David Vink heard about progress in the Blue Competence sustainability initiative at the annual meeting of VDMA KuG association of German plastics and rubber machinery producers, in this feature for Plastics News Europe he writes about what was discussed.
Blue Competence is a sustainability campaign by the VDMA machinery association in Germany, which has various elements promoting efficiency in raw materials, recycling, energy use and other areas.
Thorsten Kühmann, managing director of VDMA KuG, summarised stages of the association's Blue Competence campaign during the group's members meeting in Königstein-Falkenstein in July. These went from a podium discussion at Fakuma 2012, through presentation of the associated Blue Horse campaign at K 2013 along with former German minister Joschka Fischer and Playmobil toy moulding, experts' talks at Fakuma 2014, NPE 2015 (on resource efficiency) and Chinaplas 2015 (with performance by tennis player Timo Boll). VDMA is planning a “product and process efficiency” focus at K 2016, Kühmann revealed.
Astrid Hermann, public relations manager at ultrasonic equipment producer Hermann Ultraschalltechnik, spoke in her presentation on future design in the light of the Blue Competence campaign and preparation for the K 2016 fair. She referred to responsibility to ensure performance of machinery and lines in the long term with economical running and optimum use of resources. Further responsibilities may arise from society and the planet imposing future restrictions, but new development opportunities can also come from these.
In her public relations role, Hermann is only too aware that modern society is flooded with stimulations and highly diverse information, such that there is often no more than 30 seconds' attention span available to consider new subjects. “The one who wins is the one creating attention and producing positive energy,” she said.
The VDMA Blue Competence campaign is one of the ways to get the “winning” goal, she said, so, “as we have a nice vehicle, which is chic, modern and future oriented, how can we use it to gain attention?” She likened this “vehicle” to the Peugeot Moovie car design study, created by a 23-year-old student ten years ago.
A K 2013 Blue Competence brochure emphasised protection of the environment and resources via an article and 19 interviews with VDMA member companies. Hermann Ultraschalltechnik was also interviewed, with product manager Volker Aust praising higher energy efficiency of ultrasonic welding compared with other heating processes such as vibration and laser welding, or even screw and adhesive bonding. He even claimed it pays off in medium to high class applications, despite relative high investment costs.
In terms of saving resources, aside from ultrasonic welding not requiring additional materials, Aust talked about optimisation of titanium ultrasonic welding tools by designing preforms so that 35% less material needs to be milled away. Aust said Hermann Ultraschalltechnik had promoted sustainability at K 2010, but K 2013 was the first time to do so together with VDMA within the Blue Competence campaign.
At the VDMA 2015 members meeting, Astrid Hermann referred to VDMA's promotion of “functional integration” at Fakuma 2014, saying it inspired Herman Ultraschalltechnik to develop an appropriate Fakuma 2014 demonstration and to work with VDMA to get it included in a Fakuma 2014 Blue Competence campaign brochure. She observed: “We have already been applying functional integration for a long time for individual customer solutions, but we just hadn't marketed it generally earlier under the functional integration label.”
She gave this as an example on how machinery producers can plan live exhibits to more easily gain fair visitors' attention.
Fakuma 2014 exhibit preparation began with a meeting at Hermann Ultraschalltechnik with VDMA's internet and communications specialist Ina Vettkötter, at which Hermann's product manager Volker Aust made a hand sketch of the intended live demonstration line. The final Fakuma 2014 version was included among 10 examples of part and process integration in the Fakuma 2014 Blue Competence brochure.
The Hermann integrated process line running at Fakuma 2014 brought together additional upstream (multi‑axial robotic handling and feeding) and downstream processes (camera testing and date, time and reference number marking) around the core HiQ Dialog ultrasonic welding process. These were applied in production of a plastic elephant welded from two halves, with all operations integrated with the ultrasonic welding machine's generator control system.
A compact LR articulated arm robot from Universal Robots in Odense, Denmark picked up the halves, passed them for optical part inspection, taking them from there to the white tusk insertion and welding stations. Following inspection with a dark field illuminated Omron FZ‑Lite Data image-processing system on, for example, the tusk glue bead, data gathered by the generator could then be sent by field bus communication to a PLC (programmable logic controller). The data can be used for tracking, as with the US Food & Drug Administration unique device identification (UDI) applicable to medical products.
Hermann said that although she had already “caught the ultrasonics virus”, the demonstration attracted many visitors to the Fakuma stand, including young people whom it had highly impressed. Volker Aust's son Jonas, 20 years old at the time, made a video recording of the running process with his smart phone. He has meanwhile become a student at the Bosch Packaging sponsored DHBW university, where he applied for a patent for a 5-part ultrasonic die preventing medicines getting displaced in capsule filling machinery.
As it was a 23-year-old student who designed the Moovie car concept that won a Peugeot design competition, Hermann pointed out the importance of attracting and inspiring young talented people to machinery stands at plastics fairs such as K 2016, to encourage “future design for tomorrow's world”.
In conclusion, Hermann said the K 2016 product and process efficiency focus gives an opportunity beforehand to consider designing existing products and associated production processes to make them more sustainable, namely “new products, sustainable in design, use and their production”.