circularity – LINK

The concept of circularity appears more and more often and can be considered a concrete interpretation of the theme of sustainability. Brink Industrial in Hoogeveen has been studying the possibilities of circularity for some time and incorporates this into many aspects of business operations. CEO Wido van den Bosch says: ‘Forget that circularity is only a ‘noble’ thing. If you do it right, you can make money from it.’

‘It makes us less dependent on foreign countries’

It is a time of crises, with a serious energy crisis after the corona crisis as a result of developments in Ukraine. In addition, many companies face a shortage of raw materials and personnel. Wido van den Bosch seeks part of the solution in the application of the right techniques and technologies. “We are already significantly further ahead on one front than on the other,” he says. ‘If you look at the energy transition, where the intention is to switch from fossil fuels to 100 percent sustainable energy, then we are all fine with technical solutions such as electrification, heat pumps, solar panels, fuel cells, control systems and so on. That road is taken.’

‘Circularity starts with the design of a product’

When an order of one day fits well into the remains of a sheet intended for an order of another day, it is immediately cut and bent. Photos: Brink Industrial

But when it comes to raw materials, far too little happens, in his opinion. “All in all, we are still extracting far more raw materials from the earth than is good. To reverse this development, a transition is also needed here, with the ultimate goal of being fully circular by 2050. This means that we prevent waste and that all raw materials become available for recycling at the end of the product’s life.’

Industry 5.0

This important transition and the role of circularity are part of the ‘fifth revolution’, which has since been named Industry 5.0. In fact, the concept is an extension and addition to the existing Industry 4.0 paradigm, emphasizing technological innovation to become more productive. Industry 5.0 adds terms such as sustainability, resilience and humanity. ‘This changes the exclusive focus on shareholder value to a broader focus on stakeholder value. And that benefits everyone involved,’ says Van den Bosch. ‘The fact that people explicitly get a place in Industry 5.0 means that there is a focus on a good collaboration between people and technology, which is necessary for efficient production in the Netherlands. Think artificial intelligence and collaborative automation (cobots) to improve people’s performance. But also the use of techniques to relieve the staff of boring, dull or dangerous work.’

Translation into practice

Brink Industrial itself puts Industry 5.0 into practice in various ways. The company, which specializes in customer-specific serial solutions of thin sheet material, was previously based on flexibility and up to 180 different processing techniques. In the current era, sustainability and circularity are central. Van den Bosch: ‘A first translation is the separate e.g Luna where we produce circular waste bins that act as a smart solution to create sustainable and circular waste streams. Everything aims to recycle as much waste as possible and process it into products.’

In addition, as a plate processing company, Brink uses materials and energy as sparingly as possible. A practical example is the machine manufacturer’s embedding software Prime Power which, in combination with the planning software, determines how as many products as possible can be pulled out of a plate. If an order for Friday fits well in the remains of a plate intended for an order for Tuesday, it is immediately cut and bent. In addition, Brink Industrial has recently invested in a modular machine line for punching, lasering and bending products. ‘Because of the modularity, it is possible to replace parts when necessary and we don’t have to write off the whole line. With the line, we also save up to 80 percent energy compared to conventional machines and 5 percent on waste.’

Think along

The most important activity, however, is to think together with the customers about the products they want Brink to make. Van den Bosch: ‘Circularity literally starts with the design of a product. This means that we regularly sit around the table with the customers to manage precisely at this time. We use the so-called 7R model, which focuses on: Reduce, reuse, repair, refurbish, remanufacture, reuse and Restore.”

“In short, it’s about first asking yourself whether you should produce a certain product from new raw materials: Reduce. For example, to what extent can you use existing products to meet demand? Or from recycled materials? If it is necessary to produce, you can look at the use of the materials themselves. Choose renewable raw materials, materials that are easy to recycle or raw materials that are available in abundance. In addition, minimize material consumption through smart constructions, good (strength) calculations and so on. And limit the amount of post-processing that only costs extra energy and time.’

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Finally, the design itself is crucial to ensure that the product fits into a circular society. For example, because it is easy to repair or restore. “Or can be dismantled in such a way that parts or raw materials can be recycled cleanly at the end of their useful life. In this connection, e.g. welded connections are undesirable, while easily removable connections are preferred.’

React flexibly

In addition to being a partial solution to the resource crisis, circularity also provides opportunities for companies to make money. Van den Bosch: ‘It’s not called a circular for nothing economy. Circularity is not a term to simply make your business look greener, it is a serious opportunity to create business results.’ For this, it is important that an entrepreneur can respond flexibly to market demand. “This means that we increasingly produce locally and more flexibly. In such a way that the delivery times are short enough and the quality is up to standard. To make this possible in countries like the Netherlands, where labor wages are high, Industry 4.0 and the associated automation possibilities, but also cobots from Industry 5.0, will help us further. It also makes us less dependent on foreign countries, and I no longer have to tell anyone how important it is.’

Common sense

Fortunately, the Netherlands is already well advanced in applying the technologies required for this. “Just look at the simulation programs that are currently available. With this are production processes exactly simulation, so you can calculate and plan very sharply. And keep using your common, creative mind. There is as much as possible.’

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