The EU member states have set themselves the goal of achieving climate neutrality by 2050 – the so-called “European Green Deal”. One component of this deal is the Ecodesign Regulation for sustainable products and the introduction of a digital product passport (DPP). As a result, the issue of transparency and traceability of products as well as materials is present at the European level. Even though the legislative process for this has not yet been completed, the mechanical and plant engineering sector will be indirectly affected in the short term according to the current proposal and will have direct points of contact in the medium term.
On February 23, 2023, ProduktionNRW has organized a virtual information event for the mechanical and plant engineering industry in North Rhine-Westphalia to provide information on the upcoming sustainable product initiatives around the digital product passport and to present exclusive insights on the VDMA guide “Circular Business Models”.
New product requirements and digital product passport
Frederike Krebs, speaker from the VDMA European Office, first addressed the Ecodesign Regulation for Sustainable Products (ESPR). The current directive is considered the main instrument for EU recycled products and has so far focused on energy consumption-relevant end products such as washing machines and refrigerators or pumps and electric motors from the B2B sector. In the future, all energy-related and non-energy-related products will be regulated under the new regulation. In this context, products are to be assessed throughout their entire life cycle with the aim, for example, of achieving better durability, reusability and/or reparability.
To achieve this goal, the digital product passport (DPP) will also be introduced to enable the structured collection of product-related data. This data should then be viewable via a data carrier, for example a QR code – company and business secrets are not viewable through this. For mechanical and plant engineering, this offers the opportunity to obtain greater transparency about their own products: For example, it will then be possible to see where a product is at the end of its life cycle or which components are particularly susceptible to wear. According to the EU, the first products will be regulated under the new Ecodesign Regulation and with a DPP for 2026/27.
In the discussion that followed, the main focus was on how the mechanical and plant engineering sector would be affected. It was emphasized that at the moment mainly end products are considered. However, the supply chain may be indirectly affected, for example if information on the carbon footprint is requested. Even if intermediate products are also to be included in the DPP in the long term, questions regarding possible double regulation (for example through the Supply Chain Act) are still unresolved here. Nevertheless, it is recommended that the mechanical and plant engineering sector should deal with the topic in a timely manner.
Guide to circular business models
Dr. Holger Berg, deputy head of department and co-head of the Digital Transformation research area at the Wuppertal Institute, then presented the first approaches of the VDMA guide to circular business models – which is being developed in collaboration with the Wuppertal Institute and companies from the mechanical and plant engineering sector. The guide is intended to facilitate the entry of small and medium-sized companies from the manufacturing sector in particular into the circular economy. In relation to the individual aspects of the Circular Economy, practical business examples are presented to illustrate the implementation and benefits.
In the concluding discussion, the main question was whether the additional regulatory measures, such as the DPP, would endanger Europe as a business location. Additional, bureaucratic requirements make production more expensive and therefore less competitive. This was countered by the fact that further regulatory measures in this area are being considered and will be launched worldwide, for example in Japan or China. The presumed competitive disadvantage is therefore not comprehensive. On the contrary, there are indications that European manufacturing companies can also achieve competitive advantages by aligning their business model in a sustainable manner at an early stage.
- European consultation on product priorities
- Further information on the Ecodesign Regulation
- First steps to carbon footprint calculation
- Innovation magazine “Innovations made in NRW – Circular Economy
- The digital product passport – opportunities and risks
The event was offered by ProduktionNRW. ProduktionNRW is the cluster of mechanical engineering and production technology in North Rhine-Westphalia and is run by VDMA NRW. ProduktionNRW sees itself as a platform to connect, inform and market companies, institutions and networks among each other and along the value chain. Significant parts of the services provided by ProduktionNRW are funded by the Ministry of Economic Affairs, Industry, Climate Protection and Energy of the State of North Rhine-Westphalia.