3 Powder Coating Issues You Should Avoid

There is constant debate about which is better: powder coating or painting. While the former can offer up a more durable and resilient coating, painting can still be the right option for a given process depending on the nature of the project. In this instance, let’s say powder coating is the ideal solution for your project. Maybe you need a thicker coat that’s consistent in both quality and time necessary to complete. Just because it can provide a better long-term solution doesn’t mean that the process of powder coating is as easy as just brushing it up and down a few times. There are a few problems and annoyances that can occur during the powder coating process. While tedious to fix, they are easily avoidable if you take the proper precautions before starting.

 

Pinhole

If there’s one thing the most common problems in powder coating have in common it’s their silly names. With a defect name like “pinhole,” you might think it’s some weirdly looking deformity. In all fairness, it most definitely is, but the defect itself is far less amusing than its name would let on.

Pinholes are generally defined as tiny circular voids found in a powder coating finish that is clearly visible to the human eye. Typically a single pinhole won’t cause that much of a problem, but when they show in bunches, then it’s a sign that you most likely need to recoat the metal. In an ideal finish, you want the metal to be smooth. Pinholes usually occur during the curing process. When the part heats up, the powder melts into a liquid which spreads into a film, causing the creation of holes or bubbles across the surface.

Pinholes don’t just happen without cause or reason. In most cases, they will appear due to a lack of proper preparation. The surface of the piece is always the game-changer. If it hasn’t been properly cleaned, then it opens up a plethora of opportunities for contamination. If the surface wasn’t properly wiped down prior to the powder coating, then dirt or other impurities such as oil, grease, or water can become trapped within the powder.

If you find pinholes on your piece, the only way to remove them is to recoat the entire surface. It’s much simpler to prepare yourself and minimize the odds of them even showing up. To avoid pinholes, clean the metal thoroughly. You can achieve this by blasting, washing appropriately, or even treating it chemically. As well, cleaning the booth and keeping the oven air clean are essential steps to avoiding these deformities. Avoid cross-contaminating the metal with other substances, like WD-40 for example. Finally, make sure that the curing temperature is set correctly before beginning the coating process.

Pinholes are easily visible to the human eye and can imply a lack of due dilligence from the coater themselves.

Orange Peel

Another common powder coating problem also shares a silly name: orange peel. Amusingly enough, the orange peel deformity got its name because, well, it looks like an orange peel. Powder coaters are notoriously humorous. Typically, a surface with an orange peel-like finish has an uneven texture on what should be a smooth finish. In that sense, it both looks and feels like the skin of an orange or any similar citrus fruit. Similar to the pinhole, fixing this imperfection will require a recoat, meaning you will have to restart from step one. The best way to avoid orange peel is by taking the necessary steps to ensure all parts of the surface are smooth.

The first step you’ll want to take to avoid the orange peel effect is to properly prepare the surface before the coating proceeds. There are several ways to do so. You can sandblast the surface or immerse it in zinc or phosphate. The former option is generally more approved due to the increase in durability that sandblasting can provide, but it also requires delicate attention from the person performing the sandblasting. If it isn’t done properly, the sandblasting can cause indentations in the surface that will also lead to orange peel. Be sure that during this preparation, you don’t cause the problem you sought to avoid. If you’re unsure, try using fine sandpaper to ensure proper protection.

Once you’re certain the surface is prepared, you can shift your attention to the powder coating itself. Powder coating revels in specifics and straying from the guidelines is begging for a deformity to appear. Adding too much or not enough powder can lead to orange peel. If the guideline suggests an amount, stick to it.

Finally, during the curing process, it’s important to maintain the proper temperatures and schedules throughout. If cured too long at too high a temperature, you can expect to see orange peel developing. The opposite is true as well. While the temperatures and curing times can vary, a happy medium can be found at around 200℃ for approximately 10 to 15 minutes. While this isn’t an explicit recommendation, most guidelines will have similar directions. Always be sure you’ve read the guidelines before attempting to cure the piece.

Orange peel certainly mimics the look of the skin from an orange. Its lack of smoothness is the clear indicator that the powder coating was imperfectly done. Image via Powder Coating Online.

