A project on circular transition funded by T.I.M.E. Association

Two research projects of the Politecnico di Milano have won a grant of 10,000 euros each as T.I.M.E. projects, one of which is coordinated by the Department of Management Economic and Industrial Engineering of the School of Management with Dr. Alessandra Neri as principal investigator.

“The role of digitalization in supporting the industrial circular transition” is the project that aims at investigating the relationship between the adoption of digital technologies and the implementation of circular economy practices within the industrial sector. The goal is to understand the supporting role offered by the digital technologies, passing from the enhancement and generation of dynamic capabilities. This would be done by conducting an international survey, providing empirical-based insights.

KTH Royal Institute of Technology (Sweden) and Universidad Politecnica de Madrid (Spain) are partners of the project and members of the T.I.M.E. Association. The University of the West of England (UK) and Aston University (UK) take part in the project as external members.

The T.I.M.E. Association (Top International Managers in Engineering), founded in 1989, is a network of leading technical universities and engineering schools in Europe and all over the world, with a strong international dimension in teaching, research and industrial relations. The association currently consists of 57 members in 25 countries, and the Politecnico di Milano is a member of the Advisory Committee.

Besides double degree activities, T.I.M.E. promotes a series of other initiatives, including the T.I.M.E. projects, through which the association co-finances new or existing initiatives between member universities, in which T.I.M.E. can represent an added value.

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Linear to circular: when waste becomes a resource

What is the circular economy and how can it become part of our daily lives? We asked Simone Franzò, Director of the International Master in Environmental Sustainability & Circular Economy at MIP.

When we talk about a circular economy, what are we referring to?

A circular economy is an “emerging” economic model that contrasts with the traditional “linear” model (summarised with the terms take – make – dispose) and aims to maximise the efficient use of resources. Reuse and maintenance of products, extension of their life cycle, recovery and recycling of materials are just a few of the practices on which a circular economy is based. It is a model that brings benefits not only to the environment, but that also generates new business opportunities. This is why we study the managerial implications that this model can have in companies that intend to apply it.

McKinsey actually predicts that, in Europe alone, the move to a circular economy could generate €1.8 trillion in profits by 2030. Are companies ready to seize these opportunities?

First of all, I would like to make a premise: the topic of the circular economy is part of a broader context, which is that of sustainability. This is subdivided into three different perspectives, namely environmental, economic and social, which must be considered jointly to enable so-called sustainable development.
That said, from my point of view, companies are increasingly sensitive and aware of the impact that their activities have, not only for themselves, but also for the “context” within which companies operate. However, translating this growing awareness into concrete initiatives aimed at pursuing the goals of sustainability and the circular economy is a very important challenge in many respects, primarily at a cultural level. In fact, it is a question of moving from a “purely economic” orientation, aimed at maximising the value that the company creates for shareholders, to a broader perspective, which provides for the creation of value for all stakeholders as well as, of course, for the shareholders.

A qualitative leap from the cultural point of view, however, is not enough; a change is also needed on the managerial side. Adopting the principles of the circular economy, in fact, requires the company to make significant changes in terms of strategy – that is, to shift from traditional business models, linked to a linear economy, to new, circular models. This obviously has important repercussions from an operational point of view as well. It is no longer enough to think in terms of the company, but we need to move to a broader perspective, that of the supply chain, involving for example suppliers and customers. This is a significant challenge from a managerial point of view.

This is an interesting perspective, but how does it translate into career opportunities – both present and future? Why should a young person entering the job market choose this sector?

There are many careers that can be undertaken in this area. The potential consequences associated with the spread of the circular economy – as shown by the numbers cited above – are enormous. However, it is appropriate to reflect on the new skills required of companies, primarily from a managerial point of view, in order to enable the transition to the circular economy, which opens up important windows of opportunity for young people (and others) looking for a job. Consider, for example, the need for a company to redesign its range of products and services, as well as the business model through which they are offered. In fact, designing new products, services, or business models based on the principles of the circular economy requires specific skills, which are different from those traditionally relied upon to design linear-economy services and business models.

In addition to the impact on innovation processes, all the other business functions must be imbued with the principles of the circular economy: think, for example, of logistics – which in some cases play a crucial role in the implementation of circular business models – and purchasing to marketing, to make customers aware of the characteristics of the “circularity” of the products and services offered by a company.

MIP offers five different Masters dedicated to the topic of sustainability and one is dedicated to the circular economy. Why is this?

