Why Recycling has Become a PET Topic in the Netherlands – Echotect Uses Autodesk Design Software to Drive Innovative Plastics Recycling

Benelux is among the most heavily industrialised and densely populated regions in the Western world and has a highly developed waste management and recycling sector. The Netherlands, in particular, is widely known as an environmentally conscious nation and has a thriving recycling industry. In the past, however, plastics have been among the least recycled materials in the country. A lack of products being developed using recycled plastics and a shortage of applications generally led inevitably to a lack of demand for recycled plastic material.

This picture is changing. The consumption of plastics is increasing swiftly, with the material growing in popularity in a broad range of manufacturing industries including corrugated paper coating, waterproof shipping containers and other food packaging and garden plastic products such as chairs and fences. .

Increasing demand for plastic packaging, primarily from developing economies; ever tougher recycling targets and pressure to make better use of finite resources is also driving the increase in plastic recycling. The depletion of the ozone layer, increases in harmful gas emissions and growing concern about waste management have further fuelled the market.

To succeed in the competitive recycling sector, manufacturers need to develop innovative solutions that drive sales and profitability. And to do this, they need high-quality design and digital prototyping solutions from software suppliers like Autodesk to enable them to achieve their goals as cost-effectively as possible.

Supporting Innovation

Refillable polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles are one of the fastest-growing and most widely-used forms of plastics packaging in Europe. The most recent data from the European PET bottle recycling association, Petcore, showed that PET bottle recycling exceeded 48 percent last year, representing 1.4m tonnes of post-sorted PET resin.

This is resulting in a growing post-consumer waste problem. While bottles can be reused several times (for various purposes, including for use in school projects and for solar water disinfection, they do eventually degrade which means that they typically end up either being incinerated or in landfill sites.

This presents a significant challenge to the Netherlands to find pioneering ways of reusing the millions of plastic bottles discarded every year– and innovative design methodologies are needed to support new approaches.

Breakthrough for PET Recycling

Nine years ago, Shell, a global group of energy and petrochemicals companies, based in the Netherlands, embarked on a pioneering research programme to find an innovative new way of recycling PET as an alternative to standard plastic recycling techniques.

The result was Echotect, an initiative from the research laboratories of Shell and commercialised by venture capital company Kenda Capital and after five years of development and investment, the emergence of a brand new technology which offers a cost-effective, recyclable and environmentally sustainable alternative to engineered stone.

Combining quartz, marble and other aggregates with recycled PET, this new technology is expected to revolutionise the engineered stone market, providing manufacturers and consumers with an eco-friendly alternative which meets or surpasses the performance characteristics of traditional products. The new technology has now been fully commissioned following a series of comprehensive tests at Echotect’s purpose-built manufacturing facility in Switzerland.

“The end product is almost indistinguishable from natural stone,” says CEO Stephen Eastwood, “expect that this material is non-porous and 100 per cent recyclable. Our process is non-chemical and easily retro-fitted, making it a commercially attractive choice with unrivalled green credentials. We are not only removing a significant waste product from the environment but transforming it into a thing of beauty which can be used in a wide variety of applications.”

How Design Technology Can Help

Research and development investment is, of course, critical for the development of innovative concepts and ideas, but technology to drive the development process is just as important. Increasingly, innovative recycling businesses are realising that the most effective way to turn concept into commercial reality and achieve competitive edge is by adopting digital prototyping solutions to design and optimise the recycling machines and plants. Digital design tools can help find the right processes to use and to optimise the equipment needed to carry them out.

In this context, the Autodesk Clean Tech Partner Program is providing significant support for early-stage technology companies in clean tech including firms in the plastics recycling arena that are working to solve some of the world’s most pressing environmental challenges. It provides them with digital design and engineering software worth up to 120,000 euros and/or £100,000, for a nominal fee.

For Echotect, the Autodesk program has delivered far-reaching benefits. The company has used Autodesk Inventor Digital Prototyping software to design and engineer equipment that converts shredded PET bottles into durable and sustainable materials. The company relied on AutoCAD P&ID software to create, modify and manage piping and instrumentation diagrams in the recycling plant, while deploying Autodesk Vault was essential to maintain design and engineering documentation of the project lifecycle. Autodesk Showcase software also enabled Echotect to create photorealistic 3D visualizations of how custom modules of their recycling equipment will fit into customer buildings and sites.

“Of course, a picture tells a thousand words,” adds Eastwood, “so digital prototyping is of great value to us in demonstrating the technology and its potential applications in various markets. However, we are very particular about the quality of the end result and ensuring that it does the new technology justice. For that reason, the Clean Tech program and its AutoCAD Inventor, Electrical and Mechanical package has been extremely useful in helping to communicate to our potential customer base and further develop our technology.”

Positive Prospects

With the ongoing development of the plastics recycling market in the Netherlands, clean technology companies are increasingly realising that to achieve competitive advantage they must continuously consider the use of new materials and embrace digital design and manufacturing. Both these factors have helped to drive the success of Echotect.

“We are delighted to be part of the Autodesk Clean Tech Partner Program as digital prototyping was of great importance to us in optimizing our recycling equipment,” said Stephen Eastwood, CEO of Echotect. “Autodesk Inventor and AutoCAD P&ID helped us to design, manage and modify real-time improvements to our equipment and plant, enabling us to focus on providing a high-quality finished product while reducing time to market.”