Fish Eyes

Continuing the silliness of the names of recurring powder coating problems is the dreaded fish eye imperfection. Not unlike its imperfection siblings, fish eyes are a result of contamination in the piece’s surface that can also cause the powder to flake or peel. The fish eye deformities are apparent to the human eye and you can spot them as a depression in the surface that almost looks like a pitching mound, where the center is elevated. They do seem somewhat similar to the other imperfections mentioned earlier in the article, but there are distinct differences between typical craters and fish eye defects.

It’s true that all these problems are caused by a form of contamination, the contamination leading to fish eye can sometimes occur before the pre-treatment which occurs before the coating itself. While the contamination can occur on the surface, other times it happens in the powder itself. This is largely dependent on the quality of powder selected. Some powders can handle contamination decently, while others, like high-flow resins, will more easily develop fish eyes. Unlike the other defects, fish eyes are nearly impossible to fix once they’ve occurred. You will need to recoat the entire piece and ensure that the surface is now cleaned and that contaminants are kept to an absolute minimum.

To prevent fish eyes from arising, it’s essential to clean the surface to perfection. Perform a white rag test afterward to ensure no contaminants, dirt, or dust make their way to the surface. As well, keep the equipment as clean as you would the surface. Any chance a contaminant gets to ruin the coating will likely occur, but mitigating this potential deformity is easy if enough attention is paid to the process.

Fish eyes are easily spotted and a pain to remove. Taking extra precautions could ensure they never appear.

Powder Coating: A Cleaner Dream

There’s a pattern with all these deformities and imperfections. Most of them are caused by contaminants left on the surfaces due to a lack of preparation and cleaning. Fixing these mistakes after they happen is a pain and time-consuming. Naturally, preventing these problems is a much more sustainable method than attempting to fix them. Following guidelines, cleaning thoroughly, and paying proper attention to the coating process as it happens are key elements to ensuring your coats don’t become unusable or delayed.

To avoid errors caused by tired humans, powder coaters can look to AutonomyOS. Using 3D Perception with AI-based Task Planning and Motion Planning, manufacturing engineers and integrators can configure autonomous robotic systems to analyze and coat various pieces of metal regardless of their shape, complexities, and sizes. Contact us to learn more.

5 Common Welding Problems and How To Solve Them

To the untrained eye, welding can come across as a more pleasurable form of labor. The action of welding just seems that much more interesting than other processes. But just because it looks fascinating doesn’t mean it’s all glitz and glamor. It’s a physically and mentally demanding job that, if done without the proper care, could lead to many problems and hiccups along the way.

Some of the recurring issues in welding can be attributed to faulty equipment but most come from improper actions, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it errors, and sometimes just some bad luck. Fixing problems in welding can be difficult as it’s not always possible to walk back on the process and just patch over a mistake, given the transformation through which the metals go. Instead of fixing, it’s often easier to prevent these problems. In order to prevent them, we need to understand why certain problems happen and what practices will help mitigate them.

 

Spatter

Weld spatter is about as annoying as it sounds. Spatter usually forms from droplets of molten material produced during the welding process, namely near the welding arc. These droplets often look like molten balls of metal that attach themselves to the surrounding surfaces such as the metal piece the welder might be working on, or, well the welder themselves. While they aren’t physically devastating to the piece being worked on, it does look wonky and might give the impression that the welding process was done with little to no care. While it might be annoying to remove the spatter afterward, preventing them altogether will save precious time.

The causes of spatter can vary. Sometimes the metal composition is at fault; not every type of metal is meant for welding. Some components don’t have the strength to withstand the heat that welding brings. Other times, the metal coating could be erroneous, the metal could simply be dirty, or improper welding techniques and settings could be at play. These problems aren’t necessarily rare, however, a little further research and attention to the setup could be the difference between spatter flying around ruining the metal and finishing the task with no hiccups or hurdles.

Quick ways to prevent spatter could be to reduce the current and the arc length, increase the torch-to-plate angle, and clean the gas nozzle. By taking a few precautions, you may be clear in avoiding spatter on various welding processes.

 
Spatter marks are easily visible and are a sign of poor quality assurance from the welders themsevles.

Porosity

Porosity is another common welding defect that’s easier to prevent than it is to solve after the fact. This defect happens when there’s the absorption of nitrogen, oxygen, and/or hydrogen in the weld pool. This generally occurs inside the weld during the cooling process. There are several types of porosity such as surface, subsurface, wormholing, and cratering each with its own causes and deformities.