As I said, the issue of sustainability is quite broad and encompasses three perspectives: environmental, economic and social. The theme of the circular economy definitely plays a central role in the broad focus of sustainability, to the extent that implementing circular economy business models can enable the achievement of sustainability goals.
May I say that, in this context, our Business School is an ideal place to study and analyse these phenomena. In the first place, because of the coherence between this topic and the purpose of our School, which aspires to make a positive impact on society by inspiring and collaborating with the innovators of today and tomorrow. What we can also offer our students is a particular focus on the study and analysis of strategic issues related to the management of a business. This is an important element for those who want to guide companies towards circular business models, given that change must also be addressed from a strategic-managerial point of view. Moreover, we take a “data-driven” approach to problem solving, in line with the engineering imprint that characterises our Business school and, more generally, the Politecnico di Milano.
A final element that distinguishes our range of courses is our strong collaboration with companies. For the International Master in Environmental Sustainability & Circular Economy we have already involved about 15 companies as sponsors. This provides a number of opportunities for our students, from company testimonials during the training course – which give the theoretical sessions an experiential configuration – to the possibilities of internships or carrying out the project work at the end of the Master at companies, in order to be able to apply what you have learned during the Master in the field.

Announcing the start of the TREASURE project

New testing opportunities for new technologies to make the automotive sector more circular


1 June 2021 marked the start of the TREASURE project (leading the TRansion of the European Automotive SUpply chain towards a circulaR futurE), coordinated by Sergio Terzi and Paolo Rosa from the Department of Management, Economics and Industrial Engineering of the School of Management.
Co-funded by the European Commission with the H2020 programme, TREASURE is a Research and Innovation Action (RIA) that aims to offer new testing opportunities for new technologies to make the automotive sector more circular.

Its main objectives are:

  1. to guarantee sustainable use of raw materials in the automotive sector reducing the risks linked to supplies;
  2. to apply the circular economy paradigm to the automotive sector, acting as examples for the manufacturing macrosector;
  3. to deliver better economic, environmental and social performance for vehicles for all users;
  4. to create new supply chains around end-of-life vehicles (ELVs), focusing on the circular use of raw materials.

In this way, TREASURE will deliver tangible support for companies in the automotive sector, providing a practical demonstration of the benefits obtainable from the application of the circular economy paradigm, from the point of view of both business and supply chains and also of technology and sustainability, through the adoption of industry 4.0 technologies in the management processes of ELVs and their parts.

The primary results expected include:

  1. the development of an AI-based tool for analysis and comparison of possible circular supply chains in the automotive sector;
  2. the realisation of a series of successful cases for key players in the management of ELVs, such as car wreckers, scrap metal shredding plants, raw material recycling plants and vehicle manufacturers;
  3. the integration of key enabling technologies for the design, dismantling and efficient sustainable recycling of electronic auto parts.

Partners in the project, coordinated by the Politecnico di Milano, are the Dutch research centre TNO, Zaragoza University in Spain, the professional school at the Università della Svizzera Italiana, the Università degli Studi dell’Aquila, the Dutch consultancy agency Material Recycling and Sustainability B.V., the Estonian company for social studies Edgeryders OU, the Lithuanian LCD screen manufacturer EUROLCDS SIA, the Spanish auto parts manufacturer Walter Pack SL, the vehicle demolition company Pollini Lorenzo e Figli Srl, the leading Spanish car manufacturer SEAT SA, the software developers TXT E-Solutions Spa, the Spanish scrap metal recycling company Industrias Lopez Soriano SA, the Italian National Unification Body, and the French automotive cluster NEXTMOVE.

New life for electronic waste thanks to the circular economy

This virtuous example of circular economy is the result of the Horizon2020 FENIX project in which the Politecnico di Milano is a partner.


Like a phoenix rising out of its own ashes, the FENIX project has achieved its aim of giving new life to electronic waste, turning it into raw materials for eco-compatible products such as new metal filament for 3D printing, eco-friendly metal powders for additive manufacturing and sustainable 3D-printed jewellery.

The Horizon 2020 FENIX Project, in which the Politecnico di Milano is a partner, has drawn to a close after 40 months of work and achievement of its objective to develop new business models and industrial strategies with a view to a circular economy.

The Industry 4.0 Laboratory of the Department of Management, Economics and Industrial Engineering at the Politecnico di Milano has in fact implemented an automated station for the disassembly of mobile phone circuit boards by collaborative-robots (cobots), one of the most advanced automation solutions in robotics technology, as they guarantee operational flexibility while permitting interaction with their surroundings and with the operators who share their tasks.

