At this year’s edition, sustainability was one of the key words. With their position at the heart of automotive, aerospace and energy industries, machine tool manufacturers are under increasing pressure to provide sustainable solutions. From mobile phones to vehicle dashboard elements, machining has been involved in one way or another. Yet many items are still produced using old fashioned, polluting techniques.
Lasers replace chemical etching
But new, low-carbon technologies now make environmentally-sensitive production possible. Swiss-based machine tool specialists Georg Fischer Machining Solutions uses laser mold texturing technology, one of the processes that greens up machining.
From an entry-level three-axis machine to a high-end five-axis model with a travel path of 4000 x 3000 mm, these laser machine tools texturize, engrave, mark and label molds and metals, in both 2D and 3D geometries, with none of the residues of chemical etching.
“If you want to make a textured mold, such as for a mobile phone case, in the past the only way to do this was by using chemical etching involving acids,” explains Adrien Rodrigues, Laser Product Manager at GF Machining Solutions. “This is very polluting, as these chemicals have to be disposed of,” continues Rodrigues. “With laser texturing you can do the same job with none of this pollution, as well as limit the mistakes caused by human intervention.”
Their laser texturing machine tools are used by diverse industries, including in the automotive, telecommunications and packaging sectors. “If you look at a car, nearly all the dashboard is from textured molds, so it is a process that is widespread, and if these molds are textured using chemicals, this is bad for the environment,” says Rodrigues.
Customers can use 3D CAD software to create their molds and textures, and the machine will create a perfect textured mold. “It is premium technology,” says Rodrigues. So chemical etching is still widely used because not everybody can afford to use lasers, but I think prices will fall eventually.”
This sort of sustainable technology has enabled GF Machining Solution to join the Blue Competence Machine Tools Initiative, run by CECIMO, the European Association of Machine Tool Industries. “The initiative enables member companies to effectively communicate their latest technologies and energy-efficient solutions through the common Blue Competence platform,” says Emir Demircan, Project Manager at CECIMO.
Among those solutions are “avoidance or shortening of start-up and warm-up phases, development of energy-saving stand-by concepts, provision for recovering or re-using energy or waste heat and monitoring systems to detect leaks, losses of gas and fluids and consumables,” says Demircan.
Blue Competence has attracted over 400 companies since its launch in February 2012. All invest heavily to optimize environmental performance in production, products and business practices.