© Photo | ebm-papst, KD Busch, Gernot Walter

The green company

Green has never been so fash­ion­able. It stands for being envi­ron­men­tally friendly, inno­v­a­tive and ready for the future. No wonder, then, that green is the favourite colour of many marketing depart­ments. With the new Green­Tech label, ebm-papst is also presenting itself as an all-round green company. Here is a look behind the scenes.

Markus Mettler: Tech­nical Oper­a­tions Manager and Envi­ron­mental Officer at Mulfingen

Markus Mettler is Tech­nical Oper­a­tions Manager at ebm-papst in Mulfingen, Germany. He also serves as the location’s envi­ron­mental officer. This dual role is extremely logical: “When the envi­ron­mental officer has a good idea, the oper­a­tions manager can imple­ment it straight away,” the native of Germany’s Hohen­lohe region relates with a smile. Mettler has free rein to imple­ment envi­ron­mental measures if they also make economic sense. He started right at the company’s own home base. Working together with an inno­v­a­tive heating contractor from the region, the heat distri­b­u­tion system at the loca­tion was opti­mised in terms of its energy consump­tion. This has provided a savings of some 600 tonnes of CO2 per year. However, Mettler is not yet fully satis­fied: “We still have to deal with the heating boilers. The last one was built 27 years ago and we still have lots of capacity, though our heated space has increased almost three­fold since then. Years ago, systems were sized quite differ­ently.” This is in sharp contrast to the new green plant right around the corner in Hollen­bach. There, the capac­i­ties were designed to match the area and type of use exactly — to the last detail. Where do the company’s high envi­ron­mental stan­dards come from? “We work in a wonderful cultural land­scape in which others go on holiday. This envi­ron­ment has an impact on us, and we know that we have a great respon­si­bility to main­tain it.”

Gunter Streng and Dr Bruno Lindl inspect a newly devel­oped impeller geom­etry

Thinking, calcu­lating, acting. “First: product design that conserves resources. Second: manu­fac­turing that conserves resources. Third: ener­gy­ef­fi­cient, low-noise oper­a­tion. This has become our prin­ciple for devel­op­ment,” empha­sises Dr Bruno Lindl, Managing Director Devel­op­ment. And this is true even if it seems unrea­son­able at first glance. Such was the case in 1990: “Elec­tricity prices were low and semi­con­ductor prices were high, but we kept focusing on our effi­cient, elec­tron­i­cally controlled motors and fans and contin­u­ously devel­oped them. That is now paying off.” Lindl believes that the greatest poten­tial savings lies in a compre­hen­sive view of the complete system at the customer’s facility. Here, the largest increases in effi­ciency are hidden. “Discov­ering this poten­tial and real­ising it together with our customers is our clear compet­i­tive advan­tage.”

Devel­oping the HyBlade Fan

Gunter Streng, R&D Manager for Product Divi­sion A, illus­trates how these ambi­tious goals are imple­mented when devel­oping new prod­ucts, offering the example of the HyBlade® axial fans. The blades are no longer made entirely of aluminium, but rather of an aluminium insert sprayed with fibre­glass-rein­forced plastic. In a study, the devel­opers had a life cycle assess­ment carried out of the new fans in the manu­fac­turing phase — from bauxite mining to die-casting to the finished product. The result: “For a produc­tion run of 100,000 HyBlade® fans, the savings is 9,000 megawatt-hours. This roughly corre­sponds to the energy consump­tion of 3,000 house­holds.” This calcu­la­tion does not even include the large poten­tial savings provided by EC-powered fans in oper­a­tion. However, the same holds true for other prod­ucts of the company’s three German loca­tions, including the condensing boiler tech­nology from Land­shut (see “Pioneers in heating tech­nology”).

