The print and paper industry’s contribution to sustainable transformation -- drupa - May 28 to June 7, 2024 - Messe Düsseldorf

The print and paper industry’s contribution to sustainable transformation

Interview with Tim Sterbak, Managing Director IST Metz GmbH & Co. KG

Paper and print products will still be needed over the coming decades in many areas of daily living – the industry has a future. However, there is massive pressure to change, driven by two factors above all: digitalisation and sustainability. Companies are thus considering many different technologies.

Before the start of drupa, the German industrial association VDMA Printing and Paper Technology asked its members about their plans, solutions and strategies on their way to a circular economy. IST METZ GmbH & Co. KG from Nürtingen, which will also be present at drupa, is setting a good example in terms of sustainable transformation. As a globally leading supplier of UV systems for quick hardening and drying of colours, varnishes and adhesives, the company has a strong focus on energy efficiency. In this interview, Managing Director Tim Sterbak talks about how simulations, life cycle analyses and intelligent control systems can help to unearth efficiency potentials.

Until the middle of the century, the leading industrial nations want a climate-neutral economy. From your point of view, is this a realistic goal?

“This is a realistic goal – but a very ambitious and hard to reach. At the same time there is no alternative to driving decarbonisation forward quickly. Goals should be ambitious and achievable – and create the ability to plan ahead through clear roadmaps with milestones of which the achievement is monitored. In order to reach climate neutrality until 2050, all sectors must contribute. Globally agreed upon strategies are of central importance, too. It is a herculean task which we all have to approach together and to which we as IST will contribute our share.”

What do you do to minimise the need for energy of your production?

“We are following a varied approach to this issue. The scope ranges from energy-efficient LED lighting, optimising building skins to reduce heat loss, heating and air conditioning technology, up to heat recovery and utilisation of waste heat, which is generated regularly because we test every UV system intensively before delivering it to our customers. During these test runs we also look at process optimisation and can save a lot of energy by changing cycles. And currently, we are investing in photovoltaics. Combined with our storage solutions, we want to be able to meet up to 70 percent of our electricity needs this way. And last but not least, an energy management system creates transparency. Even if we, as an assembly operation, have hardly any high-energy processes apart from our product tests, we do see the potential to reduce our energy costs significantly. We are also working towards certification according to the environmental standard ISO 14001, because this might become a condition for working together with OEM customers in the future."

How do you support your customers in using energy more efficiently in their production?

“Hardening and drying colours, varnishes and adhesives using light in the ultraviolet (UV) or infrared (IR) spectrum is already much more energy efficient than, for example, gas-driven drying technology. This advantage is magnified if instead of average lamps you use highly efficient UV light emitting diodes (LEDs). In the meantime, before we design the systems we carry out energy audits at the customer’s site, run simulations and life cycle analyses and determine the total cost of ownership in order to make the proportion of energy costs and the advantages of an adaptive system design transparent. The goal is always to reach the optimum radiation performance per surface for each customer’s tasks, using simulations and digital 3D models, regardless of whether the customer uses lamps or LEDs. The design of optics, cooling performance, distances or even dimming the lights or focused activation and deactivation of individual LEDs in an array gives us many ways to directly influence energy needs – and to adapt our control systems for optimum quality at maximum output, for the actual speed of the process and the necessary amount of drying. It is important to work together with the users from the start. Therefore we often hold trainings before start-up, in order to raise the awareness of machinists for the influence of drying parameters on energy needs. Lastly, the goal is to integrate all aspects into an overall view, from the way employees behave to electricity consumption to saving inert gasses through faster drying processes, where these are used – all for an optimum system trigger.”

What role does energy efficiency play in your research and development?

“Topics like life cycle analysis, the choice of materials with respect to their potential recovery from decommissioned lamps, or reusable components, or the fact that our products are easy to maintain and to repair, or their packaging, are all gaining importance. We produce our own lamps together with our sister company eta plus and together we are working on true circular concepts. A lot of things are still just beginning. But we see the potential and this is why we systematically drive those developments forward. But, in the past we also experienced how seemingly revolutionary innovations were met with a weak response by the market. Among them was a system that needed 30 percent less energy to guarantee the same output per surface compared to previous products. We have solutions like this, they are ready for the market, and we hope that demand will increase because energy issues and climate protection are becoming more important.”

What are your wishes concerning lawmakers on the way to climate neutrality?

“Clear, ambitious and above all calculable climate goals. The way there must have a basis in science – and it must be enforceable. In principle, what we need is normal project management with clear milestones, which are monitored and if necessary also pushed through countermeasures and reward systems. Transparency is important for everyone involved and companies need predictability. All this can only be successful, if measures are agreed upon internationally. Apart from this, we need to forcefully deal with adapting to the effects of climate change, in order to increase the resilience of our infrastructure, our supply, industry and society. In light of the global dimension, it will depend on projects with a positive outward image to win over as many people as possible. If a country like Denmark achieves its ambitious climate protection goals, then this creates trust in their feasibility. We need such role models and proof of feasibility at all levels. Mechanical engineering and plant construction can provide a significant contribution.”

What can the print and paper industry contribute to minimise the carbon footprint of packaging and other printed products? This question is the central focus of touchpoint sustainability at drupa 2024 in Hall 14, Booth D60. 

The special forum hosted by the industrial association VDMA Print and Paper Technology offers a comprehensive look across the industry, including different examples of best practice and a varied stage programme. Without depending on any business company, the forum demonstrates what is already possible today, where the industry is headed, and that companies also profit from investments in sustainability.

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