Sustainability in the plastics industry is not only about recycled materials and energy-efficient manufacturing methods, it is also about the commitment of the people behind the machine.
With customers like Volvo Cars, it's important to be at the forefront. One of their sustainability goals is that 25 per cent of the car's plastic should consist of recycled material as early as 2025. The vision is a car that is completely circular, where each part can be returned to the respective manufacturer who recycles the part to make a new one.
- There is a long way to go before we get there, but the idea is good. We are already manufacturing some parts entirely from recycled material, such as a component for crash absorption inside the doors. In collaboration with RISE and the OEMs, we are introducing sustainable polymer solutions," says Anders Abrahamsson, KB Components' global sales and marketing director.
Circular production in recycled materials
KB Components has established itself as a global player and one of Scandinavia's largest subcontractors in the plastics industry, an industry that has come under particular scrutiny in recent years in terms of sustainability and the environment.
But for KB Components, the issue of sustainability is far from new. On the contrary. The basic principle at KB Components, as with most injection moulding companies today, is to use recycled waste from manufacturing that is milled and goes straight back into production. Pieces that cannot be recycled in-house are sold by KB Components to resin producers who manufacture new raw materials.
- We also constantly look at raw material in versus products out. One of our internal sustainability goals is to reduce our waste by at least 4 per cent per year," says Anders.
Developing solutions in their own material lab
Everyone demands components in recycled plastic today. There have been challenges when it comes to reusing plastic packaging from the consumer sector, known as PCR plastic. When a new raw material is produced by first grinding down plastic packaging, the long polymer chains that have intertwined structures and formed materials of varying quality are broken.
- Today, material developers are coming up with increasingly advanced ways to rebuild and reinforce these polymer chains. "Polypropylene, which is used in many plastic packages, is a material that can be given very good performance by adding glass fibre, for example," Anders explains.
KB Components has its own materials laboratory where it develops solutions for tomorrow's materials, while also holding continuous discussions with the major materials suppliers.
- "It is very easy to put the responsibility on a raw material supplier and forget that you can do a lot yourself. It's not enough to have keen producers of recycled raw materials, you also have to take care of the detail in the bigger picture," says Anders.
Reducing electricity consumption with new technologies
He calls it 'everyday sustainability'. For KB Components, this has translated into a radical reduction in electricity consumption by switching to LED lighting at all sites. The head office in Örkelljunga has installed solar cells on both the roof and the ground.
- And we also maintain our machinery. Older machines always consume more energy, so we must actively choose equipment that provides high efficiency and as little environmental impact as possible. We have our KPIs where we compare key figures at all our factories around the world to review our electricity consumption," says Anders.
In the same spirit, the company has switched to electric power for all company cars.
Committed employees a prerequisite
But sustainability is not just a question of materials and methods. KB Components sees a clear link between achieving sustainability goals and the participation and commitment of its staff.
- "We have three overall goals in the company; we want to see increased growth, increased profitability and increased commitment from our employees. We work consciously and hard for healthy and sound employees who feel comfortable and involved," says Elisabeth Carlheim-Gyllenskiöld, Global Head of HR at the KB Components group of companies.
But how do you create a corporate culture of inclusion and engagement in an organisation with 260 employees in Sweden alone and a total workforce of around 1,200 globally?
- Clarity is an important tool. Being clear about what KB Components stands for and what we want. And that we have a family feeling in all our companies where you are allowed to think and suggest. Where you feel that 'I can participate and influence'," says Elisabeth.
Employee survey measures job satisfaction
At KB Components Placell in Gislaved, the family feeling is expressed in the frequent use of the company's own gym and regular barbecue lunches where CEO Christian Alcayaga often acts as chef. Community is important and regular employee surveys take the temperature of how the staff feel.
- "We do these surveys three or four times a year where we can measure satisfaction and follow up that we are doing the right things. It also gives us the opportunity to target the questions specifically if we notice that something is going on," says Elisabeth.
The goal is to work in the same way at all KB Components units around the world. Therefore, they have also developed their own leadership profile, KB Star, which they use to train the management teams at each unit.
- "We bring the Scandinavian leadership style to our companies globally, even if it sometimes presents some cultural challenges. You should also be aware that not everything is best here in Sweden. Not everything works everywhere. But it is important that the corporate culture is characterised by openness," says Anders.
Elmia Subcontractor - a place for new ideas and collaborations
Another important factor in sustainability work is the ability and opportunity to collaborate with others to achieve more. In November, KB Components will be exhibiting at Elmia Subcontractor and has already secured a stand space right next to the Elmia Sustainability Arena.
- "The fair is an important meeting place in itself and being close to the Elmia Sustainability Arena is very interesting. For us, it's not just about meeting potential new customers at the fair. This is a place where everyone meets everyone, and I believe that many ideas, constellations and collaborations on various projects are born at these types of trade fairs when you discover that you have common opportunities," says Anders Abrahamsson.
Facts: KB Components
75-year-old KB Components, headquartered in Örkelljunga and with a manufacturing unit in Gislaved, produces injection moulded and extruded parts for the automotive, furniture and lighting industries. It has a turnover of SEK 2.2 billion and, in addition to Sweden, also has manufacturing units in Lithuania, Canada, USA, Mexico, China and Slovakia.