For igus, becoming carbon neutral means being opposite from everyone

FINAL EXAM: Jan Hennecke, igus inc.’s product manager of low-cost innovation, tests out a product for quality at the East Providence facility. 
FINAL EXAM: Jan Hennecke, igus inc.’s product manager of low-cost innovation, tests out a product for quality at the East Providence facility. 

PBN 2023 Manufacturing Awards

FOR FELIX BROCKMEYER, CEO and president of igus inc., stepping into his role at the East Providence-based manufacturer 12 months ago was “love at first sight.”

Even though the organization is not small – with global outposts in 34 countries – Brockmeyer was drawn to the way the company operates with small, independent teams whose focus is to help customers with its products.

“If you step into our facilities, there is a transparent, focused, creative atmosphere around – and a lot of smiles,” Brockmeyer said. “We don’t focus on internal hierarchy and status. We are all the same and we are all here to service our customers.”

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Brockmeyer says organizations that waste a lot of energy on internal topics tend to become very slow and bureaucratic. Igus, he says, tries to be the opposite.

Igus inc. is the U.S. headquarters of igus, based in Cologne, Germany. Igus manufactures robotics, motion-related products, flexible cables and plastic bearings that are used in a variety of industries across aerospace, automotive and medical settings. Some of igus’ products include Robolink Robotic components, Xiros plastic ball bearings, energy chains and DryLin linear systems.

For those unfamiliar with these products, Brockmeyer says think about any moving part, such as a car seat or door, a lawn mower, a robot, any rotating or sliding element on machines.

“Behind many of these, you can find igus-engineered motion plastics that are self-lubricating, clean, quiet and lightweight,” Brockmeyer said.

Plus, igus’ cables are specifically engineered to be bent and moved millions of times to curtail cables from being curled up, brittle, stiff or all tangled up after being rolled up excessively over time, Brockmeyer says.

Igus has also made efforts to reduce the environmental impact of its manufacturing process. In 2019, the company launched its “chainge” program to address plastic waste and promote sustainability and circular economy principles. Michael Rielly, igus’ head of public relations, says the initiative encourages its customers to return igus products that have already been used or are defective. The company, he says, then recycles them to create new plastic components, producing new plastics with the recycled materials.

“The returned plastic items are crushed, melted down and reprocessed into raw material called ‘regranulate’ that can be used to manufacture new plastic components,” Rielly said. “This closes the product lifecycle loop and reduces waste.”

In 2022, the company expanded the “chainge” program so that customers can select from hundreds of 100% recycled plastic materials that were created as a part of the program. Additionally, igus became ISO 14001 certified in 2004. Rielly says this worldwide certification demonstrates the company’s leadership in environmental management in the polymer-bearing industry and provides assurance to customers of the company’s commitment to improving sustainability performance. The Cologne headquarters is currently working to become similarly certified, Rielly says.

The igus team has been busy in 2023. Brockmeyer says the company is in detailed design stages to expand its Rhode Island facility, with a goal of being carbon neutral by 2025. In 2021, igus achieved 31.2% less carbon dioxide emissions than during the previous year. The company also switched to green electricity and climate-neutral gas that year, which will play a key role in achieving the 2025 goal.

“We also want to minimize [the] need for electricity, use as much daylight as possible, upgrade existing equipment to be low energy consuming and use residual machine heat to supplement our heating,” Brockmeyer said.

To some, it may seem jarring to equate a plastics manufacturing company with sustainable environmental practices, but Brockmeyer says igus cannot deny that it is a plastics product manufacturer. And that, he says, is where igus’ determination to green manufacturing comes in.

“Some plastics have a bad reputation and for many years have and are contributing to waste and ecological impact,” Brockmeyer said. “But when you look in detail [about] what we at igus are doing, we truly have the opportunity to set a positive and hopefully copyable example [of] how it can be different.”

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