By Alain Kaddoum General Manager Swisslog Middle East
Industry 4.0 is the intelligence behind the maximum efficiency of tomorrow’s world. But how does collecting data today help businesses stay sustainable while predicting what will happen tomorrow?
The Middle East and Africa market for augmented and virtual reality is expected to grow to $6 billion by 2020, according to the International Data Corporation. As the digital trend continues to innovate, it will transform the future of sustainable business. Industry 4.0 has revolutionized the way a modern warehouse or distribution center operates too, and it is only a matter of time before other sectors start to recognize the advantages.
Energy efficient automation solutions
While Industry 4.0 concepts and automation have offered endless sustainability benefits to operations around the globe, some are concerned with the increased energy demands required. Reports show that refrigerated warehousing is the most energy intensive. Energy is one of the largest expenses for the sector, second only to labor costs.
Goods-to-person solutions can recuperate energy from the braking and lifting of carrier vehicles, and this, combined with sustainable energy sharing technologies, can see energy use reduced by up to 20%.
Efficient shuttle and robotics systems have been engineered to reduce carrier weight and optimize weight/payload ratios for lessened energy requirements. Since these systems provide dense storage capacity, they are ideal for minimizing refrigeration energy costs, when compared to manual small quantity picking in traditional refrigerated warehouses.
Smart energy management
Another interesting system at play in automated distribution centers uses Industry 4.0 concepts in integrated energy management controls. Once power consumption values have been established for each automated system, subsystem, and I/O, integrated energy management controls link the energy performance of these automated warehouse material handling systems – like Automatic Storage and Retrieval System (ASRS) cranes, conveying systems, lifts and shuttle systems – to these systems’ actual real-time energy needs.
Basically, all these systems are connected via Ethernet or the Internet of Things. They communicate and share a power budget. Their controllers are looking ahead the next five seconds, and they can tell each other what amount of energy each system, subsystem, and axis is producing or using.
The controllers can then improve sustainability by coordinating and optimizing the distribution (sharing) of harvested power from one system, subsystem or axis to another. They also coordinate the delay and start functions of associated systems to again optimize the use of harvested energy, as well as minimize peaks in power draw caused by simultaneous machine starts.
High-bay robotic pallet shuttles
When compared to energy use of ASRS cranes, factoring in energy recuperation and energy sharing, high-bay robotic pallet shuttle systems consume 70% less energy – making them highly energy-efficient systems for high-bay pallet storage and retrieval.
Energy consumption rates are a top-level consideration in high-bay warehouses. ASRS cranes have been the longstanding workhorse for high-throughput automated pallet movement in these facilities, as well as the biggest users of power.
Robotic pallet shuttle systems employ sustainable low-footprint pallet lifts, instead of aisles, and enable pallet locations to store 20 pallets deep. Consequently, these systems provide the industry’s most dense automated pallet storage, which delivers improved cold retention in highbay cold-storage facilities. They present an alternative option for high-bay distribution that greatly reduces energy requirements.
The future of sustainable warehouse robotics
These energy-efficient developments being integrated into material handling systems enable a truly optimized capability for maintaining high-throughput production coupled with smart energy management.
Aside from the use of future-ready technologies, there are also things that can be implemented in existing automated facilities in the Middle East to increase sustainability and energy efficiency. For instance, reducing conveyor speeds during low-throughput periods results in significant energy savings.
Another factor is weight reduction. Reducing the weight loads of solutions, while maintaining systems’ structural integrity and load-carrying ratings, can go a long way to contribute to minimizing energy consumption. Some manufacturers have cut their automated guided vehicle weight by 30% without any reduction in load-carrying capability.
There is no question that a combination of these factors coupled with Industry 4.0 energy-saving concepts will be a winner for any Middle East distribution operation aiming to reduce their energy consumption. As for other business sectors, we foresee a world of opportunities.