14 and 15 June 2023
14 and 15 June 2023
Technology Forum on Sustainability in the Electronics Industry
On 14 and 15 June 2023, Stannol and its partners kolb Cleaning Technology, MTM Ruhrzinn and the German Electronic Manufacturers' Association ( ZVEI e. V.) hosted the "Green Electronics" specialist forum at Zeche Zollverein. Top-class speakers gave exciting insights into the topic of sustainability in the electronics industry and provided useful tips for implementation in their own companies.
Around 90 participants met on the grounds of the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Zollverein Coal Mine Industrial Complex in Essen to discuss current sustainability issues and to develop approaches to solutions. Already at the get-together on 14 June, Prof. Dr. Michael Braungart's lecture on "Cradle to Cradle as an opportunity for innovation" got the participants thinking and triggered controversial discussions.
The speakers on 15 June included Lisa Reehten (Bosch Climate Solutions), Pascal Biesenbach (Viadukt GmbH), Stephanie Kopp (German Council for Sustainable Development (RNE)), Manfred Amberger (Zollner Elektronik AG), Andreas Nolte (Aurubis AG), Michael Künsebeck (in4ma Market Research & Analyses) as well as Gerhard Aust and Quentin Zapf (Prettl Electronics GmbH). The speakers gave a holistic insight into the topic of sustainability in electronics manufacturing using commercially successful examples. The event was hosted by Sabrina Nickel.
You can make a difference
In her keynote speech "Why not save the world? Climate neutrality as corporate responsibility", Lisa Reehten from Bosch Climate Solutions emphasised how important it is to tackle the issue as quickly as possible – if you started now, you would not be at the forefront anymore.
Moreover, the next generation of employees should not be underestimated, as they are increasingly attaching importance to sustainable action. In future, every company will have to be prepared for critical questions from applicants. It is important to start with the topic of sustainability in the first place.
For example, inspiration can be found in other sustainability reports. The company's own employees should also be involved in the topic from the beginning – they are important sources of ideas.
"Tinder" for landlords and builders
Pascal Biesenbach from Viadukt GmbH in Wuppertal gave insights into a particularly innovative project in his presentation "The challenge of building status – a solution for organising the energy transition smartly and efficiently": the development of an online assistant to accelerate the building energy transition. With the help of the assistant, the status quo of a building can be determined with just a few clicks, in terms of the need for renovation around climate-friendly technologies.
The assistant generates data for CO2 or solar analysis, calls up information on the protection of historical monuments, shows savings potential and checks funding possibilities. At the same time, a concrete modernisation roadmap is suggested – including cost estimates for comparison. The aim is to provide private building owners with a tool to renovate their property as efficiently as possible and thus come closer to the climate goals. Both building owners and builders benefit from the system, as the processed data saves time and enables both sides to proceed more efficiently. The "Tinder for landlords and builders", as Biesenbach calls the assistant, will be further expanded in the future.
The German Sustainability Code
Stephanie Kopp from the German Council for Sustainable Development (RNE) presented the German Sustainability Code (DNK). The Code was drafted by the German Council for Sustainable Development (RNE), which was first appointed by the then German government in 2001. The Code supports companies in developing a sustainability strategy and offers an introduction to structured sustainability reporting. According to twenty defined DNK criteria and performance indicators, companies can, for example, provide detailed information on the areas of resource management, climate-relevant emissions, responsibility or human rights. If reports are submitted regularly, the company's development over time can be tracked.
"Courage to fill the gap"
The DNK offers guidance on how the CSR reporting obligation and the National Action Plan on Business and Human Rights can be implemented in practice. Users are large and small, public and private companies, both reporting and non-reporting. Stephanie Kopp emphasised that it is not important to create a perfect report from the start: "You have to have the proverbial "courage to fill in the gaps". What's interesting here is that when you explain why you don't have something, you start thinking about whether it wouldn't be better to have exactly what is still missing. That is a first step for actual change."
The DNK database
In addition, the reports of the registered companies can be directly compared with each other via the Sustainability Code database. Interest in the DNK is increasing – not least because more and more companies will be obliged to report in the future. From the beginning of 2020 to the end of 2022, the number of companies using the DNK increased by 66 percent. There are currently around 1,000 companies in the database.
Manfred Amberger from Zollner Elektronik AG explained the approach to recycling in his presentation "EMS Life(re)cycle Management – Sustainability as an Opportunity for the EMS Industry". The company recycles about 600 tons per year in Germany. In the process, recyclable materials are carefully separated according to the different recyclable materials.
