In recent years, companies across various industries have been under tremendous pressure to make real progress on the environmental and social front. And as the new generation becomes more environment friendly, sustainability becomes a vital factor for a firm’s success.
Looking back, the concept of sustainability is not new. Companies for decades have been developing methods that reduce their carbon footprint. The global health crisis has accelerated, followed by the disruption in the supply chain and shift in consumer behaviour, accelerated the trends that were already in motion. This created new opportunities for the firms to explore new avenues to cut down their impact on the environment.
According to a report published by First Insight and the Baker Retailing Center at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, nearly 90 per cent of Gen X consumers are willing to spend an extra 10 per cent on sustainable products, compared to just over 34 per cent two years ago. And these numbers are expected to rise in coming times as members of the Gen Z group grow into adulthood.
Today, sustainable manufacturing has spread its roots far beyond the niche groups of an organisation that position themselves as environmentally friendly. It’s a goal sought by most manufacturers that aim to grab the biggest chunk of the growing market while taking into account the side effects they have on the environment. As a result, companies are adopting collaborative robots (cobots) that boost production and cut down the cost and overall impact of the business on the environment.
However, not all manufacturers can invest in heavy machinery and industrial robots due to the cost and space constraints. These limitations have resulted in increased adoption of cobots, which require synchronisation between humans and robots to facilitate work efficiency.
This human-robot collaboration helps combine the precision, strength, and speed of industrial robots with the judgment, ingenuity, and dexterity of human workers. It also helps in enhancing competence, reducing costs, and increasing energy efficiency and sustainability of the organisation. There’s a lot that cobots can do to achieve a sustainable environment, and some of the discussing pointers are mentioned below.
Reducing waste in manufacturing
Minimum turnaround time means improved market coverage and revenue in the manufacturing process. It also means that the products manufactured have no or fewer defects and there is no wastage of raw materials, which costs the firm and becomes waste, which impacts the overall environment. The best way to improve the manufacturing quantity and quality while keeping the environment’s health at the centre is to adopt advanced technology like cobots.
Cobots are built explicitly for repetitive actions repeated at the same pace, and with the same precision. This cuts down wastage in industries such as welding, dispensing and material removal, reducing the number of defective products. Production output becomes more predictable as cycle time for a specific process is stabilized, which allows for more efficient and optimized logistics arrangements.
Reducing emissions from transportation
Less distance in the supply chain is equivalent to minimal carbon emissions, which is better for the environment. Considering the pandemic-led vulnerabilities in the global supply chain, businesses are becoming more self-reliant, cost-efficient and environmentally friendly. In addition to this, there is an increasing interest in reshoring—reintroducing domestic manufacturing—in the country. Cobots enable manufacturers to move production processes closer to home and become more resilient in the process.
Traditionally, automated manufacturing requires robots, which means significant space allotted to the production facility. However, it’s not the case anymore. Today’s manufacturing facilities are equipped with lightweight cobots that require minimum safeguarding for operations. Cobots and humans can work alongside safely, and move between applications without expensive facility redesigns.
Reducing energy consumption
Other than space, cobots also consume less energy in comparison to traditional robot counterparts. Today, businesses adopting cobots are able to minimize their energy consumption. Manufacturers can minimise energy consumption in their cobot-powered applications by running the cobot at 70-80 per cent of its maximum speed and payload.
With the automation of the manufacturing processes, remote access tools can also be introduced to further aid manufacturers in achieving sustainability.
As discussed above, with the inclusion of cobots in manufacturing units, businesses can save wastage of raw materials, expedite their production speed, and minimize their electrical usage. Thus it reduces the operational cost considerably. In addition to this, automation of various tasks is beneficial for employee retention as firms can avoid most unforeseen human injuries.
Finally, in the coming years, we will continue to witness a rise in demand for sustainable manufacturing, and businesses will continue to make decisions that are beneficial for the planet. On the other hand, the cobot industry will continue to grow, mitigating errors, reducing waste and increasing efficiency.
— By James McKew, Regional President Asia-Pacific, Universal Robots.