Sustainable machine design offers real-world benefits in intralogistics
New equipment designs focused on reducing material waste and energy consumption can also boost margins and system uptime.
- Learn how sustainability initiatives can also improve margins.
- Learn how sustainability, energy efficiency, reliability and maintenance are interrelated.
- Learn how machine learning can be leveraged to improve energy efficiency.
- In addition to contributing to sustainability goals, reducing wastes also can improve profit margins.
- New automation technologies enhance the sustainability of packaging for e-commerce by offering benefits such as right-sized packaging options.
- Sustainability also improves reliability of equipment because both contribute to a system’s longevity and overall success.
Use LED lightbulbs. Properly inflate tires. Get protein from plants.
We’ve all heard plenty of advice in recent years about ways to practice sustainability in our own lives. Some make a real impact while the effects of other ideas are debatable.
However, for engineers across industries, there are real, measurable ways to boost sustainability. Best of all, implementing sustainable automation technology can also increase the reliability and cost-effectiveness of industrial equipment. Consider intralogistics as one example.
E-commerce grew exponentially during the pandemic. It provided a lifeline for people to get what they needed, from electronics to groceries, without going into a brick-and-mortar store. However, the larger number of people ordering (and ordering more often) put the environmental impacts of distribution centers under a microscope, as well.
Consumers aren’t the only ones who recognized this, as wasteful packaging and energy also affects companies’ bottom lines. As such, intralogistics providers and machine builders are exploring new ways to reduce their impact.
Sustainable automation for distribution centers
What does this look like in practice? For starters, new automation technologies enhance the sustainability of packaging for e-commerce, by offering benefits such as right-sized packaging options. This can directly contribute to improving environmental friendliness. In addition, reducing waste can boost profit margins.
Automation technology and intralogistics equipment manufacturers must prioritize sustainability to ensure their design, construction and operation have minimal negative impact on the environment while promoting long-term resource availability. Achieving this goal involves reducing energy consumption, minimizing waste and using environmentally-friendly materials.
Practical sustainability measures for automation technology and intralogistics equipment include designing energy-efficient systems that incorporate low-power components and limit energy use during idle periods. Using recyclable or compostable materials during the production process and implementing waste reduction systems such as closed-loop material handling systems play an important role as well.
Designing equipment with extended lifetimes and easy repairability also reduces the need for frequent replacements, while environmentally-friendly disposal processes are necessary for end-of-life equipment.
Focus on sustainability, achieve reliability
These efforts do more than allow companies to be “green.” In industrial equipment, sustainability and reliability are interdependent on each other because they both contribute to the overall success and longevity of a system.
Reliability refers to a system’s consistent and failure-free ability to carry out its intended functions. A reliable system reduces waste and the need for frequent replacements, promoting sustainability by conserving resources.
On the other hand, a sustainable system is designed to minimize negative impacts on the environment and conserve resources, which can improve profitability by reducing the demand for raw materials. A system designed to promote sustainability by conserving resources and minimizing waste is more reliable in the long term. As a result, it reduces risk of failures and offers a longer lifespan. At the same time, a reliable system that operates consistently and without failure offers greater availability and contributes to sustainability by minimizing waste and preserving resources.
Monitoring and maintenance ensure continued sustainability
To guarantee the equipment lives up to its eco-friendly promises, someone needs to monitor performance and quantify the benefits. Who should monitor? Should they also be responsible for maintenance if performance falls short?
The frequency and extent of monitoring required to ensure the sustainability and reliability of automation technology and intralogistics equipment may vary depending on the equipment and its usage. Nevertheless, some general guidelines include:
Regular maintenance: Regular maintenance, such as daily, weekly or monthly inspections, can help identify and address issues before they lead to equipment failures. It’s best to implement predictive maintenance technologies to automate these efforts.
Energy consumption monitoring: Regular energy consumption monitoring can help ensure energy-efficient equipment usage and identify any spikes that can point to a developing problem.
Responsibility for monitoring sustainability and reliability can be shared by several parties, including the equipment manufacturer, operator and any third-party maintenance providers. However, the end user bears the responsibility of ensuring that the equipment is being used and maintained in a sustainable and reliable manner.
The frequency and extent of monitoring required for sustainability and reliability depend on the equipment and its usage. Regular monitoring is crucial to ensuring the equipment is being used and maintained in a manner that promotes sustainability and reliability.
Sustainable automation for end users and OEMs
More companies are adding sustainability initiatives across their organizations. No matter the industry, machine builder OEMs can find the benefits of sustainable equipment to be a key differentiator when launching a new product into the market. For end users, there are several steps to promote sustainability and reliability with automation technology and intralogistics equipment. Consider these examples that both groups can follow:
Ensure operations and processes are energy efficient in the first place. End users can optimize energy usage and reduce waste by controlling equipment energy consumption, such as turning off equipment when not in use.
Power monitoring through automation is a great way to enhance sustainability and reliability, as it can signal an upcoming maintenance concern when there is a surge in equipment power consumption. For greenfield applications, this can be built in with data collected by a PC-based machine controller, then sent to the cloud or enterprise level. For brownfield retrofits, adding power monitoring can be as simple as installing several I/O terminals and an internet of Things (IoT) coupler, rather than a complete rip-and-replace scenario.
Machine learning is an effective method to automate energy conservation in industrial environments. For example, it can be leveraged to optimize the ramp speed of shuttles on an automated storage/retrieval system (AS/RS) or identify the most efficient paths for automated guided vehicles/autonomous mobile robots (AGVs/AMRs), leading to reduced energy consumption without operator intervention.
End users can promote sustainability and reliability following these best practices. By implementing new automation technology in intralogistics equipment, companies can make a real impact to reduce waste and protect natural resources while padding profit margins at the same time.
Keywords: Sustainability, Intralogistics
How can energy consumption and power monitoring be integrated into your maintenance plan?