“Echotect’s alternative approach to plastic recycling has positive implications for many regions that face a growing post-consumer waste problem,” said Robert “Buzz” Kross, senior vice president, Autodesk Manufacturing Industry Group. “The company is a model of how advantageous Digital Prototyping can be to drive innovation, while saving time and money.”


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“Tide of the Future” – How Autodesk Design Software Helps IT Power Harness Energy from the Waves

This is the first of a series of posts explaining how Cleantech companies around the world are using Autodesk Design Software applications to develop their groundbreaking products.

IT Power’s Bristol-based Marine Group, a division of IT Power Ltd, is a 12-person strong marine energy team, concentrating on delivering engineering services enabling the development of wave and tidal power. The team is today using high-quality digital design software from Autodesk to help it to achieve its goals.

The marine energy sector is still in its earliest stages – some 15-20 years behind wind energy in terms of its development. The focus is on experimenting to find devices that will reliably capture energy. It is a fertile environment for creativity and innovation and it has given birth to a multitude of new approaches, concepts and ideas. This development process is critical in the ongoing push to explore the potential of wave and tidal energy as a renewable energy source both for the UK and the wider world.

IT Power is in the vanguard of marine energy innovation. This is demonstrated by its role as lead partner in an EU-funded consortium working on a project to develop an innovative tidal energy device which uses oscillating horizontal hydrofoils instead of traditional rotating blades to generate renewable energy.

This pioneering approach offers many advantages over existing tidal stream technology, maximising the area that can be swept (and hence the power captured) in a given depth of water. This makes the technology particularly suitable to shallow tidal flows, offering smaller support structures and cheaper installation costs than many competing systems.

The company’s Bristol office is the operational hub for this project. IT Power’s team is providing consultancy in engineering, project management and project development to the consortium. Critically, the company is also undertaking mechanical and structural design in order to develop the device itself.

To do this, it needs high-quality 3D digital design technology. The company’s existing CAD software did not fully meet its requirements, failing to deliver the combination of flexibility and rich functionality required for this demanding project. So when IT Power was presented with the opportunity to join the Autodesk Clean Tech Partner Program and benefit from the use of high- quality 3D design and digital prototyping software for no more than a nominal charge, it jumped at the opportunity.

The Role of Design Software

The Autodesk Clean Tech Partner Program supports early-stage clean technology companies by providing design and engineering software that accelerates their development of solutions to the world’s most pressing environmental challenges. Clean tech companies in North America, Europe and Japan who can benefit from Autodesk solutions for Digital Prototyping are invited to apply to receive up to €120.000* (US $150,000) worth of software for only €50 (US $50). Access to a collection of Autodesk industry-leading software applications includes up to five licences of AutoCAD Inventor Professional Suite, Autodesk Showcase, Autodesk Vault Professional, Autodesk Revit Architecture, Autodesk Alias Design, Autodesk Algor Simulation and Autodesk Inventor Publisher.

As Tim Twibell, senior marine engineer, IT Power explains, “the ability to cost-effectively access multiple licences of industry-leading software including Autodesk Inventor and Autodesk Algor Simulation is a huge benefit to us, giving us great flexibility and extending our CAD capability far beyond what we have been able to tap into in the past.”

In particular, the company has been making extensive use of Autodesk Inventor. According to Twibell, “the transmission system we are developing to take power from the hydrofoils has a series of slow moving cranks and conrods, rather like an internal combustion engine. We first obtained time series load data for the foils from separate mathematical simulations. We then put this data into a 3D model in Inventor and allowed those loads to effectively turn the crank shaft and run the device in simulation.

“This has been a major benefit, allowing us to resolve forces throughout the cycle and output them on the crank,” Twibell continues. “It has saved us time, effort and money. Instead of having to run these kinds of calculations using spreadsheets and complex mathematical formulae alone, we now have a compelling visual means of checking their accuracy, simply by running these simulations on Inventor.”

Fortunately, the complexity of the work Inventor enables IT Power to do is matched by the solution’s ease of use. One of IT Power’s engineers had not used Autodesk Inventor for several years and had used a range of competitive software in the intervening period. He was worried he might be rusty on the software but was producing impressive results within two days, not only with basic modelling techniques with which he was familiar but also with complex simulation with which he had far less experience.

Looking to the Future

Today, IT Power is working on the development of a pre-production 1.2MW prototype of its innovative tidal power technology and is looking towards a scheduled installation date of the end of 2011. IT Power’s aim is to commercialise the technology that it is currently developing and to use to prototype effectively as a demonstrator to highlight that the design can ultimately be sold to interested parties.

Throughout this process, Autodesk digital prototyping technology is likely to be key in enabling IT Power to digitally design, visualise and simulate how the prototype will work under real-world conditions before it is built. This Autodesk supported approach allows for the exploration of range of different concepts. IT Power’s design team will have the freedom to be creative and to try pioneering new ideas in pursuit of new solutions that capture and harness tidal power and respond to the world’s growing need for innovative renewable energy technologies.

*Value is based on up to five commercial licenses of each application.
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