Volkswagen Group Converts Packaging
The Volkswagen Group, one of the world’s largest car manufacturers, has ambitious goals when it comes to sustainable packaging. In an interview with FACHPACK360°, the packaging and logistics experts at the Audi and Porsche brands explain where the journey is headed.
“The demands on product and transport protection of individual components for automotive manufacturers such as Audi and Porsche have grown steadily in recent years,” says Audi logistics expert Carolin Rauch. To ensure that this does not cause the demand for packaging materials to skyrocket unnecessarily, packaging experts from all Volkswagen Group brands have been working together in the “No Plastics” strategy group since 2019. They develop sustainable and efficient packaging concepts and manage their implementation. By 2022, Audi, for example, had already been able to save more than 550 tons of plastic waste per year – according to its own information – in close cooperation with component suppliers at its global locations.
Permissible and Non-Permissible Materials
Composite materials and a range of plastics such as PP or PVC, polystyrene, molded foam parts, or bubble wrap are to be excluded as packaging materials in the next tender for components for new vehicle models. Instead, materials made from renewable raw materials such as paper or cardboard, are desired. The aim is to create a circular economy by using only recyclable materials.
Close Cooperation with Suppliers
However, “No Plastics” does not mean that plastic is eliminated as a packaging material, but that plastic waste is significantly reduced, Prestel adds. After all, plastics cannot always be replaced by cardboard, for example. “We have talked to our waste disposal companies and looked at which materials can be collected and recycled according to type. Our demands for alternative packaging are based on the results.” For sensitive electronic components and parts that are installed in the customer’s field of view and therefore require increased scratch protection, colorless PE films are still permissible, she says. She also says that product and transport protection of the components remains a top priority, allowing exceptions for special cases. “It may be that the same components are delivered in different packaging because they arrive via different transport routes,” Rauch explains. For this reason, the packaging experts at the automotive brands regularly exchange ideas with the logistics experts in the Group in order to achieve a reduction in resources used during transport as well.
Since many components come from overseas, this remains a challenge. By contrast, it is easier to reduce packaging. In the future, for example, for certain products, such as panels for interiors, it will be sufficient that only every second component in the Group’s own reusable crates are wrapped in film. Reusable crates have already been in use for years at the automotive manufacturer. By using intelligent tracking systems time and energy will be saved with these smart containers. Overall, Rauch and Prestel believe that the Volkswagen Group is well positioned for the future with its existing and planned sustainability steps.
There are plenty of examples: At Audi, for example, plastic films from assembly are recycled into waste bags and then used at the site. And at the Neckarsulm site, 3D-printed aids for vehicle production are made from packaging waste. In short: Packaging used to protect sensitive components such as speakers and sensors is collected according to material. In special plants these so-called plastic blisters are shredded and dried to make granulate. From this granulate, Audi produces filament which is the base material for the 3-D printers with which the team of experts produces precisely fitting installation aids for vehicle production.