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Global automation showcase to highlight the sustainability upside of the automation revolution across broad spectrum of manufacturing industries

There is little doubt about the urgent need to achieve the significant carbon-reduction goals that the UN (United Nations) and numerous manufacturing companies have set for themselves. There is also no doubt that implementation of the required steps and measures to achieve that goal will be ambitious and expensive.

On the bright side, concerted sustainability efforts are also creating entirely new markets—generating attractive new business models that offer great opportunities for key modern-day technologies like robotics and automation.

For progressive companies concerned about long-term sustainability of their business as well as the planet, next month’s automatica 2023 global industrial automation show in Munich, Germany (June 27-30, 2023, at Messe München) will present a vast wealth of opportunities for profitable and sustainable production.

Smart automation can make a significant contribution to achieving the set climate goals by improving the energy efficiency of production facilities, or by facilitating resource-conserving manufacturing processes through the minimization of reject parts.

Green technologies in the fields of power generation and mobility—photovoltaics, wind power, fuel cells, and e-mobility—are widely held up as the new economic drivers of automation technology.

The social transformation towards sustainability and climate neutrality generates new business because robotics and automation are key technologies driving this transformation.

This correlation is already reflected in the increased demand currently experienced by automation and robotics suppliers.

As Volker Spanier, head of industrial robotics at Epson, relates: “We have recently seen an increase in leads from the area of battery and fuel cell manufacturing.

“And we will soon see the volumes rise to current photovoltaic industry levels,” Sanier says. “The decisive factor for Europe will be the future location of this business.

“For the time being, almost all equipment suppliers for giga factories are located in Asia,” Sanier notes, “but maybe automatica will show promising approaches here, especially for the emerging fuel cell manufacturing sector.”

Amidst all the enthusiasm about the scope of application for robots, an important question often pops up: Are standard robots at all suitable for lithium-ion battery and fuel cell production?

And which features of four- and six-axis robots are particularly useful for these applications?

Fuel-cell production has many particularities, and it would not be where it is without robots. For example, each of the 400-to-500 bipolar plates in any given fuel cell stack must be layered with utmost precision and care.

This does not merely require extremely fast robots. They must also be qualified for the corrosive environment they operate in.

At automatica, multiple robot manufacturers will show if they can supply robots for such specific use cases.

Peter Pühringer, managing director of Stäubli Robotics Germany, is not worried: “I am sure that several leading manufacturers offer robots capable of meeting these requirements.

“Stäubli Robotics will showcase four-axis and six-axis robots for deployment in hyper-dry environments, as well as special designs for operation in corrosive conditions,” he says.

“Thus, we are in a position to supply robots for both markets—lithium-ion batteries and fuel cells.”

The recycling of electrical devices and batteries is another promising market for robotics and automation.

In this context, Kuka has an electronic waste separation project currently going on in Ireland, where the staff are not exposed to hazards posed by gases and sharp-edged parts.

Here, electronic waste is separated and processed to become a valuable resource with a ‘second life’ in the circular economy.

Electric vehicle battery recycling is another application brimming with promising future prospects.

As EVs increasingly populate the streets, the question arises as to what happens with their batteries at the end of their life cycle.

According to Dr. Joachim Döhner, senior director of global sales for battery products at Kuka, “The required automation level in battery disassembly, and the recovery of valuable resources, will produce new know-how and lead to new robotics business segments.”

Climate-neutral production trends and new fields of application for robotics and automation are expected to be the subject of intense discussions at automatica.

The new EU (European Union) directive CSRD, applicable throughout the EU from 2024 onwards, puts the topic of ‘sustainable automation’ in the spotlight even more.

The CSRD—an acronym for Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive—requires companies above a certain size to submit a sustainability report and to assess the sustainability of their production in this context.

All in all, robotics and automation have enormous potential to improve environmental footprints, as modern assembly plants and robots greatly contribute to the associated efforts through improvements in service life, energy efficiency, and flexibility.

As Hahn Automation’s chief executive officer Frank Konrad sums up, “In modern assembly plants with a modular design, it usually suffices to make some simple modifications and to reprogram the robots to get the required conversion done.

“That saves time, resources and energy.”


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