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Opportunities of the circular economy for mechanical and plant engineering

Current challenges such as climate change, automation and digitalization require a fundamental transformation of our society and economy. The mechanical and plant engineering sector plays a decisive role in this. In order to make the solution approaches from North Rhine-Westphalia visible, ProduktionNRW is establishing the event series “Enablers and pioneers: Mechanical engineering shapes the transformation”.

Enablers and pioneers:Circular Economy in mechanical engineering

On June 5, 2024, the kick-off event “Enablers and pioneers: Circular Economy in mechanical engineering” took place at WILO SE in Dortmund. Silke Krebs, State Secretary in the Ministry of Economic Affairs, Industry, Climate Protection and Energy of the State of North Rhine-Westphalia, Georg Weber, Chief Technology Officer at WILO SE, and Wolf D. Meier-Scheuven, Cluster Spokesman ProduktionNRW, gave welcoming speeches at the opening of the event series and emphasized the importance of the event series. The kick-off event focused on selected business models of the circular economy, also known as the circular economy.

Mechanical engineering as an enabler of transformation

Christian Böllhoff, Managing Partner of Prognos AG, addressed the various forms of transformation for society and industry. He explained that multiple, interacting transformation topics are increasing and innovation cycles are being accelerated by the use of artificial intelligence, among other things. Manufacturing companies therefore need more agility in order to be able to react appropriately to the transformations.

Although the mechanical and plant engineering sector is a global leader, its lead is shrinking – Germany is losing ground as a research location in particular, which is impacting its innovative strength. Nevertheless, mechanical and plant engineering can act as an enabler for various transformation topics in numerous areas, such as Industry 4.0, energy-efficient production processes and the circular economy. The circular economy in particular offers great potential, as pressure for change has always promoted innovation.

Circular economy: potential, status quo and transformation

Prof. Dr. Henning Wilts, Head of the Circular Economy Department at the Wuppertal Institute for Climate, Environment and Energy, then explained the importance of the circular economy for mechanical and plant engineering.

The aim of the circular economy is to preserve the value and benefits of raw materials and products for as long as possible. This allows the use of new raw materials and the generation of emissions to be minimized. The circular transformation offers significant potential for mechanical and plant engineering in particular: core concepts of the circular economy, such as high product quality, service-oriented offerings and long product lifetimes, are already important factors in the industry.

In addition, the industry provides important technologies for the transformation in other sectors of the economy, giving it a significant enabler role. In order to identify new circular business models, the so-called 10-R concept describes specific strategies for recycling and increasing resource efficiency.

Practical examples of the circular economy in mechanical and plant engineering

Thomas Fetting, Group Director Analysis, Repair & Recycling at WILO SE, began by emphasizing that WILO SE has identified circular business models due to its dependence on exports of rare earths, among other things. In order to gain further access to rare earths, WILO SE has worked out a return system for its own products with craftsmen and wholesalers. This involves reporting the dismantled old pumps so that they can then be collected and recycled independently – a business model with considerable revenue, savings and turnover for WILO SE.

Lena Naumann, Head of the chainge division at igus GmbH, began by explaining that igus, as a plastics processing and manufacturing company, is very keen to make the best possible contribution to the sustainable use and resource-conserving application of plastics. To do justice to this approach, igus has established chainge, among other things. Chainge serves as a digital platform to make the recycling of technical and industrial plastics particularly easy. In addition to the recycling of technical plastics, it is also possible to buy and sell recyclates. igus also uses recyclates for its own production via this platform and has thus been able to significantly reduce CO2 emissions, for example.

Maik Krüger, Head of Business Development at Kampf GmbH, started with the loss of value of plastic waste. The main reason why this waste loses value is because the necessary information for processing is missing. The provision of data along the product life cycle is the key to the circular economy. In order to achieve this transparency, R-Cycle was established by various partners along the value chain. R-Cycle acts as a digital product passport to map recycling, product and process data. Kampf uses R-Cycle for the production of its own films: the additional information ensures the quality of its own products, for example.

Panel discussion: Business models of circular transformation

In the final panel, Dr. Kirsten Bender, Head of Department, Ministry of Economic Affairs, Industry, Climate Protection and Energy of the State of North Rhine-Westphalia, Prof. Dr.-Ing. Wolfgang Boos, Managing Director of FIR e.V. at RWTH Aachen University and Thomas Fetting discussed the challenges and opportunities of circular transformation.

Dr. Kirsten Bender emphasized the political activities at state level, such as the development of a new NRW Circular Economy Act, in order to strengthen NRW as a business location. Prof. Wolfgang Boos, on the other hand, presented his own research approach to a value-enhancing circular economy using selected examples. This approach is necessary in order to achieve added value through circularity.

Thomas Fetting concluded by motivating the company representatives present, who had not yet identified any circular business models, to first identify tangible opportunities such as the advantages of being independent of raw materials in-house – these provide an “aha” effect and make it easier to get started with circularity.


The potential of new circular economy business models for mechanical and plant engineering was highlighted at the kick-off event. Among other things, this is intended to sensitize other mechanical engineering companies that have not yet identified transformation business models to the urgency and solution of the challenges.

In order to comprehensively cover the diverse, interconnected transformation topics, the event series “Enablers and pioneers: mechanical engineering shapes the transformation” will also cover other topics such as carbon management, hydrogen, energy efficiency and the role of digitalization.

The aim of the series is to position companies from the mechanical and plant engineering sector in North Rhine-Westphalia with their solutions and business models as a key industry in various transformation areas. In addition, other mechanical engineering companies and other companies along the value chain are encouraged to anticipate the opportunities of transformation for their own business model.


The event series is offered by ProduktionNRW. ProduktionNRW is the cluster for mechanical engineering and production technology in North Rhine-Westphalia and is organized by VDMA NRW. ProduktionNRW sees itself as a platform for networking, informing and marketing companies, institutions and networks with 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.

Further information

Enabler and pioneer: Mechanical engineering is shapingthe transformation