The most common one is surface porosity which shows deformities to even the most untrained eye. The other forms can be slightly more difficult to see as you take a gander, but their subtle imperfections can affect the welded metals negatively. 

Porosity can be caused by the contamination of the metal at hand, including by paint, oil, moisture, mill scale, etc. As the heat from the welding increases, these contaminants will transform into gasses that then become trapped within the weld pool, essentially weakening the weld itself.

As is the case with spatter, removing porosity after the fact is time-consuming and arduous. Your time is better spent taking the necessary precautions to avoid porosity. Some of them include keeping the workspace clean, using fresh welding consumables, having dry and clean plate edges, and regularly checking the equipment. The last thing you need is a leaky welding torch because you didn’t check it before using it!

Cracks

Of all the recurring problems in welding, cracks may just be the most annoying of them all. Cracks happen when the internal stresses of a weld exceed the strength of the filler metal and/or base metal. Unlike the other problems, which could be solved after the fact, cracks are much more of a nuisance. To fix them, the weld would need to be ground out, and then a new weld would need to be performed. Essentially, you would need to eliminate the problem and restart from scratch. If that sounds like lost time, that’s because it very much is.

While the cracks often happen because of external and internal stresses, they aren’t all the same. The physical loads may be too heavy for the welding process; residual welding stresses, the more frequent cause, can weaken the joints, leading to cracks in the metal. Cracks also occur in two extremes: very hot and very cold temperatures.

Hot cracks occur at higher temperatures when the liquid metal can’t sufficiently fill the spaces between the weld metal that’s in the midst of solidification. As the metal shrinkage begins, so does the cracking as there’s an excessive amount of stress that occurs simultaneously. Hot cracks can be attributed to a strain on the weld pool, a blockage of weld liquid, impurities in the metals, and above-average temperatures. To avoid these cracks, it’s best to keep the causes in mind and keep the strain and temperature to the lowest possible without sacrificing the quality of the weld.

Cold cracks, while on the opposite side of the temperature spectrum, are still just as annoying. Cold cracks cause sharp-edged crevices to form throughout the weld. Like its warmer brother, it can absolutely ruin the weld. It can occur after the weld has solidified and can be caused by a combination of welding stress, a brittle hard structure, the presence of hydrogen, and temperatures below 150°C. To prevent cold cracks, ensure you have a proper width to depth ratio on weld beads, select your base material properly, and validate your technique to mitigate any improper moves or processes you may not be sure of.

 
Cracks in sanding can be minimized using cover sheets. Statistics via Research Gate by Zhanxiang Ling.

Undercut

Undercutting in welding is when grooves begin to appear on the base metal near the root of the weld. While this is sometimes the result of a weak welding process if undercuts do appear they can drastically reduce the strength of the weld and workpieces. Some of the causes for undercuts include maintaining too long an arc length and maintaining excessive current which causes edges of the joint to melt and drain into the weld. The latter will leave a drain-like impression across the weld. As well, selecting the wrong gas shield, poorly depositing the filler metal along the edges of the weld, using incorrect filler metal, and using an improper electrode angle can all cause undercuts in the weld. 

Simply put, undercutting in welding isn’t uncommon. Correcting the undercuts is doable, but, like clockwork, prevention is key. To ensure proper welds and to avoid undercuts, double-check the heat input, work at a decent speed (one you can properly supervise), correct the electrode angle and size, and perfect your weaving technique as much as possible before starting your weld. 

Distortion

One of the more visible defects, distortion of the metal occurs when the heating and cooling is uneven. Usually caused by compressive stress that occurs on the area around the edges, the metal can begin to deform and turn into an unwanted shape. Different forms of distortion include longitudinal shrinkage, transverse shrinkage, angular distortion, bowing and dishing, buckling, and twisting. While these all may sound a bit odd, it’s important to take the proper steps to avoid distorting the shape of the metal you are working on.

Preventing distortion in metal isn’t always a one-size-fits-all solution, but it can mitigate any unwanted disasters. Avoid welding from both sides of the joint. Weld from the center all the way, also going in opposite directions. Use large electrodes and clamp firmly. As well, alternate sequences of welds and locations if you begin to notice the beginning of the distortion.

