Focus on Sustainability “Values instead of growth”: Tool Colloquium heralds production turnaround

Editor: Alexander Stark

Germany — “Instead of growth, we must focus on values!” — this slogan from BASF executive Saori Dubourg was taken back home by the participants of the 30th Aachen Machine Tool Colloquium (AWK) on 23 September 2021. More than 1400 specialists and executives from the executive floors of the manufacturing industry had followed the call of the Machine Tool Laboratory WZL of RWTH Aachen University and the Fraunhofer Institute for Production Technology IPT to the traditional network meeting.

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(Source: Fraunhofer IPT)

After a postponement due to the corona virus, the AWK conference took place again in Aachen under the motto “Internet of Production — Turning Data into Sustainability” as one of the first large attendance events and simultaneously as an online conference. With AWK'21, the organisers aimed to spark a discussion on value in production technology: After the colloquium, initially planned under the heading “Turning Data into Value”, had to be postponed twice, the topic was given a stronger focus on sustainable value creation. The question of how companies can secure their future competitiveness through sustainable and resilient production ran like a red thread through all the lectures, discussions and exhibitions in the Aachen Eurogress and in the two host institutes.

In addition to the ongoing discussion about values in society, the four leading figures in Aachen production technology, Professors Thomas Bergs, Christian Brecher, Robert Schmitt and Günther Schuh, see the resulting changes in the capital market — from a purely financial view of productivity to a stronger orientation towards the sustainability of products and services as well as the associated manufacturing processes — as the trigger for the urgently demanded production turnaround. They cite the Internet of Production as the most important enabler of this production turnaround: the continuous digitalisation and networking of machines and plants within the production and value chain.

Sustainability is already being embraced in various branches of industry

Speakers who have already successfully taken part of this path with their companies showed how this can work in industrial practice: As an example for the future of the metal industry, Professor Katja Windt from the SMS Group showed a path to decarbonised steel production. In her presentation, she exemplified the connections between a reduction in CO2 emissions through hydrogen technology and the digitalisation of blast furnace processes, which can ultimately lead to new, hybrid business models.

Focusing on value for the environment, society and the economy

Saori Dubourg, member of BASF's Board of Executive Directors, explained that — not least because of increased customer demand — sustainability must become “the new normal”. Market demand, but also political boundary conditions such as the European Green Deal, will accelerate the trend and sooner or later move companies towards transformation. Dubourg strongly advocated that the economic risks posed by climate change and their significance for industry should no longer be underestimated: A paradigm shift from shareholder value to a new value proposition that values the environment, society and the economy together is well underway, he said. “Long-term success means creating value for the environment, society and the economy,” Dubourg emphasised in her closing words, which were later echoed again and again by other speakers in their own words.

Towards the future of sustainable production

“We are facing a production turnaround: How, where and what will we produce in the future?” was how Professor Thomas Bergs, holder of the Chair of Manufacturing Process Technology at the WZL of RWTH Aachen University and member of the board of directors at the Fraunhofer IPT, summarised the new central questions of production. The sustainability of manufacturing process chains is becoming an essential evaluation parameter, says Bergs. “How must sustainable production cycles be organised in a global economy? And what regulatory mechanisms can and should there be to control resource consumption? There will undoubtedly be completely new products and manufacturing technologies.” There is still a lot to do here and conferences like AWK'21 could contribute to a discussion about the conditions under which production could be organised in the future. Both the Aachen researchers and the speakers saw possible solutions in digital technologies for networking such as edge cloud and 5G mobile technology, in artificial intelligence and the digital twin of product and production. These technologies are already in use in companies today and their further development is receiving a lot of attention in production research.

At the end of the event, Professor Robert Schmitt, holder of the Chair of Production Metrology and Quality Management at the WZL and member of the Fraunhofer IPT's board of directors, gave an outlook on the next AWK. On 11 and 12 May 2023, industry and science will meet again in Aachen — working title: “Technologies for CO2 Neutrality”.