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Cli­mate pro­tec­tion: Reduc­ing CO2 emis­sions

with intel­li­gent prod­uct design

07.12.2022   | Robert Gurka

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Cli­mate change con­tin­ues to occu­py deci­sion-mak­ers in all sec­tors. Con­cepts for reduc­ing CO2 emis­sions in indus­try tend to focus on strate­gic areas: alter­na­tive ener­gy sources, build­ing mod­i­fi­ca­tions, etc. This is a promis­ing approach, as improve­ments in these areas offer enor­mous poten­tial for reduc­ing green­house gas emis­sions. This is a promis­ing approach, as improve­ments in these areas offer enor­mous sav­ings poten­tial for green­house gas emis­sions. How­ev­er, mea­sures at the man­u­fac­tur­ing lev­el should also be tak­en into account. Intel­li­gent prod­uct design, espe­cial­ly in the rub­ber and plas­tics sec­tor, can achieve CO2 sav­ings which, although small in iso­la­tion, add up to a sig­nif­i­cant reduction. 

Only as much mate­r­i­al as nec­es­sary.

Geom­e­try changes reduce mate­r­i­al requirements

The first start­ing point is the geom­e­try of a com­po­nent. Machine com­po­nents are often opti­mized for their pri­ma­ry pur­pose, not for sec­ondary fac­tors such as weight or mate­r­i­al usage. With intel­li­gent prod­uct design, it is pos­si­ble in many cas­es to devel­op geome­tries that still meet the require­ments of the appli­ca­tion area and also cause sig­nif­i­cant­ly low­er CO2 emissions.

For exam­ple, Jäger received a cus­tomer request for a seal­ing option to be used in con­trol cab­i­nets. It was a con­vex, cylin­dri­cal com­po­nent that need­ed to be fit­ted with an exter­nal flat gas­ket to pro­tect it against dust and moisture.

Our pro­posed solu­tion was to revise the geom­e­try of the com­po­nent and inte­grate the seal into the com­po­nent. The new com­bi­na­tion ele­ment had a con­cave geom­e­try with com­pa­ra­ble elec­tri­cal and mechan­i­cal prop­er­ties, but a sig­nif­i­cant­ly low­er mate­r­i­al input.

Anoth­er exam­ple can be found in one of our case stud­ies. A few years ago, we redesigned a con­vey­or roller for one of our cus­tomers that orig­i­nal­ly con­sist­ed of a rub­ber-met­al ele­ment, with a steel core and a sol­id rub­ber sheath­ing. Jäger devel­oped an alter­na­tive com­po­nent for this: a spoke con­struc­tion made of plas­tic (hol­low inside), which is enclosed with a much thin­ner rub­ber layer.

Both com­po­nents have com­pa­ra­ble prop­er­ties. How­ev­er, the new devel­op­ment is much lighter and uses less material.

3D Grafik einer Druckrolle als Neukonzeption new
Grafik einer Druckrolle old

Jäger pres­sure roller for con­vey­or belts in old and new design

Mate­r­i­al sav­ings like these have sev­er­al effects that have a pos­i­tive impact on a man­u­fac­tur­ing company’s CO2 bal­ance sheet:

Alter­na­tive mate­ri­als can improve the CO2 footprint

Dif­fer­ent types of plas­tics and elas­tomers dif­fer in terms of the CO2 emis­sions gen­er­at­ed dur­ing their pro­cess­ing. Sil­i­cones, for exam­ple, have to be reheat­ed, which leads to longer heat­ing times and thus high­er ener­gy con­sump­tion. In prin­ci­ple, there­fore, a change of mate­r­i­al can have a pos­i­tive effect on the CO2 footprint.

On the oth­er hand, the selec­tion of the appro­pri­ate mate­r­i­al depends pri­mar­i­ly on the oper­at­ing con­di­tions of the com­po­nent. Once the require­ments in terms of abra­sion, Shore hard­ness, tem­per­a­tures, sta­t­ic or dynam­ic loads and chem­i­cal resis­tance have been tak­en into account, there is usu­al­ly lit­tle room for opti­miza­tion for a poten­tial CO2 reduction.

A bet­ter approach is there­fore to ensure that the mate­r­i­al has the longest pos­si­ble ser­vice life. The more often a com­po­nent is defec­tive, the more often it has to be replaced and dis­posed of. This is a sig­nif­i­cant fac­tor in the elas­tomer sec­tor in par­tic­u­lar, since rub­ber, unlike plas­tics and met­als, can hard­ly be recy­cled. Extend­ing the ser­vice life of a com­po­nent can there­fore sig­nif­i­cant­ly improve its CO2 balance.

