Bystronic’s Christoph Rüttimann on integrating sustainability into business activities
Industry 4.0 has significantly changed the focus of industrial companies worldwide. In our own business, Industry 4.0 has driven automation and digitalisation forward. We have shifted from being perceived as a supplier of laser-cutting and bending systems for the sheet metal processing sector to becoming a leading one-stop shop for advanced, seamlessly integrated production lines comprising smart machines, robots, and automation solutions, rapidly driving forward our vision of the smart factory. Our company’s success no longer rests on individual machines, but on smart solutions working together to create customised production lines that can be operated both fully and semi-autonomously, with intuitive programming and operation allowing even inexperienced users to rapidly become experts. Now, there is another paradigm shift on the horizon: Industry 5.0. Far from being just another buzzword, Industry 5.0 is based on a vision that sets its sights above and beyond efficiency and productivity, and reinforces the role and the contribution of industry to society. It places the wellbeing of the worker at the center of the production process and uses new technologies to facilitate prosperity that goes beyond jobs and growth, while acknowledging and respecting our planet’s limited resources. In short, Industry 5.0 is an approach that is driven by purpose and values and based on a holistic, sustainable approach. It expands on the “conventional” Industry 4.0 approach by expressly focusing on research, innovation, and co-creation to drive forward the transition to a sustainable, human-centric, and resilient industry. To me, the mindset underlying Industry 5.0 goes far beyond the efforts many companies are already making, such as cutting emissions and water consumption and streamlining the supply chain. One of my main responsibilities as Bystronic’s CTO is to ensure we successfully take this step by embedding sustainability in all our processes and creating products and solutions that are geared towards the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. This echoes what Bill Gates wrote in connection with last year’s Climate Change Conference (COP): “Before the last major COP meeting in 2015, innovation was barely on the climate agenda. Now it is taking center stage. Shifting the focus to inventing clean technologies is the only way the world can cut greenhouse gas emissions from roughly 51 billion tonnes per year to zero by 2050.” For us, this means ensuring sustainability is at the core of all our products. Compared to conventional CO₂ laser cutting machines, Bystronic’s fiber laser systems achieve significantly higher energy efficiency: they generate up to three times the laser output with the same electricity consumption. Our energy-efficient laser cutting systems have enabled the AL-KO Vehicle Technology Group to reduce their cutting times by 50 percent while simultaneously achieving a significantly higher and automated material throughput. AL-KO estimates that the resulting energy savings have reduced their annual carbon emissions by 500 metric tons, which is roughly equivalent to the emissions of 90,000 cars in one day. It also means building intelligence into our products, so they minimise waste. When generating cutting plans, our software applies advanced nesting methods to make optimal use of the raw material. In addition, our advanced nesting also saves energy by creating more efficient cutting paths and minimising non-productive movements of the cutting head. And the Energy Saver feature of our press brakes functions in a similar way to the automatic start-stop systems in cars: the main engine only runs when the machine is actually in operation. This reduces the energy consumption of our bending machines by at least 60 percent thanks to servo hydraulic cylinders. Making sustainability an integral part of our products also means ensuring they become part of the circular economy. We have a long tradition of designing robust machines and offering high-quality servicing to ensure they can be operated reliably around the clock for ten or even twenty years and more, proving how world-class quality combats the throw-away mentality. To take this one step further, we even repurchase used systems from our customers and comprehensively overhaul and modernise them, thus further extending the service life of our machines and conserving both the environment and our customers’ finances. Above all, Industry 5.0 means building and nourishing a sustainable ecosystem. We are already involved in several initiatives that pursue this goal, such as the MassChallenge, which supports startups that focus on sustainability by offering a four-month program comprising a learning curriculum, mentorship, and exhibition events to help them open up avenues of growth, funding, and third-party collaboration. To encourage more creativity in this area, we recently co-hosted our first sustainability ideation co-creation session with SDGx, a sustainability innovation company focusing on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Last but not least, we invest in innovative sustainable technologies: With our venture program, we back promising startups in relevant fields, such as AI, virtual reality, digital twin technology, and other technologies with the potential to disrupt unsustainable industry practices. If we are to achieve the SDGs by 2030, business and industry need to take action, not soon but now. I believe innovation, R&D, and creative thinking - an Industry 5.0 mindset - will be the key to success as humankind takes on this big challenge.