Partic­u­larly energy-inten­sive envi­ron­mental tests must be passed by a newly devel­oped product. In the factory in St. Georgen in Germany’s Black Forest region, Robert Wasmuth and his colleagues test the service life and reli­a­bility of new devices. They do so using test cabi­nets that expose the devices to extreme temper­a­ture fluc­tu­a­tions, for example between -40 and +120 degrees Celsius. “In the past, elec­tricity has been used for heating and cooling. Because the require­ments have become more strin­gent, we found a new way to cool,” explains the Manager of Produc­tion Qual­i­fi­ca­tion and testing. Since 2007, Wasmuth has used the fire­fighting water reser­voir, fed by a natural source, for a cooling circuit to cool the climatic test cabi­nets. In addi­tion to the water reser­voir, which has a 300 cubic meter capacity, a heat recovery system was installed as a second step to feed excess heat from the cooling circuit into the heating system — thus killing two birds with one stone: one benefit is that cooling the test cabi­nets requires only the elec­tricity for the three circu­la­tion pumps. The second is that the heat given off by the cooling circuit supplies the heating system of the main admin­is­tra­tion building and provides part of the heat output during tran­si­tion periods. Each year, the plant saves some thou­sand litres of heating oil. “I don’t like waste — at home or at work,” says Wasmuth of his moti­va­tion.

ISO 14001: the envi­ron­mental manage­ment stan­dard shared by all ebm-papst loca­tions

Simi­larly consci­en­tious is Erwin Kammer­mayer. For eigh­teen months, the land­shut location’s Purchasing Manager has contin­u­ously increased the number of envi­ron­men­tally certi­fied suppliers. Of some 350 series suppliers, 20 percent are already certi­fied. “That may not sound like a lot at first, but we are adding to this number all the time, and all of the top suppliers comply with the ISO 14001 stan­dard.” Further­more, the certi­fi­ca­tion plays an impor­tant role in eval­u­ating new suppliers. “We want to increase suppliers’ aware­ness of our green tech­nology strategy. Even if it does not make finan­cial sense for every­body yet, it has enor­mous poten­tial for the future. Certi­fi­ca­tion is also a good refer­ence for suppliers.”

Markus Mettler also wants to raise aware­ness of green issues. The Tech­nical Oper­a­tions Manager gives presen­ta­tions and serves on the board of Modell Hohen­lohe e.V., a regional busi­ness asso­ci­a­tion (see “The learning network”). “Energy effi­ciency
is my hobby,” he says with a grin. Though Mettler gives up some free time to take part in Modell Hohenlohe’s work groups and the “Energie Effizienz Tisch (EET),” an energy effi­ciency round­table, his partic­i­pa­tion bene­fits the company. From the energy effi­ciency round­ta­bles, he has taken away many ideas that were then imple­mented at ebm-papst, such as opti­mising heat distri­b­u­tion systems, compressor systems, lighting systems and produc­tion equip­ment. The projects that are now in place save approx­i­mately 500,000 euro in energy costs each year.

Working at the new ultra-thin layer powder coating facility

The engine of savings lies in produc­tion, as Mettler and his colleagues in the envi­ron­mental team have discov­ered. The prime example: the new ultra-thin layer (UTL) powder coating facility, which has been in oper­a­tion since January 2008. This is currently one of the most state-of-the-art methods on the market, as Produc­tion Manager Thomas Kozok empha­sises. The two-storey enam­elling line is in a sepa­rate hall and works with almost zero emis­sions: “We have a 100 percent powder recovery system in place.” The powder that does not adhere to the work­piece — which is some 60 percent — is completely extracted, recy­cled and fed back to the process. The heat given off by the enam­elling oven in the facility’s upper storey is used to dry the parts after pre-treat­ment. “We want to lower the enam­elling temper­a­ture signif­i­cantly from its current level of 200 degrees Celsius and are working closely with powder manu­fac­turers to do just that,” Kozok relates. Even today, the cooling effort has been decreased greatly, which also bene­fits the assembly employees at the plant. There, trop­ical temper­a­tures once prevailed, but today the area no longer even needs air condi­tioning.

Mettler, Schmitt and Kozok are enthu­si­astic about iron phos­phating

A clean coup was accom­plished in Mulfingen, both in powder coating and cataphoresis coating: the switch from zinc to iron phos­phating in surface treat­ment. This saves money, hazardous substances and nerves, as Super­visor Stefan Schmitt knows from expe­ri­ence. “The zinc sludge was nasty stuff indeed, chock full of heavy metals. We used to have to clean the entire zone, including the pipes, with acid every four weeks!” The advan­tages are partic­u­larly dramatic for cataphoresis coating, in which conver­sion coating using Oxsilan, an organic silicon-hydrogen compound, takes place. Unlike zinc phos­phating, this works at room temper­a­ture, and thus does not require a heated bath, which keeps the 5,000 litres at a constant temper­a­ture of 50-70 degrees Celsius. This not only allows the heating energy to be saved, but also makes it unnec­es­sary to use 30 hazardous substances. The waste­water volume could be reduced by two-thirds in the process. “The zinc sludge, which as hazardous waste required special disposal, could be omitted entirely,” Schmitt is pleased to report.

