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‘Green machines’ as the next industrial revolution

Europe led the way in the use of manufacturing machines that changed the world with the industrial revolution. Now, EU-funded researchers have completed an ambitious initiative for modernisation of the entire field of production machines that once again promises to revolutionise the whole sector.

Industrial Technologies

‘Next generation production systems’ (NEXT) was one of the biggest projects undertaken in the European production machinery sector, involving 25 partners, 80 institutions and a team of 60 experts in various related fields. The team set goals for all aspects of the value chain, from using recycled materials for production of the machines themselves to developing a new business paradigm for customer and machine builder partnerships throughout the life-cycle of a machine. Specifically, the team developed a new era of ‘green machines’ that use less resources in the manufacturing process, consume less energy and water during operation, and are designed to be dismantled and recycled at the end of their useful lifespans. The researchers also tackled the need for enhanced process automation. The Next project’s automatic recognition systems enable a worker to set up a machine for working on a new part in a fraction of the time usually required. Autonomous milling machines with self-monitoring and self-correct capabilities are now close to market. The ultimate goal for enhancing competitiveness is enhancing performance of the machines themselves. To this end, the researchers also used lightweight materials that enable the machines to work faster and with less wear, thus enhancing output and lifespan. Finally, the consortium developed a new business paradigm for the customer-machine builder relationship, transforming it into a long-term partnership based on sharing risks and increasing mutual benefits. While large enterprises are obvious benefactors, the consortium set up a small and medium-sized enterprises (SME) office to enhance information dissemination to and participation by SMEs in the production machines revolution. In summary, the extremely ambitious NEXT project made significant contributions to manufacture and use of production machines, providing substantial reduction of environmental impact as well as enhanced machine performance via automation and new materials usage. The ‘green machines’ produced by the project may be the beginnings of the next machine revolution, providing a major competitive edge to Europe in a huge global market.

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