During a one-on-one interview at the igus booth at Hannover Messe, Frank Blase expressed contentment with a debriefing he held the night before with various product units.
“Whether it was [a customer query about] a plastic gear with a super tight precision or a customer interested in joining us in the iguverse [virtual reality platform] to rent real estate, everything was on topic,” said Blase, CEO, igus GmbH. “I’m very happy with the depth and width, and that our innovations have found conversation.”
As participation at international trade fairs go, feedback from prospects is invaluable. Members of the igus events team had arrived a month in advance to set up. With more than 190 products and designed around the theme, “Enjoyneering,” the booth was outfitted to represent a colorful playground featuring 10 internal digital products that highlight engineering power.
“Before coming here, most companies would put forward topics of decarbonization and reduction of CO2,” said Blase. “We also cover the topic here in Hannover. We also chose to focus on additional innovation projects.”
For the motion plastics company, a big part of decarbonization would have to be connected to recycling, and Blase said it is the work of igus R&D teams to consider ways to “reuse and reuse and reuse” products.
He also acknowledged there are problems to solve around the use of plastics, particularly the effects of micro-abrasion or plastic particles. “It is on the R&D drawing board; we are working on this,” Blase said.
About four years ago, igus solidified its commitment to a circular economy with an option to customers to return plastic energy chains for recycling when they had reached the end of their service life. The program was expanded in 2022 with the “Chainge” program, allowing the return of six engineering plastics and creating a digital marketplace that enabled access to selected recyclates.
A surge in interest has been the motivation behind increasing the recycling platform and for considering new ways to reduce energy, Blase said.
A New Heat Recovery Model
igus can thank three of its engineers for their ingenuity in coming up with the company’s latest sustainability initiative.
“We are very happy this year that we have found ways to use the machine heat from our injection molding machines in a simple way and in a way that we haven’t found anywhere on the web or with experts,” Blase said.
In a solution called a “Machine Heat Recovery System” (MHRS), the engineers successfully harvested waste heat from injection molding machines to heat a large factory hall at the igus head office in Cologne-Lind. The engineers, led by Dennis Berninger, factory manager at igus, tinkered for six months before arriving at a successful method for rendering the use of fossil fuels redundant during the production period.
A brief description of the MHRS is this: Hydraulic motors from injection molding machines heat up during operation. Already in use in the vicinity, cooling towers provide cold water and conduct it to the machines along a pipe system. When the heated water returns to the cooling tower, it is re-cooled and heat escapes into the atmosphere. But with the MHRS, lost energy from the cooling circuit can be captured and redirected to the heaters. The new system eliminates the need for heat pumps, the added expense from energy loss when using a heat exchanger, as well as the need for an additional feed of waste heat from air compressors.
According to igus’ calculations, more than 1 million tons of CO2 and more than 548 million cubic meters of gas could be saved if all injection molders worldwide were to use this technology.(That’s the equivalent of the annual gas consumption of 238.434 four-person households.)
The invention is a departure from the company’s usual motion plastics horizon, but has garnered a high level of confidence from its leadership and igus will apply for a patent. Rather than licensing the technology, the company has decided to make the concept available free of charge.
“That would be a sizable impact, and I’m proud of our engineers to devise this and open it up to the public,” said Blase.
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