To this end, the design should select a mate­r­i­al that exceeds the require­ments of the appli­ca­tion sce­nario. For cost rea­sons, the choice usu­al­ly falls on a mate­r­i­al that just meets the require­ments, which is reflect­ed in high­er wear effects in the long run.

If a com­po­nent has to with­stand 150° C, for exam­ple, a mate­r­i­al is often used that is designed for pre­cise­ly this tem­per­a­ture. The ther­mal load on the com­po­nent is cor­re­spond­ing­ly high, as it is always oper­at­ing at its lim­it. If instead the design choos­es a mate­r­i­al that only reach­es its lim­its at 180° C, the load is lower.

How­ev­er, this is the opti­mum case. In prac­tice, high-qual­i­ty and thus more expen­sive mate­ri­als are often out of the ques­tion because the com­pa­ny is in a com­pet­i­tive sit­u­a­tion and can only increase the man­u­fac­tur­ing costs of its prod­ucts to a lim­it­ed extent.

Here it is impor­tant to find a com­pro­mise between price and sus­tain­abil­i­ty. Depend­ing on the posi­tion­ing of the com­pa­ny, it may make sense to rely on more durable but more expen­sive mate­ri­als and to com­mu­ni­cate this openly.

Com­bined com­po­nents reduce CO2 emis­sions through syn­er­gy effects

If a com­pa­ny pur­chas­es com­bined rub­ber or plas­tic assem­blies from one man­u­fac­tur­er, there are fur­ther oppor­tu­ni­ties for CO2 reduc­tion. In this case, the sup­pli­er can bet­ter coor­di­nate indi­vid­ual ele­ments and real­ize syn­er­gy effects. This can have var­i­ous effects, depend­ing on the assem­bly. Con­ceiv­able effects include mate­r­i­al sav­ings, short­er heat­ing times or reduced trans­port distances.

For exam­ple, let’s look again at the cylin­dri­cal seal option. In par­al­lel with the geom­e­try change already described, Jäger has also com­bined the part and the exter­nal flat gas­ket. The flat gas­ket is now inte­grat­ed into the com­po­nent. At the bot­tom of the part, there is an annu­lar recess into which the gas­ket is insert­ed. This not only makes assem­bly eas­i­er, but also requires less mate­r­i­al because the flat gas­ket is small­er than before. It no longer has to cov­er the entire bot­tom sur­face of the com­po­nent, but only the area where the com­po­nent comes into con­tact with the board.

This improve­ment was only pos­si­ble because a sin­gle part­ner took over the entire pro­duc­tion and devel­op­ment of the com­bined assembly.

Con­clu­sion

There are also oppor­tu­ni­ties to improve a company’s CO2 foot­print in the area of prod­uct devel­op­ment. In the case of rub­ber and plas­tic arti­cles, the geom­e­try of the com­po­nent and the choice of mate­ri­als in par­tic­u­lar har­bor poten­tial for optimization.

 

For exam­ple, a slight­ly mod­i­fied design can often reduce the weight of a com­po­nent as well as its mate­r­i­al con­sump­tion, which in addi­tion to the direct effects also reduces trans­port-relat­ed CO2 emis­sions. Choos­ing an alter­na­tive mate­r­i­al can sig­nif­i­cant­ly increase the ser­vice life of the com­po­nent, which means it needs to be replaced less fre­quent­ly. And in the case of com­bined assem­blies, it makes sense to source every­thing from a sin­gle source in order to real­ize design-relat­ed syn­er­gy effects and thus CO2 savings.

 

Indi­vid­u­al­ly, each of these fac­tors may have only a small impact on CO2 emis­sions. But in large quan­ti­ties, the improve­ments do make them­selves felt, as the con­sump­tion of CO2 per item adds up. In this way, com­pa­nies can make a con­tri­bu­tion to com­bat­ing cli­mate change even with small changes

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Author: Robert Gurka

Robert Gur­ka is a field ser­vice rep­re­sen­ta­tive at Jäger, respon­si­ble for cus­tomers in the area from Hanover to Göt­tin­gen, as well as some key cus­tomers. He has more than 40 years of pro­fes­sion­al expe­ri­ence in the rub­ber and plas­tics sector.

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