- Register


Home>AUTOMATION>Handling & Logistics>Automation & sustainability go hand in hand
Home>AUTOMATION>Systems>Automation & sustainability go hand in hand

Automation & sustainability go hand in hand

15 March 2022

George Thompson, chairman of the British Automation and Robotics Association (BARA), looks at how automation can bring key benefits in the drive for sustainability

I’m sure that Automation is not the first thing that you may think of when the topic of discussion is centred on sustainability; however, I think it should be. Let me explain…

Automation can be far more than just a way of improving efficiency or reducing an operator’s exposure to the Dull, Dirty or Dangerous operations. When specified and implemented well, automation can also be used as a way of reducing waste. As an example of two potential options of possible ways to improve quality could be to investigate ways of implementing automated vision or coordinate measuring machine (CMM) inspections between processes or by ensuring products are loaded or positioned in a repeatable manner so that the process is less likely to produce a ‘bad’ product.

Machine tending

The second should be self-explanatory, so I will focus on my first point. I will use a machine tending process as my first example. When robotics are used for machine tending, regardless of whether they are collaborative, articulated or linear robots, it should be a given that the billet or blank is loaded into the machine in a repeatable manner. But what about tool wear on the machine tool?  If regular quality checks are not in place, there could in theory be a full batch run before an out of tolerance machine is discovered. This would, of course, have the potential for at least a portion of the batch to either require rework or perhaps be scrapped altogether.

By implementing the regular automatic checks, tool wear as an example, can be discovered and either have a tool change or a machine recalibration much earlier in the process. The last thing anyone wants is for a part to get to the end of the process only to find that step 1 was out of tolerance. Finding an issue this late in the production cycle could potentially mean that a product would need to be scrapped after it has gone through several other processes, thus wasting time and energy just to produce a scrap part. 

Another example would be the application of pallet stretch wrap. Most of us have witnessed operators literally running around pallets with rolls of plastic stretch wrap.  Despite the ‘free’ workout the operator is getting and the comedic element, there are a couple of serious issues that should be addressed.

Firstly, when the plastic wrap is applied in this manner, it cannot usually be pulled tight enough to adequately hold the pallet stable during transportation. This is usually compensated for by applying several times the amount that would be required by either a fully automated or even a semi-automatic solution, which in turn increases the plastic waste generated.

Improve efficency, reduce waste

Secondly, there is the efficiency, or lack thereof, in using an operator for this activity. I could go on all day about different ways of improving this situation. After all, improving efficiency is reducing waste.

There are loads of other examples where automation can be used to reduce waste and I have been involved in projects where the savings by simply reducing waste has paid for the automation project in a relatively short time.

So, the next time your company is discussing sustainability, why not look at the possibility of using automation as part of the solution?

If you would like to start your automation journey, but don’t know where to start – I would highly recommend visiting the BARA web site detailed below, where we have outlined several topics under the Expert Advice section to give some initial information.  While you’re there, why not register for our next Roundtable discussion.