The pressure on industry is growing: Politicians and the public are pushing for greater sustainability, while at the same time digitization is driving the cycle of innovation ever faster. Dr. Thomas Schneider, Managing Director of Development at TRUMPF Machine Tools in Ditzingen, Germany, explains in an interview how mechanical engineering supports the transition to a circular economy and the establishment of a green factory, and how business models are changing.
An interview with Dr.-Ing. Thomas Schneider, Managing Director Development, TRUMPF Machine Tools
Dr.-Ing. Thomas Schneider is Managing Director of Development at TRUMPF Machine Tools in Ditzingen. After completing his studies in mechanical engineering with a doctorate at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT), he took on various positions in development and, among other things, headed the development of flight control and actuation systems at a family-owned company. In 2016, he joined TRUMPF as Head of Production Platforms and has been responsible for development in the Machine Tool Business Division since the beginning of 2018.
Dr. Schneider, at TRUMPF, agile teams of mechatronics engineers, computer scientists and mechanical engineering experts develop innovative products. How does one go about executing a successful link to the topics of sustainability and climate protection? Do you also integrate sustainability experts into the individual development teams?
We are a technology push company, and as such, are actively driving change. This includes the topics of sustainability and climate protection. As a major strategic initiative of the TRUMPF Group, these areas are anchored in all parts of the company. Specifically geared towards development, our teams consist of three groups: product management, R&D and value stream. Within Product Management lies the responsibility to consolidate sustainability issues and bring about decisions. The topic of sustainability is thus brought into the development teams via Product Management. As an innovator, we stand by our convictions and supply the market with increasingly more sustainable products. But our customers also challenge us. Catchphrase Green Factory. We share a symbiotic relationship with our customers, working together with them to meet global challenges.
Are there conflicting goals within the development teams because the best technical solution has to be combined with sustainability criteria? And do these slow down or spur on the inventive spirit?
There is no barrier to implementing the optimal solution, because more sustainable products make a positive contribution to all of us and the next generation. And: At TRUMPF, we couple sustainability with digitalization. The aim is to tackle issues of sustainability in a measurable, quantifiable and data-based manner. In this way, we want to better understand the achievable contribution of sustainability in order to make the right decisions. This systemic approach has a stimulating effect on inventiveness.
How can mechanical and plant engineering be positioned more sustainably? What other trends are currently shaping the industry?
We are currently seeing three megatrends in mechanical engineering that are being brought together in companies: sustainability, digitalization and systems engineering. These areas are flanked by a shift toward a service-oriented form of industry. This means that the machine manufacturer does not simply sell the equipment to its customers, but sees comprehensive service as a fundamental component of its business model.
Because in order to be able to make optimal decisions for climate protection and sustainability, we have to take a holistic view of production on our machines together with our customers. In other words, we have to treat it as a circular economy. Bringing together plant manufacturers and plant operators allows us to leverage the greatest potential and solve systemic tasks. In this respect, I think we are at the beginning of a new decade in which things are harmonizing and we are shifting system boundaries.
So is the machine builder in a circular economy moving more in the direction of a service provider?
With our machines, we specialize in sheet metal processing – a material that is incidentally ideally suited for the circular economy because scrap metal can be remelted and processed. So we work here with two different circuits that interlock: On the one hand, the sheet metal, which can always be included in the production process. On the other hand, with our machines, which we increasingly offer in modular design. This enables a flexible refurbishment strategy, which is also reflected in the Equipment-as-a-Service (EaaS) business model. In this case, EaaS means that the machine is located in the customer’s company, but the customer only pays per component that is actually produced with the machine. In this pay-per-part production process, TRUMPF assumes greater responsibility in the value-added process. It teaches us a lot about different uses, challenges and possibilities for optimization. And thanks to the modular design, we can specifically renew or adapt only individual parts of the machines, which is ideal in terms of sustainable production.
What other options are available to TRUMPF in terms of environmental and climate protection?
With the EUV lithography for high-performance chips we’ve developed at Zeiss and ASML, we are helping to ensure that smartphones or computers operate much more efficiently and in a more climate-friendly manner. In this market of the future, we are the only laser manufacturer in the world who can do this. We also set high targets for ourselves, retrofit buildings and optimize production. This is one of the reasons why the TRUMPF Group is already CO2-neutral in terms of its balance sheet. We − and our owners as the primary drivers − are highly motivated to achieve the 1.5-degree target. Our greatest leverage though is our customers. We support the transition to green factories and holistic business models. If we are successful with this, so are our customers.
About the company
The TRUMPF Group, headquartered in Ditzingen near Stuttgart, Germany, is one of the world’s largest suppliers of machine tools and is represented in all major markets worldwide by more than 70 subsidiaries. In the 2020/21 fiscal year, the company generated sales of more than €3.5 billion with almost 15,000 employees. Originally founded as a mechanical workshop in 1923, TRUMPF has today become a market and technology leader in machine tools and lasers for industrial manufacturing. Thanks to innovative software solutions, the company is also considered a partner on the road to the smart factory.
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