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Innovating In Times Of Crisis

Innovating In Times Of Crisis

In an interview with APMEN, Laurent Blaevoet, Asia Managing Director of Novacel discusses the challenges the company faced due to the pandemic and how it innovates sustainably. 

Laurent Blaevoet

Novacel is a French company, part of Chargeurs Group, with more than 40 years of experience in the field of temporary protection of industrial surfaces, technical tapes, performance coatings and specialties machinery. Novacel is a supplier of industrial solutions in various industries (Windows, Glass, Plastics, Metals, Decorative laminates) with a strong focus in metal industries in Asia. Here, Asia Pacific Metalworking Equipment News (APMEN) spoke to Laurent Blaevoet, Asia Managing Director of Novacel to understand how the company was impacted by the pandemic and how it innovates sustainably. 

Q: What was the impact of Covid-19 for your company in Asia and your customers?

Laurent Blaevoet (LB): The pandemic has disrupted a global balanced supply chain and an economic system, which are complex and fragile. 

Our presence in different countries allowed us to deal with the Covid-19 complications using different approaches. Asia was in the front line of the pandemic; it allows us to appreciate how different countries recovered from the disruption due to the pandemic and reopened their economies.

The negative impact of the Covid-19 on our sales was very strong, in the first quarter 2020, especially in China. Most of our customers reduced theirs orders because their production lines were shut down. However, they resumed their activities equally abruptly, in April-May 2020 in order to offset the major effects in the supply chain and in the stocks pipeline. Consequently, we dealt with a strong recovery in China firstly and then to other countries.

We faced various difficulties in finding shipping, both for domestic transportation and for international shipping as most of our products are produced in Europe. Raw material supply was also a concern because the production capacities are limited and not adapted for excessive pent-up demand. This has caused an explosion of prices on most of the raw materials such as plastic resins, chemicals and natural materials for adhesives.

Q: How has Novacel adapted during this crisis?

LB: Novacel is a human-centric company, which facilitates the response to such crisis. 

Novacel was prompt to set up sanitary and contagion prevention protocols at its different locations: temperature measurement, wearing a mask, installation of terminals with hydro-alcoholic gels—measures that are today widely recommended, were implemented in Novacel as early as February 2020. 

In Europe, not only did we set up these health protocols in our factories, but also we dedicated part of our industrial production capacities to develop sanitary products for protection like hydro-alcoholic gels, antibacterial films and disinfection tunnel. More recently, Novacel even developed an anti-microbial and anti-covid spray that can last of three months on every surface, reducing the risk of contamination by contact. In France administrative authorities designated Novacel as an essential industrial activity, which permitted us to remain productive, even during the various containment plan enforced by the Government.

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TRUMPF Commits To E-Mobility And Sustainable Battery Production

TRUMPF Commits To E-Mobility And Sustainable Battery Production

The TRUMPF Group’s corporate venture capital unit has acquired a minority stake in the US start-up Battery Resourcers. Headquartered in Worcester, Massachusetts, Battery Resourcers has developed an efficient and eco-friendly process for recycling lithium-ion batteries. Unlike conventional methods that start by breaking down batteries into their separate chemical components, this new approach directly synthesizes new battery-ready cathode active materials from spent lithium-ion cells.

“The new recycling process developed by Battery Resourcers enhances the sustainability of e-mobility. It keeps scarce resources available in the circular economy, cuts the cost of manufacturing new battery cells, and saves energy in the production process,” says Dieter Kraft, Managing Director of TRUMPF Venture. The new technology recovers 97 percent of the metals contained in the battery cell, reducing cathode cost by 35 percent which compares well to manufacturing a new cell from virgin material. It also reduces production emissions by around 32 percent and energy consumption by 13 percent.

Lithium-ion batteries lie at the heart of most of today’s commercial electric vehicles. They are made from materials such as lithium, nickel, manganese and cobalt, which are expensive to mine and, in some cases, unsustainable. This is why the industry is determined to find the most efficient way to recycle battery cells.

“Our aim is to establish a sustainable value chain for lithium-ion batteries. Our technology can recycle almost all the materials used in cell production – not just for the batteries used in e-mobility, but also for the kinds of smaller batteries found in consumer electronics as well as large, industrial storage batteries regardless of their Lithium-Ion-based chemistries,” says Mike O’Kronley, CEO Battery Resourcers. Conventional recycling options are based on complex processes that mechanically crush the battery cells and chemically separate the mix of materials into individual purified constituent elements such as nickel, cobalt, manganese and lithium. The new method developed by Battery Resourcers eliminates much of this chemical processing by allowing the material mix to be turned into new active cathode material without the separation step, still resetting all memory from previous applications.

“This is a field that will be vitally important in the future. By investing in Battery Resourcers’ promising technology, we’re reinforcing our commitment to e-mobility,” says Kraft. As a key provider of high-tech manufacturing equipment, TRUMPF already plays an important role in driving forward e-mobility. The company’s systems and machines are ideally designed for tasks such as cutting sheet-metal components for battery housings and foils, and TRUMPF lasers are the perfect choice for welding battery cells, electronic contacts and electric motors.


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2021 Metals Analysis Outlook: Optimising Production Through Connectivity

2021 Metals Analysis Outlook: Optimising Production Through Connectivity

Despite being a year of huge disruption, the year 2020 has accelerated change for many companies. Find out more in this article by Hitachi High-Tech Analytical Science.

