AWK'23 How green production and circular economy make manufacturing companies more resilient

Source: WZL/ Alexander Stark Reading Time: 5 min

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The manufacturing industry is still dependent on global logistics chains, fossil energy and rare raw materials. Global crises such as climate change, the corona pandemic and the current developments in Ukraine show that companies have to do much more than just meeting politically set sustainability targets or manage individual supply bottlenecks. How can circular economy make companies more resilient in this regard?

The AWK’23 is focusing on how production data along the entire value chain can help companies become more sustainable and resilient.
The AWK’23 is focusing on how production data along the entire value chain can help companies become more sustainable and resilient.
(Source: WZL)

Helping companies achieve greater resilience while contributing to meeting global emissions and climate targets is the goal of the Aachen Conference for Production Technology. The guiding theme of AWK'23 — Empower Green Production — is at the core of the efforts at the Aachen researchers led by the team of professors Robert Schmitt, Thomas Bergs, Christan Brecher and Günther Schuh to support industry in the urgently needed transformation towards green production.

In past editions of the conference series, WZL and Fraunhofer IPT already presented examples of successful research and industry projects in the 2010s. They highlighted the opportunities offered by the Internet of Production (IoP) and the comprehensive networking of machines and plants. The AWK'21 subsequently dealt in detail with the question of how the database gained from the IoP can serve as the basis for an Internet of Sustainability. The next logical step, is to use these resources not only to increase productivity, but above all for the transformation towards circular production. AWK'23 aims to show which technologies and strategies will spearhead this transformation, how companies can select their individual tools for the change from the abundance of methods, and which challenges applied production research can specifically support.

The reassessment of industrial production has already started

“We don't have an awful lot of time to talk about what could be done, because a lot of things are just falling into place,” explains Professor Robert Schmitt, chair at the WZL and division director at the Fraunhofer IPT, who is chairing the AWK's organising committee this year. It is not just about purely economic issues, but actually also about social cohesion in society. It is not enough just to reduce CO2, Schmitt argues that research and industry are responsible to ensure a stable society and he is convinced that industrial production in particular can act as a stabilising factor.

The organisers from the WZL and Fraunhofer IPT have therefore set themselves the goal of focusing even more on the possibilities of how companies can operate more sustainably and at the same time more resiliently with the help of production data along the entire value chain. Creating transparency across the entire product life cycle and the individual stages of the value chain can support this: Leading companies have already started to re-evaluate the performance of manufacturing processes and process chains on the basis of meaningful key figures, giving much greater weight to sustainability criteria.

Data analytics and re-assemby extend life through regular updates

A linchpin for industrial production is achieving a holistic circular economy. Here, WZL and Fraunhofer IPT see not only life-extending measures for the purely technically determined product service life, but also the opportunities that — especially for complex products — regular product updates can offer. In this way, not only repairs, but also design changes and completely new technical functionalities that follow customer wishes and technological developments can be implemented within the framework of a so-called Re-Assembly Factory. Old product generations are reassembled and prepared for the next product life cycle through value-enhancing measures.

The Aachen researchers go further than just the refurbishment of products. Their approach starts from the side of development and creation, and not — as before — from the end of the useful life and the recycling of products that have become unusable. The researchers emphasise that this approach not only requires a suitable product structure that takes the new modularity into account, but also new processes for reassembly in the factory and must already begin with the production of operating resources. The digital product file as well as the digital tool file, which includes information about the condition of the product or the tool and ideally even incorporates customer wishes, thus becomes an enabler for sustainable production.

Together with conference partners such as Hexagon, Siemens and Ericsson, as well as speakers from influential companies such as Robert Bosch and Thyssenkrupp Steel Europe, and the Federation of German Industries (BDI), the research institutions want to demonstrate these and other ways to reassess and transform industrial processes and products. “I would like to see some of the discussion results of the AWK translated into an actual action plan that clearly shows how to proceed,” hopes Schmitt, speaking also for his colleagues at the Aachen research institutions.

AWK'23: Hybrid information hub for trends in production technology

The Aachen Machine Tool Colloquium is both a network meeting and an information hub. Participants from different disciplines traditionally exchange ideas on the production of tomorrow every three years in Aachen. Accompanied by an internationally top-class lecture programme and with thematic tours of the host research facilities, the conference will again offer a comprehensive insight into the trends in applied research and development for specialists and managers from industry and science in May 2023.

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In two times two parallel lecture sessions, participants can learn first-hand about the results of applied research and practical implementation in production. For this purpose, interdisciplinary speakers from science, development and management of leading companies from different sectors have been invited to work together in expert working groups to develop the topics.

The four thematic blocks each comprise several lectures on powerful, always available and resilient data infrastructures, on technologies and processes for a functioning circular economy, on modelling and analyses with the aim of a more resource-efficient production as well as on scenarios and business models for sustainable value creation.

In addition to the face-to-face event, the 31st AWK at the Eurogress in Aachen will once again feature digital streaming of large parts of the event programme, supplemented for the first time by additional exclusive programme items and networking formats especially for online participants. The use of a globally available online platform ensures that not only the participants on site in Aachen, but also an international expert audience can attend the event in a sustainable way.