Always up to the minute in efficiency

Always up to the minute in efficiency
Two years ago, the VDMA launched its Blue Competence sustainability initiative. A total of nearly 400 firms have now signed up for it, 55 of which are members of the Plastics and Rubber Machinery Association. That makes the industry a trailblazer among German plant and machinery manufacturers when it comes to environmental protection, conservation of resources and management efficiency.

For those firms, Blue Competence will also play a prominent part at “K 2013”, the world’s leading plastics and rubber industry trade fair, to be held in Düsseldorf in October. With that in view, the VDMA is introducing a number of them in a series of press releases.

Interview with Thomas Willemsen, Director Business Unit After Sales at Automatik Plastics Machinery

Part of the Swiss Maag Group, this Grossostheim-based firm makes pelletizing systems for plastics.

Mr Willemsen, what role does sustainability play at Automatik?
Thomas Willemsen: - Sustainability is important for us. It starts with our buildings, which we are upgrading to make them more energy-efficient. It continues in the manufacturing process. And finally, we are always improving the efficiency of our machines. Energy efficiency in particular is increasingly a major cost consideration for our customers. But we also show environmental responsibility where there is no immediate economic advantage. For example, we paint our machines ourselves and only use environmentally compatible water-based paints.

Do your customers make investment decisions at shorter intervals because they want more efficient machines?
- We haven’t noticed that up until now. But we are finding a growing interest in upgrades. Let me give you an example. Drying granulate takes a lot of energy. We have developed a new dryer that can generate energy savings of between 45 and 70 per cent. This unit is of course built into all the new systems we supply, but we also offer it as an upgrade. Customers work out for themselves when such an upgrade will pay for itself. In countries where electricity is expensive, that is often as little as two years or less. Our customers can optimise their Automatik systems throughout the entire operational life, which can be as long as 30 years. If they were unable to update them regularly, some of our customers, especially in Europe, would stop producing here and move to countries where energy is cheap.

Many machinery manufacturers are finding that US industry is starting to invest again. Is that your experience at Automatik too?
- We have certainly noticed that things are buoyant in the US, after-sales business included. But as it was already good there before, it is not a question of pent-up demand being released to any great extent. Of course, the falling electricity prices in the US and the prospects of energy costs staying low for the long term will certainly have helped to revive industrial output.

So demand for efficiency-enhancing upgrades might not be so strong there after all?
- Customer interest in energy-saving components depends on the level of electricity costs in the country concerned. It is basically also a question of attitude. Sometimes there is simply no desire for change. But there are also countries where electricity is cheap but where they nevertheless urgently need to do something to stop wasting resources and polluting the environment, by recycling some of their plastics waste, for example. In such cases, it is helpful if governments subsidise appropriate investments, be it in new plant or in upgrades.

Theoretically, would it be possible to stop producing new plastics from oil by completely recycling all existing plastic materials?
- That won’t happen, not least for quality reasons. A product made from recyclate does not have the same quality as one made from raw materials. The optical and similar industries, for example, where the plastic has to be of the utmost purity, will continue to demand virgin plastics obtained from crude oil. But there are many other areas, such as packaging, for example, where the amount of recyclate could definitely be increased.

Key question: Why is the Blue Competence Initiative important for you?
- Blue Competence is a very good marketing tool for us. This initiative will help German machinery manufacturers to position their products even better everywhere in the world. It is important that as many firms as possible sign up for Blue Competence. The more firms join in, the more it will be noticed. And the higher profile will also help to preserve Germany’s manufacturing base. Foreign customers already expect the very best from German products in terms of quality and efficiency. With Blue Competence we can show that we are aware of our responsibility for that.