There’s always an opportunity with a crisis. Whilst 2020 was a year of huge disruption, with industries having to cope with sudden changes in demand, issues with supply and restrictions on the ability to operate, it did accelerate change for many companies. Especially when it comes to big Industry 4.0 trends including connectivity, big data, smart factories, and sustainability.

Thanks to new technologies being deployed throughout companies, IIoT (Industrial Internet of Things) is enabling the collection of more and more information every day, including from manufacturing equipment.

Today, many analysers collect data on the instrument themselves. Our Hitachi handheld analysers, for example, are able to store measurements remotely. More models also have connectivity enabled, which is the real game-changer for enabling remote, real-time decision making. This, we predict, will be a key theme for 2021.

What Do We Mean By Connectivity?

The vision is that analytical instruments will have either Wi-Fi, Ethernet, USB, or in the future, 4G/5G functionality, depending on the industrial environment. The next step would be for analysers to have the ability to share and integrate operational technology (OT) data. But today, most of the connectivity is around data sharing and automation.

Connectivity in the future could also mean that analysers could integrate to process control systems and communicate with other machines and resources. Ultimately, the end goal is to speed up processes, optimise performance, reduce waste, and ensure product quality.

Leveraging Technologies to Make Manufacturing Greener

Industry 4.0 has uncovered an opportunity for positive action when it comes to sustainability, by leveraging technologies to make processes more efficient and greener.

Foundries, for example, have for years championed the green movement by being the ultimate recyclers of raw materials. However, many are also looking at what green technology can do to help reduce material waste. Each process step should have the right solution in place: incoming inspection, melt shop floor, central lab and outgoing inspection. Connected analytical instruments can feed data to a central point, where quality issues can be easily spotted and subsequently rectified to reduce wastage and save cost.

The same concept can be applied further down the supply chain within fabrication, but equally at OEM level. Ensuring each process step has a focused solution that enables data collection can help reduce wastage and deliver greener manufacturing.

Big Data is Power

One reason information rules in the metals industry is through its ability to make manufacturing quality assurance and control processes simpler and faster. However, whilst the quantity of data available is colossal, the question is how manufacturers turn this into something of value – recognising patterns and predicting behaviour to make informed decisions.

Even if thousands of measurements are taken each day, data from the analyser can help manufacturers optimise production in a number of ways, including:

  • Increased product quality by identifying defects at the earliest stage in the process.
  • Machine failure predictions and diagnostics leading to well-timed preventative work, reduced downtime and less risk of sudden failures that are so damaging to business.
  • Reduced costs through the use of big data for predictive analytics, shortening the quality assurance process.

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Making Steel Sustainable

Making Steel Sustainable

If the Eiffel Tower was built today, it would require just 25 percent of the steel used for its construction in 1887. This is one example of the impressive development of material science. But as material science develops, so too does the need to find more efficient ways of producing important metals such as steel. Here, Mats W Lundberg, sustainable business manager at Sandvik Materials Technology, explores some of ways to sustainably manufacture steel.  

Steel’s central role in the development of our society means that those working in the industry have a special responsibility to contribute towards its sustainability.

In March 2013, the steel industry in Sweden agreed on a common industry-wide vision: “Steel shapes a better future”. This vision implies three undertakings — leading technical development, nurturing creative individuals and creating environmental benefits. So, what is the industry doing to achieve this?

One initiative to reduce the environmental impact of the steel industry involves cutting out carbon dioxide (CO2) from steel production altogether. By replacing the coking coal that is traditionally needed for ore-based steel making with green hydrogen produced from fossil-free electricity, manufacturers are able to produce steel with virtually no carbon footprint.

When the hydrogen reacts with the oxygen in the iron ore, the result is water vapour, rather than CO2, and the hydrogen itself can be produced sustainably using renewable sources.

Another method to increase steel’s sustainability focuses on material that has already been produced. Global climate targets for 2030 include at least a 40 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from 1990’s levels, a 32 percent share for renewable energy and a 32.5 percent improvement in energy efficiency. If we’re to meet these targets and continue on the path towards a greener future, we must also consider how we manage steel that already exists in the value chain.

Delivering sustainability needs to involve a lifecycle approach that breaks away from the ‘make-take-dispose’ linear economy and towards a circular way of managing resources.

Steel is 100 percent recyclable and can be reused over and over again to create new products in a closed material loop, with around three quarters of all steel products ever made still in use today. Think about it  —  the iconic Sydney Harbour Bridge has been carrying road and rail traffic since 1932, and there are no plans to send this bridge to the scrap heap any time soon.

Recycled steel maintains the inherent properties of original steel and is the most recycled material in the world. Since October 2019, Sandvik has been providing its customers with the exact figure of the amount of recycled steel per product on our Materials Certificates. Already today, the products manufactured in our steel mill consist of an average of 82 percent recycled material.

Our long term goal is to become more than 90 percent circular by 2030 in our own manufacturing system, and to drive the shift to more circular business models and use of resources.

Furthermore, using hydrogen in steel production could drastically alter the properties of the finished product. As the reduction agent is changed to hydrogen, the iron ore is no longer smelted in the same way and will not produce a replica result. To deliver a product that is consistent with the steel we have been using for over 150 years, it is more logical to use what we already have.

Materials technology has advanced massively since the Eiffel Tower’s construction. For developments in materials such as steel to align with our efforts to make industry more sustainable, we must not only consider how we create the product in the first place, but also how we manage the volume of steel that already exists in our society.


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