This year, it took Denmark less than three months to use our share of the world’s natural resources for 2022, and last year it took the world less than seven months to hit Earth Overshoot Day.
In other words: We are using earth’s resources far too quickly, and when it comes to changing the status quo, industry and manufacturing companies of course play an important role.
Recently Earth Day marked the global need to invest in the transition towards a greener, CO2-neutral world.
Thinking of this transition, most of us do not think of robots, but of electric cars, wind turbines and meat-free days. But in fact, there are great prospects in using robot technology to support the development towards a greener and more sustainable society.
In Denmark, we already produce robots that directly contribute to the green transition by, for example, efficiently and safely maintaining and repairing wind turbine blades. But if we broaden the perspective and look at the global megatrends, robots are in fact playing an increasingly important role when it comes to making manufacturing more sustainable.
After two years of a global pandemic, companies around the world have learned the hard way that producing or having essential subcontractors on the other side of the globe can make business vulnerable.
Uncertainty has only grown in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the new geopolitical situation. This means that after decades of outsourcing, mass production and increasingly complex supply chains, we now see a trend towards moving production back home.
“Reshoring” was already becoming a phenomenon before the corona pandemic due to, among other things, rising wages in Southeast Asia, but now the trend is gaining more momentum. And this is where robot technology and particularly collaborative robots (cobots), that can work side by side with humans, come into the picture.
At a time when production companies in Europe, North America and other parts of the world are facing a labor crisis and are struggling to attract the highly skilled employees they need, automation can make it easier to move production closer to their markets. And by doing that, robot technology and automation can become a key element in a trend that, on a large scale, can help reduce CO2 emissions from global transportation.
Similarly, robot technology can help companies reduce the amount of waste because robots can repeat the same process over and over again with very high precision.
This sort of quality improvement at a small factory in Denmark may seem insignificant in the big picture, but repeated tens of thousands of times worldwide, it can make a difference when it comes to making the best possible use of scarce resources.
At the same time, cobots need far less space than traditional industrial robots. This means manufacturers can produce in smaller buildings and thereby reduce heat and energy consumption.
Cobots are also far more flexible. You can easily and quickly move them from one task to another, and that makes them a game changer in the transition from mass production to tailor-made production and high-mix, low-volume, which gives businesses the ability to quickly adapt to consumer needs while avoiding waste and overproduction.
The boundaries of what automation and robotics can do are constantly being pushed and the potential is huge.
There is no doubt therefore that robots can play a key role when it comes to helping manufacturers going green, simply because they can make it both easier and more attractive for companies to adjust their production and live up to the green standards of both today and the future.
Casper Hansen is CEO at Technicon
Kim Povlsen is President at Universal Robots