Environmental services 4.0 - a megatrend for machine and plant construction

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Hardly any other lead environmental market profits as much from digitisation as the environmental service branch - it can become the decisive instrument for the dissemination and acceleration of the environmental service branch and for new opportunities through new business models.

  • Recycling management not only makes sense ecologically, but also economically
  • Lack of standards and high costs make implementation difficult
  • Success through new technologies
  • Digitization opens up new business opportunities
  • Scenario study reveals potential for mechanical engineering and plant construction

The global waste volume is increasing, resources are dwindling and the climate balance is an alarm signal. For this reason, the concept of recycling management is becoming increasingly important - for society and politics as well as for companies in all industries. This concept, which is copied from the material flows in nature, extends the useful process for products and ensures extensive recycling. "This goes far beyond pure recycling - Reduce, Repair, Reuse, Refurbish are important steps before material becomes garbage. Digitization is an instrument that can support and accelerate the implementation of this vision," explained Dr. Eric Maiser, Head of the VDMA Competence Center Future Business, on the occasion of the fifth VDMA Future Business Summit in Hanau. Leading experts from industry and science discussed future visions for the year 2030 and ways of implementing these visions at the specialist congress on the digital environmental service branch.

"This goes far beyond pure recycling - Reduce, Repair, Reuse, Refurbish are important steps before material becomes garbage."

Circular economy is economical
For machine and plant manufacturers, the circular economy is doubly relevant because they are both customers and solution providers. "For companies, the circular-flow economy is enormously important not only from the point of view of energy and resource efficiency, corporate social responsibility and climate protection. It is also essential that sustainability makes economic sense. By conserving resources, companies become less dependent on volatile raw material markets and reduce costs," explained Naemi Denz, Managing Director of VDMA Waste and Recycling Technology and member of the VDMA Executive Board.


Although there is enormous ecological and economic potential in the circular-flow economy, it is hardly being fully exploited today. "So far, only 14 percent of the raw materials used in industry have been recycled materials. The possibilities of repairing, reusing and reprocessing materials are still underused," said Prof. Dr. Anke Weidenkaff, managing director of the Fraunhofer Institute for Materials Cycle and Resource Strategy IWKS. "This applies in particular to plastics and composite materials or electronic scrap. New technologies such as self-healing processes, removal and sorting processes can bring decisive improvements. However, the obstacles remain the lack of scalable process technologies, quality standards for secondary raw materials and excessive costs," Weidenkaff explained.With
Industry 4.0 and Big Data, a wide range of opportunities for improving the recyclability of products along the value chain are now emerging.

For example, in the collection and marketing of data on the composition of secondary raw materials or when supply and demand are brought together via an automated market and logistics platform. "Digitisation creates incentives for companies to participate and can be a driver. A coordinated digitisation offensive could inspire all players: Hardly any other environmental lead market profits as much from digitisation as the environmental service branch - it can become the decisive instrument for the dissemination and acceleration of the environmental service branch and for new opportunities through new business models", analysed VDMA expert Maiser.

Circular Economy 4.0 - Four Scenarios for the World in 2030 The "Circular Economy 4.0" scenario study by VDMA Future Business in cooperation with the Fraunhofer Institute for Systems and Innovation Research (ISI) is concerned with what circular
economy in mechanical engineering and plant construction could look like in 2030. It sharpened the possible developments with a focus on mechanical and plant engineering and distilled them into four visions of the future.

  • In the "hand in hand" scenario, the circular economy is lucrative and therefore established in many industries and branches of industry. This involves cooperation along the entire value chain and the realization of an almost ideal material cycle.
  • In the "state impetus" scenario, the recycling economy is promoted by government-induced framework conditions and consumer needs.
  • Consumers play an even more important role in the "society puts pressure on" scenario, where the demand side demands the recycling industry - for example, through customer requests for seals or modularised and recyclable products. The state is reluctant to respond.
  • In the "dinosaur thinking" scenario, the subject of closed-loop recycling has not found its way into society, politics or the market. Due to the lack of demand for circular economy compliant products, there are no incentives to initiate a circular economy.

A fundamental change is therefore imminent for machine and plant manufacturers: "The future recycling economy goes far beyond today's waste and recycling economy. After all, recycling management refers to the entire value chain. As a result, there will be a high demand for new cooperations in the future. But all manufacturing companies will also have to review their business models and possibly turn them upside down," concluded Dr. Björn Moller of Fraunhofer ISI.

VDMA is driving change
VDMA is already preparing its members for cooperation, especially in the field of digitisation and global markets. "With the definition of a uniform interface for machine-to-machine communication based on OPC UA, we have laid the foundation for an internationally connectable plug-and-play solution and thus the foundation for recycling management. In order to be able to further develop the subject area of 'digital circular economy', we will expand our interdisciplinary activities", summarised Denz.