Energy efficiency as a factor in competition
Energy efficiency is not everything, but without it, nothing is worth very much. This variation on a German saying characterizes the current situation in industry. Even today, energy efficiency is a powerful factor in competition and the signs are that this will be even more important in the future. All around the world, governments and lawmakers are responding not only with declarations of intent and announcements of changes, but also with concrete regulations aimed at reducing the ecological footprint. Markets, voters and investment decision makers have become sensitized to the issue. What actions are being taken in the mechanical engineering industry? What are you doing? What are we doing? What actions must we pursue jointly in order to achieve sustainability? Below is a discussion on this subject, with Dr. Karl Tragl, Chairman of the Executive Board at Bosch Rexroth AG.
Dr. Tragl, is energy efficiency in production just a trendy topic or has it assumed a permanent place on business agendas?
I am firmly convinced that the subject of energy efficiency in production will be around for a very long time, since this is the approach to climate protection that is the quickest to implement and the fastest to become effective. That is why it is close to my heart. And I am not alone there. This is a topic that comes up in almost every conversation with customers. Along with questions having to do with climate change, energy efficiency has definitely moved forward to become a major factor in competition, all around the world. That is why I feel it important, in the interest of real customer orientation, for Rexroth to focus on this factor – in all its technologies and in all its markets. Continuous improvement of energy efficiency is an essential part of our corporate strategy.
A debate on energy efficiency has been raging for years in regard to motor vehicles, residential buildings and electrical appliances. Isn’t mechanical engineering a little late getting started?
The protection of the environment has long been on industry’s radar screens. Just look at the progress we’ve made in terms of water consumption or in the use of hazardous materials. More and more companies are publishing an account of their activities in environment reports. Energy efficiency has always been a topic in this context, even though it may not always have enjoyed top billing. Hydraulic storage units, energy recuperation and demand-driven regulation are hardly new technologies and many machine manufacturers are consciously putting them to use. This is true both for stationary industrial applications and for mobile working machines. As regards the latter, we have supported manufacturers for many years now, helping them reduce diesel fuel consumption and cut emissions by way of intelligent hydraulic concepts. What’s more, we at Rexroth are proud of the fact that for more than thirty years now, acting as a developer and system partner for wind power, we have helped to shape the industrial breakthrough for this technology.
How exactly does Rexroth support its customers and users?
Rexroth has developed a comprehensive system to achieve enhanced energy efficiency across all our technologies and applications. We call this Rexroth for Energy Efficiency or Rexroth 4EE. It uses four levers: Systematic observation of the entire automation situation, efficiency-optimized components, intelligent regulation in response to demand, and recovering energy invested in processes. We support machine manufacturers in employing these levers for all types of drive and control technologies – and over the machine’s entire life cycle, as well. We offer end users comprehensive energy efficiency consulting, based on Rexroth 4EE, for entire manufacturing lines.
What, in your opinion, is the strongest force behind the topic of energy efficiency?
A variety of factors is accelerating development. Right now the pressure exerted by legislation and regulations is growing. As regards mobile working machines, the new TIER 4 Final emission limits reduce by 90 percent the acceptable output levels for certain pollutants. This is augmented by the fact that more and more companies, in line with their own sense of responsibility, have undertaken an obligation to comply with the CO2 savings targets set by governments either sooner or more stringently than required. This is also true at Bosch Rexroth. By 2020 we will be reducing the CO2 emissions in all our plants, around the world, by 20 percent. We are pursuing a dual strategy. On the one hand we are reducing CO2 emissions ourselves while, on the other hand, we are providing customers and users not only products and solutions, but our own experience, as well. We render advisory support on how they can significantly enhance their own energy efficiency. At the same time we see increased environmental awareness on the part of consumers and investment decision makers, world-wide. They are paying more attention to how products are made. Suppliers are responding to this and mention their own advances in marketing efforts, too. Moreover, greater energy efficiency also means lower electric bills.
Aren’t you competing with machine manufacturers by offering energy efficiency consulting to end users?
No, because we are not optimizing individual machines, but complete manufacturing lines, instead. There you will find a wide variety of machines and automation concepts. Our specialists analyze energy consumption across the entire value stream, point out potentials for optimization, calculate amortization, and handle practical implementation, as well. That, by the way, is the major distinction to pure consulting companies. Our energy efficiency consulting efforts are unique, thanks to our comprehensive approach to solutions.
How are you doing in your efforts to boost efficiency in your own factories?
We’re making good progress. We will certainly be reaching – affordably – the targets we have set. Of course, we learn something new every day. We have already made great progress. And we are always amazed at how many energy savings options there are and how quickly they pay for themselves – often in the first year of operation. This is valuable experience from the real world and, of course, we share this with our customers. Working together, we as an industry can make a decisive contribution to safeguarding the climate and I sense the intention to do so in discussions every day. As an engineer, I can assure you that achieving more with less energy investment is actually quite enjoyable!