Small Parts – Big Impact.
As part of the 'design for environment' process – environmentally sound product development - concrete targets for the use of recycled materials are set in the performance specifications of each model series. For example, 72 components with a total weight of 54.4 kilograms could be made from high-quality recycled plastics in the current Mercedes-Benz E-Class. Since 2014, even the smallest series parts have contributed to environmentally sound production.
Recycled materials are recycled plastics that come in whole or in part from processed production waste or old materials. Thanks to a reduction in the extraction and processing of raw materials, as well as shorter transport distances, CO2 emissions and costs can be cut. Previously, production at Mercedes-Benz replaced only larger parts, such as wheel arch covers, with recycled materials. It was high time, then, for smaller parts to make the change, thought Boze Mrsic and Alexandra Krieger, employees in R&D for Mercedes-Benz Cars. The result was a reduction of about 1,000 tons of CO2 per year.
Ms. Krieger, Mr. Mrsic, in the last four years you worked, among other things, on making small parts from recycled materials. What are “small parts”?
When we talk about small parts, we are primarily talking about fasteners such as bolts or nuts, but also about small plastic parts such as cable ties, clips or the like.
What is the result of the change?
By making certain small parts from recycled materials, Daimler can now reduce its CO2 emissions by nearly 1,000 tons a year. In addition, we were able to cut the parts costs by up to 20% by switching to the new eco-friendly manufacturing process.
That’s a great accomplishment and it sounds like a major project.
How did you approach it?
First and foremost, we conducted a feasibility study to get an initial feel for what the chances are for introducing recycled materials also for small parts. In this area, we had two company partners, Tucker GmbH and Illinois Tool Works Inc. (ITW), who already have a lot of experience in the production of recycled materials and furthermore have been development partners of our company for many years.
We first started with a pilot project that focused on the most promising small parts that were suitable for being switched over to recycled materials. We decided on two plastic nuts from Tucker, which we were able to integrate into the production model series after extensive material and functional testing. After successful conclusion of the pilot phase, we gradually switched over another 17 small parts from the product groups line fasteners (e.g. for brake and air conditioning lines), plastic nuts, and jacking points.
What was your biggest challenge?
Of course, the vehicle production could not be jeopardized in any way – neither with regard to the production time nor the quality. To be as safe as possible in this regard, we additionally commissioned an external institute to confirm the quality of the recyclate before being used in series production.
Moreover, all small parts made from recycled materials are labeled with a center mark that lets us identify at any time during the production process whether it is a recycled material. For every small part that we switched over, we approved both the original part as a well as the part made from recycled material to always have a fallback solution in our back pocket.
What model series use the small parts made from recycled materials?
They are installed in all Mercedes-Benz passenger vehicles. Especially the cross-range use generates the biggest impact with regard to carbon footprint and parts costs.
“Installed in all passenger vehicles” sounds like a successfully concluded project. Or is there more to come?
Yes, we’ve successfully completed the project. However, we and our suppliers are always working on making other parts for series production from recycled materials in an environmentally sound way. For instance, we review all new developments to see if the plastic small parts can be made from recycled materials.