Thanks to a semiautomatic process, the cobot manages to unsolder the electronic components of the circuit board while preserving their chemical characteristics: it uses a jet of hot air to melt the solder holding together the components so that these can then be detached and processed separately from the board.

Thanks to the circular supply chain set up by the consortium participating in the project, the circuit boards disassembled by the Politecnico di Milano are processed by the University of Aquila, which recovers pure materials (such as copper, tin, gold, silver and platinum) from the boards and their electronic components. Copper and tin are then transformed into metal powders (by MBN Nanomaterialia SpA in Treviso) and filaments suitable for 3D printing (jointly by MBN Nanomaterialia SpA and I3DU and 3DHUB in Athens, Greece), both then tested at the Fundació CIM in Barcelona, Spain. Whereas the precious metals are used by I3DU and 3DHUB in Athens, Greece to create eco-compatible jewellery. Produced and sold through the consortium, these jewels can also be personalised with a 3D scanner service and given the shape of objects or people’s faces.

The hope is that when the project ends, the business models conceived and tested by FENIX will be replicable by other external parties, with a view to promoting the setting up of new circular supply chains.

Also worthy of note is that two of the results developed by the Politecnico di Milano team involved in the FENIX project have been cited by the EU Innovation radar and that an article written by the team received recognition from the publishers Taylor & Francis and appears on the website of the International Journal of Production Research as top cited article. Click here to read the article.

Source: https://www.polimi.it/pressroom/comunicatistampa/

For more info about the project: http://www.fenix-project.eu/
Link to the Youtube video: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCEg3DZSWyo62lSaMg7xxZrg

The challenge of circularity in extended supply chains

Awareness around the environmental impact of products and processes and moving towards the sustainable use of natural resources is increasing in Europe. As such, the circular economy paradigm is obtaining even more success.

Based on this, the H2020 FENIX project, of which the Politecnico di Milano is a partner, aims to develop a new set of business models and industrial strategies with a view to facilitating circular products and services.

Three pilot plants will be established thanks to the development of sustainable processes for the combined treatment of different types of e-waste (e.g. printed circuit boards):

1) A modular, multi-material, reconfigurable pilot plant producing metallic powders for additive manufacturing processes
2) A modular, multi-material, reconfigurable pilot plant producing 3D printed gems
3) A modular, multi-material, reconfigurable pilot plant producing advanced filaments for 3D printing processes

The three pilot plants will be designed in such a way as to exploit Industry 4.0 solutions (e.g. smart sensors) which are able to send online data in real time through dedicated websites developed by FENIX.

The result of this is that production capacity will be shareable amongst the different actors involved in very different supply chains, by encouraging the involvement of end users (both private users and companies) in industrial processes and offering new services to companies for monitoring and controlling industrial plants.

The scientific role of the Department of Management, Economics and Industrial Engineering takes many forms. Firstly, the identification of new circular business models able to make use of pilot plants developed in FENIX. Secondly, the assessment of how Industry 4.0 technologies could support circular processes, specifically those related to the disassembly of Printed Circuit Boards (PCB). Finally, the Department is responsible for the dissemination and communication of the FENIX project and the management of Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) strategies.

One of the initiatives promoted by the Department related with FENIX involves collecting obsolete mobiles/smartphones. The mobile phones will be disassembled by the Industry 4.0 Lab in order to facilitate the recovery of valuable materials from electronic components through eco-friendly chemical processes. These materials, once transformed into metal powders, will be reused in additive manufacturing processes.

FENIX is also promoting a set of success stories related to the adoption of circular practices in different industrial sectors. The goal is to use real-world examples to demonstrate that the adoption of circular economy principles will allow for the creation of more sustainable supply chains by improving quality, market value and the alternative exploitation of secondary materials.

Finally, FENIX aims to integrate Key Enabling Technologies (KETs) for the efficient recovery of secondary resources within the same industrial plant. FENIX will consider three types of KETs:
1) Advanced production systems: a wide number of sensors will be embedded in each module that makes up the FENIX pilot plant.
2) Industrial bio-technologies: since the initial stages, FENIX has taken into account the use of biometallurgy for the sustainable recovery of materials from different types of waste.
3) Nanotechnologies: this type of materials technology allows for an improvement ofmaterials’ mechanical properties, thermal and electrical conductivity and overall functional properties.

FENIX (Future business models for the Efficient recovery of Natural and Industrial secondary resources in eXtended supply chain contexts)