Throughout the industry, the injection molding machines built by Austria-based Engel are immediately recognizable by, among others, their highly distinctive color green. Today, however, there's more to it than that, as the company is demonstrating at K 2022.
Sustainable Plastics talked with Stefan Engleder, CEO at Engel Group, about his company's presence at the fair — and what it actually means to be green.
Q: After almost three years of the pandemic, how important is this year's K fair for Engel? What is the biggest difference in your opinion with the previous edition of the show?
Engleder: During the last months we have restarted local events for customers and partners, and we very much enjoy talking to them in person again. We are looking forward to having this personal contact at a larger scale at the K, especially as there will be a lot to talk about. Even during the pandemic, we have stuck to our development goals, worked hard, and we are going to show a lot of innovations. What will be different from previous shows? Not too much, we hope. However, it is likely that fewer customers from China will be able to travel to Düsseldorf.
Q: Your slogan is "Green is more than a color." What does green mean to Engel, as an internationally operating family-owned company in the plastics industry? In other words, what drives you as a company to be "green"?
Engleder: As a family-owned company, we always have the next generations in mind. Saving energy and resources has always been a very important part of Engel's corporate culture and at the same time a core feature of our products. With our injection molding machines and technologies, we support our customers in producing in a climate-neutral way and strengthen their competitiveness. Energy recovery systems, the avoidance of power consumption peaks and digitalization help to achieve these goals. We also provide integrated solutions that facilitate processing of recycled material.
Q: How do you see your role in the circular economy?
Engleder: As an injection molding machine manufacturer and system solution provider, Engel assumes responsibility for three areas: the overall efficiency of the injection molding production cell, the digitalization of injection molding processes and processing technologies supporting the circular economy. The aim is to replace the still-predominant downcycling of materials with recycling or even upcycling.
In order to achieve our upcycling goal, we cooperate closely with companies along the value chain. For example, we are engaged in the R-Cycle initiative. Using digital product passports, R-Cycle creates the basis for a high-quality recycling process by automatically recording recycling-relevant information starting at the product manufacturing stage.
Q: Does Engel have specific sustainability goals or commitments in terms of, for example, emission reductions, certifications, etc.?
Engleder: We have developed a road map and defined goals that help us to consistently drive sustainable development within the company. For example, we have calculated the corporate carbon footprint for the Austrian sites and will now do the same for the other sites worldwide. Our goals include reducing our own energy consumption and emissions, as well as those of the Engel machines used by our customers.
As far as our own plants are concerned, we are continuing to invest in photovoltaics and projects are underway to reduce compressed air consumption and recover heat from production processes. A declared goal is also to extend the service life of our machines. We achieve this with a maintenance-friendly and recyclable design. Two years ago, we founded the company Engel Used Machinery that takes care of refurbishing and selling used Engel machines. Our understanding of sustainability is reflected in the EcoVadis score, which is currently rated Silver.
Q: How do you find a balance between what is economically possible and what is environmentally essential? And how do you communicate this to customers?
Engleder: We are convinced that ecological solutions only work with solid economic concepts. We keep this in mind in all our developments. Measures to optimize energy consumption and the CO2 balance have a direct impact on the cost structure. With our energy efficiency packages, which we will be presenting at K, we make this transparent for our customers.
We are pursuing an integrated sustainability strategy and have decided to communicate our progress from now on in a regularly published sustainability report. We are guided by recognized international standards and procedures in order to create transparency and comparability for our customers and partners. The first edition of the Engel sustainability report has just been published and is freely available on our website.
Q: You strive to build injection molding machinery that is more than just green on the outside. Can you talk about some of the new features you are showcasing here at K?
Engleder: At K, we are focusing on overall efficiency. Many processors think that by using a modern injection molding machine with energy-efficient drives, they have already exhausted the full energy-saving potential. However, with a precisely coordinated temperature control solution, much more is possible.
Mold temperature control accounts for almost 40 percent of the total energy consumption of an injection molding production cell. With dynamic individual circuit control and demand-based control of the temperature control units, Engel system solutions exploit this potential. They combine energy efficiency with temperature control consistency and very high productivity. Added to this are the digital solutions.
At K 2022, Engel is using specific examples to show the benefits from integrating the injection molding machine, the temperature control and digital solutions.
Q: Digitalization is crucial for more sustainability in the plastics industry. Can you explain why?
Engleder: A study conducted by Accenture on behalf of Bitkom with German companies predicts that digitalization can reduce today's CO2 emissions by up to 58 percent. At 23 percent, the manufacturing sector has a large share of this.
In the injection molding industry, digitization is making a significant contribution to exploiting the full potential of processing technologies. The goal is the self-optimizing injection molding machine. Intelligent assistance systems, for example, detect fluctuations in the raw material and ambient conditions and automatically readjust the process parameters cycle by cycle. This prevents scrap and unnecessary energy consumption. At the same time, intelligent assistants simplify the use of recycled materials, as they balance out batch fluctuations. Thanks to digitalization, recyclate can also be used for demanding applications.
Q: Despite the restraints imposed by the pandemic, the logistics havoc, the shortage of materials, you had a very good year last year. Is this trend continuing? If so, what is driving it?
Engleder: Sustainability, digitalization and also the transformation of the automotive industry continue to be the strongest drivers of innovation and growth. Nevertheless, the future outlook is uncertain. Uncertainty factors include the war in Ukraine with its impact on already strained supply chains, energy and raw material prices, but also the shortage of skilled workers. Crises will become the new normal. We have prepared ourselves for these challenges.
The fact that we have weathered the automotive crisis and the pandemic so well shows how resilient our company is. This is due to the high flexibility of our global production network, continuous investment in our sites worldwide and our high innovative strength. Times may be difficult, but we are always a reliable, stable partner for our customers.