Martin Walder, the Managing Director for ABB's UK robotics business, explains how manufacturers can save energy - and the environment - by using industrial robots.
World demand for energy is predicted to continue to rise, mainly driven by the rapid economic development in emerging markets, especially in China, India, Eastern Europe and the Middle East. The International Energy Agency predicts energy demand will grow by 45 per cent between 2004 and 2030, while the McKinsey Global Institute (MGI) expects demand to rise 45 per cent by just 2020. With some 20 per cent of today's energy wasted, the potential for savings is huge. Using energy-efficient technologies could reduce the potential growth in energy demand by some 50 per cent by 2020.
Adopting robotic technology probably is not the first thing to spring to mind when developing an energy-saving strategy for the factory floor. However, consider that, in 2004, industry accounted for 32 per cent of total end-user energy demand and consumed some 40 per cent of the electricity generated. A lot of this energy was expended on lighting, heating and air conditioning needed to provide a suitable environment for factory floor staff, in some cases 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
It is true that robots will not deliver the same impact as installing the latest electric drive and motor equipment, but they can actually still have a major role to play in significantly reducing daily energy consumption.
With no requirements for minimum lighting or heating levels, robots offer great opportunities to directly reduce energy bills. Current estimates point to a potential saving of 8 per cent for every degree C reduction in heating levels, while savings of up to 20 per cent can be achieved by turning off unnecessary lighting.
By minimising the heating temperature and lighting levels in areas where robots are operating, manufacturers can make substantial energy savings without compromising reputation or quality of production.
Using less energy for the same tasks, with a minimum number of robots to carry out a maximum number of tasks, can further increase the scope for energy savings. An increase in efficiency can be achieved by installing multipurpose robots, with the ability to perform multiple functions on the production line and complete a job in as little as half the time.
Ensuring that installed robots are in peak operating condition will also have a positive effect on energy consumption. ABB's new Remote Service Agreements for its customers' robots can identify and even predict problems, with help dispatched automatically when required.
The Remote Service Agreements are aimed at extending the time between problems, shortening the subsequent mean time to repair and lowering the overall cost of ownership of the robot unit. An additional beneficiary will be the environment, with fewer service-related call-outs, reduced travelling and lower fuel costs.
For businesses, two of the most important objectives are financial success and environmental responsibility - goals that are often perceived to be in conflict. However, by looking beyond just the obvious areas for saving energy and imagining how other areas of their production lines could be made more energy efficient, manufacturers could unlock new doors to increased competitiveness.
Evidence of how robots can help to reduce your operating costs, including energy costs, is included in ABB's new '10 good reasons to invest in robotics' guide, which is part of a campaign to encourage the UK's small to medium enterprises (SMEs) to embrace robotic technology. A copy of the guide can be obtained by emailing email@example.com or by calling 01908 350300 (ref '10 reasons guide').