Interview with Dr. Michael Ruf, COO Krauss Maffei Group
High-quality processing of recyclate favours circular economy
Plastic waste needs to be valued
Political conditions are just as useful as private business initiatives
How can a machine manufacturer such as KraussMaffei contribute to the circular economy?
Dr. Michael Ruf: Our daily business is to bring plastics in a recycle material loop, or to keep them there and thus make a contribution towards avoidance of plastic waste. We consider ourselves as a company which can help improve the effects of the waste problem. We have been researching for decades on this sector and are developing recycling solutions. We will be demonstrating at the K how recyclates can be processed to high value and can be re-used. We call this upcycling.
How does that work?
Dr. Michael Ruf: The basic principle of upcycling consists of making plastics recyclates a higher value product. In extrusion, additives, for instance aromatics, can be added to them. Matter can also be extracted. We can thus transform a recyclate which doesn’t smell good into one which smells like normal base material. We will show at K 2019 how a foam, decorated A-pillar for a car is created.
Are customers enquiring more about such solutions?
Dr. Michael Ruf: We notice that there is even a very great demand. Until now, it was mainly inferior products which were made from recyclate. In order to keep recyclate available for other product groups, it is necessary that they are of good quality.
Is this upcycling an expensive process?
Dr. Michael Ruf: It is a high-tech process and that isn’t free of cost. But we need this process so that we can deal with the large quantities of plastics which are no longer used. After all, there are even political requirements to increase the share of recyclate or recyclability, something, by the way, for which we are very grateful.
Is there a need for regulations to implement circular economy?
Dr. Michael Ruf: Regulations are one way. Politics define recycling quotas and increase them step by step. This generates pressure. But there’s another way. Another way is to emphasise the value of plastics and also that of plastic waste. That works, for example, via deposit systems. An empty PET bottle acquires this way a value. In some countries it is even sometimes more valuable than the content. If this is the case, it is also collected. Collection systems can be introduced by political action.
In Germany there are already collection systems and recycling. In other locations often not. How is it, for example in China, the country of your main shareholder ChemChina?
Dr. Michael Ruf: China is the most densely populated country in the world. Efforts towards environmental protection and the circular economy are visibly increasing. China started an official collecting system in the middle of this year. They are certainly very clear about the necessity of a sustainable economy. ChemChina is immensely active in investigating solutions. We are also working together on projects and bringing our expertise into them.
What concrete action can you as KraussMaffei take?
Dr. Michael Ruf: We can supply exactly those machines which make new products from collected plastics. We thus supply technology tailored exactly according to the requirements of the markets in order to facilitate there a circular economy. These machines need not be as complex as our premium products, but they are certainly just as effective. That is what we sell and manufacture in China. And that is what can be done just as well in other markets such as south-east Asia or in South America.
How much help do you give networked production systems with circular economy?
Dr. Michael Ruf: We network the skills of extrusion, injection moulding, and our new sector Digital & Service Solutions under the heading Circular Economy. This means the entire cycle can be digitally followed, for example for recording melting temperatures, printing and screw speed during extrusion. We thus enhance the entire quality control and at the same time also the efficiency.
What is from your view the best argument for a circular economy for plastics?
Dr. Michael Ruf: It is accountability. We, as a company, wish to make a contribution. And we can do that. With our technical know-how we help, for example with the manufacture from recyclates of high-quality, vital plastics products in medical technology or in the food sector. We engage in this because we are convinced that thereby we can make a contribution in eliminating one or the causes of this global problem.