and energy in chemistry, this process control must be improved. Chemists and engineers at Ehrfeld Mikrotechnik BTS GmbH in Rhine-Hessian Wendelsheim have developed their own system in which chemical reactions are controlled much more effectively. The Modular Micro Reactions System, MMRS, comprises several components, through which the reagents flow in tiny channels. The small stainless steel components take on differing roles, including mixer, heat exchanger or sensor. The centerpiece of the structure is a special reactor, known as the Lonza reactor. This reactor accurately carries out a process called lithiation, which is often used in manufacturing active agents for pharmaceutical products. The channels in all components are only a few millimeters in size. This results in a very rapid mass transfer, and the high surface-to-volume ratio allows chemicals to quickly absorb or release heat.

Modular Micro Reactions System not only saves energy; it also requires fewer raw materials. The improved mass transport reduces the occurrence of undesired by-products.

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.