The Annual Seminar of the Tekes Functional Materials Programme arranged by Spinverse in Helsinki on October 20th, 2010 gathered together the Finnish Materials Society. Among several discussion themes, the importance of life-cycle thinking and material and energy efficiency was raised up as a topic connecting the participants of several branches of industry and academia. Including these aspects already as part of the research and development phase is becoming more and more crucial for the competitiveness of the industry.
The product development has conventionally put the focus tightly on the final product. But as the environmental regulations and competition become all the time tougher, more attention must be paid to the whole value chain, including all raw material streams, energy consumption in different stages of production and use, and of course the final treatment. Today, understanding and managing all these steps is crucial for any company.
“Especially when harmful materials or scarce resources are used, even weak market signals must be seriously regarded. A topic nobody may ask today might be a mandatory provision tomorrow. The requirements regarding environmental issues may change rapidly, and the winner is the one responding to these matters fastest”, says Programme Coordinator Markku Heino from Spinverse Ltd.
Life-cycle analyses (LCA) with all their multidimensional aspects may seem demanding and difficult to implement. The Finnish Environment Institute (SYKE) with its research collaborators is currently working on a project called FINLCA aiming to clarify the LCA methodologies and make it easier for Finnish companies to utilize them in practice. However, to keep it simple, one can get started also without taking the ISO standards into account:
“It is essential to scan which materials are used, where energy is needed and what to do with the waste. Do not consider only your own product but build the overall picture – how and where the bigger product entity is produced and how it is used. Especially in the case of small and medium enterprises the exchange of information with other companies is important and helps a lot”, says CTO Jatta Jussila-Suokas from Cleen Ltd.
Metso found a development focus in substitution of lead
Metso is currently implementing life-cycle thinking with a pilot project concerning the whole company. The aim of the project is to map the fabrication, utilization and the end-use of the selected products. The project includes modeling of the fabrication processes, material and energy streams, as well as challenging the subcontractors to become involved as well. The use of bronze materials with a high lead content in slide bearings has been selected as one of the most important development areas. The EU legislations related to lead are constantly being tightened as its consumption causes both environmental hazard and risks for employees during the manufacturing phase, utilization and disposal.
However, replacement of lead-based material is not straightforward in these highly demanding bearing applications as the currently available alternative solutions do not meet the required performance. “Therefore Metso has set-up a dedicated R&D project within the Functional Materials Programme to replace lead in slide bearings with a more environmentally benign material of similar functional characteristics”, says General Manager Marke Kallio from Metso Materials Technology.
Functional Materials Programme
The Functional Materials Programme (2007-2013) aims to develop new applications and competitive advantage through materials technology for Finnish industry. The main research areas of the programme are understanding materials and their features, tailoring functionality, and the control, production, application and disposal of materials. The total funding of the programme is about 205 M€ of which Tekes accounts for 84 M. Currently the programme consists of 34 university projects and 33 company driven projects. Companies operating in Finland can apply for funding at any time. Research organizations may apply funding on specific application periods.