How manufacturers can realign with their sustainability goals

Posted on 20 Mar 2024 by The Manufacturer

Mikko Urho, CEO, Visual Components demonstrates how manufacturers are putting efforts forward to use energy and resources in a more sustainable way and protect the environment. However, the issue for many in the UK has been the financial strain on business budgets, preventing sufficient investment in green strategies.

While inflation has eased and price rises start to slow, the UK economy remains on the brink of a recession. Fiscal pressures look set to continue for now. The uncertainty is impacting on business confidence when it comes to sustainability. Almost four-in-ten (39%) are unsure of their organisation’s ability to assist in the global drive for net zero carbon emissions, according to findings by Visual Components of UK manufacturers. But every business needs to band together to achieve the goal. A 45% reduction in global emissions is needed by 2030 if net zero is to be reached by 2050.

Manufacturers can’t let their sustainability strategies fall by the wayside. They need to carefully invest in solutions that offer a rapid ROI and help sustainability strategies move forward.

The squeeze on finances

Economic circumstances have unsurprisingly led manufacturers to hold back on sustainable projects over the last few years. But it’s not been the only factor. The difficulty in hiring new talent, cited as one of the biggest challenges among a third (34%) of organisations, is creating the need for higher salaries to be offered to the most skilled and experienced in the sector. As many as 94% of UK organisations have had to raise wages in order to compete.

Unreliable legacy equipment is also placing cost burdens on manufacturers, with a third (33%) incurring expenses of between £10,001 and £25,000 due to this reason. 20% have also wasted between £25,001 and £50,000 due to ineffective utilisation of robots. With these kinds of figures finding their way onto the balance sheet, how can manufacturers even begin to allocate financial resources to sustainable practices?

How manufacturers can realign with their sustainability goals

Inefficient strategies

Some organisations are making headway in reducing their power consumption (31%), which has the combined benefit of reducing costs and making a positive impact on the planet. But legacy ways of working are counteracting these efforts in many cases, including the way in which robots complete tasks on the factory floor.

A prominent example of this is the manual programming process to enable robots to handle welding, cutting, spraying or other tasks. With human error always a possibility, these processes could be completed incorrectly due to inaccurate programming, leading to unnecessary material waste.

In certain industries, a mistake in manual programming could lead to the manufacture of products that can’t be sold. The automotive sector for example utilises various robotic applications to assemble a car, which can be made up of as many as 30,000 different components. Every specific task needs to be refined to ensure the car moves down the production line and is ultimately built at the end.

Going green

Manual programming must move aside for a new solution. Robot offline programming (OLP) technology can automate the planning and design of a new robot work cell in a virtual environment. A welding robot can complete tasks to the highest accuracy and reduce the chance of any material waste being produced.

For example, the process of a circular part being welded on to a metal workpiece can be defined by OLP software, with the CAD file of a welding cell being imported into the software. It generates the program and verifies its ability to avoid any potential collisions, even allowing staff to run it in low speed to double-check its function before deployment on repeatable instances.

Under a manual process, manufacturers might be waiting weeks before a robot begins its task. The ROI gained from immediate deployment of robotic applications with OLP means that goods can be put into production quicker, driving profitability and reducing costs. This then allows reinvestment in sustainable initiatives. Finally, robots can be programmed from any location, reducing the need to travel and lessening the carbon emissions associated with commuting.

Working together

Manufacturers are at a pivotal point, dealing with economic challenges while striving to meet global sustainability goals. Issues like inflation, hiring difficulties and the expense of outdated equipment have taken precedence over environmental efforts, yet the push for carbon neutrality is more pressing than ever. Implementing technologies such as OLP can drastically reduce human errors, waste and downtime, freeing up resources for green initiatives. The transformation is not only a financial necessity, but a shared duty towards the environment. Moving from manual processes to automated systems is essential for keeping sustainability agendas on course as deadlines loom.

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