Organising long-term storage well
Another important aspect is the long-term storage of components over several years. The problem here is that the materials can be damaged over time by internal and external factors, such as UV radiation, moisture, vibration or oxidation. These factors must be eliminated as far as possible through targeted measures during storage, for example with the help of controlled temperatures, darkening or a ban on industrial trucks in the storage area. Regular inspections of the components also help to be able to react to restrictions in function or processability at an early stage. Amberger sees sustainable product design as one of the challenges for the future.
Recycling of PCBs
Andreas Nolte from Aurubis AG focused on multi-metal recovery through PCB recycling in his presentation. 15 percent of the recycling raw materials used at Aurubis are e-scrap or fractions from pre-treatments.
The Aurubis site in Lünen alone processes more than 100,000 tonnes of mostly complex recycling raw materials from electrical and electronic scrap (WEEE) annually. The Lünen plant processed about 25,000 tonnes of PCBs in 2022. The problem: material components and contents of PCBs can hardly be separated mechanically – high-tech products require high-tech recycling processes.
The evaluation of raw materials such as precious metals to an accuracy of 1 ppm is an essential prerequisite for processing e-scrap. They are divided into high-, medium- and low-grade e-scrap.
Several points have been identified as prerequisites for multi-metal recycling, e.g.:
- Composite materials require new/alternative mechanical and chemical separation and processing methods.
- "Design for recycling" must play a greater role in the future – also in PCB designs.
- Coupling, accompanying and by-products are created – these need markets.
- An increase in metal yield with low energy and resource input up to climate neutrality is essential.
- Metal recycling is energy-intensive – reliable framework conditions are fundamentally needed here.
- The further development of metallurgical processes must be promoted (autothermal processes also with Al, Fe and Si as energy carriers and reduction or desulphurisation agents – but CO2-free).
- State-of-the-art separation techniques based on XRF X-ray fluorescence, XRT X-ray transmission, LIBS laser-induced plasma spectroscopy and NAA neutron activation analysis must be advanced.
- Integrated and cross-sector recycling service concepts are needed (bundling).
Sustainability in the electronics industry not enough
Michael Künsebeck from in4ma Market Research & Analyses dealt intensively with the topic of greenwashing in the electronics industry in his contribution "Current state of sustainability in the EMS industry". "We have to take a close look at where the industry is seriously contributing to environmental protection and where economic interests are put forward as environmental protection."
The problem is often shifted to suppliers, for example. In addition, the focus is in many cases on packaging materials instead of the actual product: All too often, companies use empty phrases without any specific content.
The industry must rethink
In the area of social responsibility, Künsebeck criticises the focus on generalities such as gender equality or ethnic origin. This should be a matter of course – the real problem areas, however, are often ignored. Moreover, many measures primarily serve to save costs and not to protect the environment.
In his opinion, the electronics industry should focus on the environment in the area of sustainability, especially on the lifespan of products, the reusability of components and the reduction of waste through miniaturisation. Intelligent design must finally also focus on waste reduction, says the expert.
The GoZero initiative
Dr Gerhard Aust and Quentin Zapf from Prettl Electronics GmbH explained the company's GoZero initiative in their presentation "Sustainability strategies in electronics manufacturing – challenges and implementation using the example of Prettl Electronics". In 2020, a voluntary commitment to climate protection was launched as part of the Prettl GoZero initiative. This was conceptually developed in cooperation with Bosch Climate Solutions. Prettl GoZero describes the group's path to climate neutrality in the four areas of energy efficiency, renewable energies, green electricity and compensation measures.
In addition to the use of green electricity, district heating (biogas) and electric vehicles, the focus was also placed on operational processes. For example, a shutdown and start-up concept was developed for the machine technology, the lighting was optimised with the help of LEDs and presence detectors, and a leakage measurement was introduced for the compressed air infrastructure. Great importance was attached to integrating energy management into the organisational structures, raising employees' awareness of the issue of energy-conscious behaviour and creating incentives for them – for example, by giving them the option of using the company e-transporter for private purposes.
Financial support through funding programs
Among other things, funding programs were used for the financing, such as the funding from the Federal Office of Economics and Export Control (BAFA) within the framework of modules 1 to 4 as well as funding from the KfW Energy Efficiency Programme. For example, the purchase of new compressed air compensators was subsidised by 30 per cent (about 25,000 euros). The company is currently working on an expansion in the area of digitalisation of energy measurement. The basis for this is the energy performance indicators (EnPIs). The focus here is on the further development of the EnPI key figure in the SMD area.
Green Electronics – Conclusion
"Green Electronics" was able to provide thought provoking impulses in many fields - problem areas were openly addressed, but also a multitude of specific possibilities for action were pointed out. It is important to approach the topic and to understand it as a long-term process. Even if the measures taken are not yet complete, not all areas can be covered at the same time and there will always be a need for further optimisation – every step towards sustainability can make a difference. It is clear that the topic still offers a lot of potential in the future. A follow-up event is being planned.