Staff at the St. Georgen are like­wise busy finding new ways to lower consump­tion of process media. The screw compres­sors at Plant 1 had long been a source of irri­ta­tion to Martin Hug. The Manager of Plant and Building Main­te­nance had to quite liter­ally purchase the compressed air produc­tion at a high price. For tech­nical reasons, the compres­sors need a lot of time and energy before they reach the neces­sary oper­ating state for supplying adequate compressed air to the work­sta­tions. He then discov­ered a control system for the compres­sors, gath­ered infor­ma­tion from colleagues in other compa­nies and online and
had the system installed. This control system oper­ates the compres­sors with run times that are as long as possible to reduce the number of cost-inten­sive start-up and idling phases. “The control system was fairly expen­sive, but it provides 10 percent elec­tricity savings annu­ally. In just under two years, the acqui­si­tion has already paid for itself,” Hug relates with satis­fac­tion.

Tobias Arndt with the new reusable EPP packing mate­rials

The new packing mate­rials are shown by Tobias Arndt, Assis­tant to Logis­tics Manager, with a broad smile: the EPP plastic lasts three times longer than Styro­foam and is also recy­clable. “The corru­gated card­board box used to hold six units, but now we fit twelve fans into the same space.” Because each element can be fit into the other, the pack­aging also saves a lot of space during return trans­port by lorry. This system provides nothing but advan­tages to the customer, ebm-papst and the envi­ron­ment. However, there is still vast room for improve­ment. “Of course, we approach customers and try to persuade them to use reusable packing mate­rials,” says Arndt, confirming the efforts. Idealism alone is not enough. Mettler, too, knows this well: “The customer always wants to know, in concrete terms, what’s in it for them. At the end of the day, though, green intel­li­gence always pays off. That is true today — and will be more so in future.”

With the new Green­tech label, ebm-papst brings its philos­ophy of sustain­ability to succinct expres­sion: pro-active devel­op­ment, envi­ron­men­tally respon­sible produc­tion, the highest energy effi­ciency, the greatest possible customer benefit. The company has already received numerous awards for its commit­ment to green issues.

“Less energy consumed is the cleanest form of energy”

“For me, Green Tech­nology primarily means that we concen­trate on what is impor­tant, on our strengths,” states company founder Gerhard Sturm. “For ebm-papst, envi­ron­mental aware­ness is not, and never has been, a matter of extra dili­gence, but rather a matter of economic course. In my active days before retiring from the exec­u­tive board in 2007 I made my succes­sors take note of that, too. And there­fore I am pleased to find that ebm-papst is success­fully living this guiding theme.

I am absolutely convinced that there is a lot more to presenting your­self as a green company than simply offering an econom­ical product and paying a little lip service. It also needs convic­tion — one that is lived every single day. Take for example our new plant at Hollen­bach. The savings realised here are about 90 percent compared to conven­tional tech­nology.

Or take my own personal involve­ment with the Hotel Jagst­mühle. The hotel gener­ates its own elec­tricity. I invested 100,000 euro in a new gener­ator and turbine as well as an air/water heat pump for cooling and heating. Saving money by saving energy. As simple as that sounds, it demands the will to view the task as a whole and to solve the chal­lenge in the best possible way.

When ebm was founded, we were driven by the chal­lenge of being better than the compe­ti­tion. Every newly devel­oped product should be tech­ni­cally and above all econom­i­cally better than its prede­cessor. Lower consump­tion, that means less to pay, was a selling point even then, and in the future it will become even more impor­tant. That was the stan­dard we set ourselves when we designed the first EC motor in 1970. But demanding more econom­ical prod­ucts inevitably means keeping the amount of energy and mate­rials consumed during produc­tion as small as possible, and thus producing as little waste as possible — because waste also costs money.

Without constantly keeping an eye on the purely envi­ron­mental aspect, ebm-papst has devel­oped a green aware­ness from economic consid­er­a­tions. The company has not just retained this drive until today, it has even expanded it — at Mulfingen, St. Georgen and Land­shut, and at other world­wide loca­tions.”

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