Different forms of distortion could properly imbalance the way the metal is welded. Prevention is the key to avoiding these annoying problems. Figure via TWI Global.

Much Ado About Welding

 

Welding is a nifty but complicated process. Errors are easy to come by but they are also easy to prevent. Considering that a good portion of welding is done by real welders, problems may sometimes arise as a lapse of judgment, which could be caused by fatigue, stress, and other human factors. Humans are imperfect and sometimes that leads to imperfect welds. Other times, it can just be bad luck. In any case, these problems are common and easy to identify, giving you the most information possible to complete your welds in the most efficient manner possible.

When human welders are no longer an option, autonomous robots can answer the call. Using 3D Perception with AI-based Task Planning and Motion Planning, manufacturing engineers and integrators can configure autonomous robotic systems to analyze and weld various pieces of metal regardless of their shape, complexities, and sizes. Contact us to learn more.

 

Understanding The Division of Labor In Robotics

It may seem like an eternity ago that collaborative robots, or cobots for short, were introduced to the labor force in an effort to help ease a burdening workload for employees who may have needed a hand. Their first use dates all the way back to the late 1990s when Northwestern University professors J. Edward Colgate and Michael Peshkin helped invent them. As time has passed, their use has only increased. Advancements in robotics have allowed robots to alleviate the stress of demanding and tiring jobs. With fewer workers entering the manufacturing workforce as the years pass, more robots are being tasked with performing jobs that people simply do not want or have the energy to do on a long-term basis. With the saturation of robots in manufacturing, a clear division of labor is present, showing the ever-growing distance between human and robotic labor. 

Traditionally, robots would execute tasks that never changed in nature; they repeated the same movements since the job itself wouldn’t change from part to part. The automotive industry has long used robots to help build different pieces of each car. However, that industry only represents 20% of manufacturing. In the time since the mass installation of robots in the automotive industry, more manufacturers are looking to automate their factories. It’s clear that they want to add robots to improve productivity after the largest shift in labor hit manufacturing harder than most other industries.

 
Cobots have assisted humans in various tasks for over two decades. Expanding robots to become fully autonomous can allow manufacturers to compensate for lost time and labor.

High-Mix Environments and Process Use-Cases

For high-mix environments, the pieces that need work often change in size and form. The processes aren’t always identical either as they can vary from powder coating, to sanding, to deburring. Each process has its own share of wrinkles too. For powder coating, there could be weak penetration of powder into the faraday cage areas. For sanding, it can be chatter marks. And for deburring, it can simply be the lack of precision by human hands. Regardless of the process, problems will inevitably arise and cause a backlog in production as humans can only work so fast under tiring conditions. 

The backlog only becomes more prevalent when you take into consideration the fact that fewer people work in manufacturing than ever before. In the 1950s and 60s, 36% of employed males worked in manufacturing; today that number hovers around 11%. Those that remain have to make up for the lost work.

 

Freeing Up Time & Labor

In an effort to compensate for the loss of manufacturing employees, High-Mix manufacturers have opted to invest heavily in robots. Through a myriad of options to help program the robots such as ROS, manufacturers can ensure that autonomous robots not only are capable of handling tasks that require a certain skill set, but that they can do so in a timely manner. 

By transitioning these tasks toward autonomous robots, manufacturers will also see several byproducts of this maturing technology. Autonomous robots can and will perform the necessary tasks but they won’t push the remaining human workers out of the factories. In fact, they will be as necessary as ever and their jobs, while less physically demanding, will allow them to achieve more by solving tasks that a robot can’t necessarily do.

Humans are intrinsically creative. Their best work can generally be achieved by allowing them to create and solve problems in different ways. If a manufacturer needs consistent sanding for different wooden parts, then it removes the physical strain from the employee who can instead focus on whether the machine is in good condition, if the pieces of wood can go to the robot without any game-breaking imperfections, or simply taking the extra time saved to devise a plan that could allow for faster production or fewer problems within the working environment.

Short-Term Planning For Labor Losses

Naturally, robots aren’t replacing every human in manufacturing. On the opposite side, humans aren’t exactly returning to manufacturing in droves now that the pandemic has eased. The goal isn’t to directly replace their labor either. Getting them back is another task on its own. In the interim, setting up an autonomous robotics system is an easy stopgap solution that can alleviate manufacturing employees in the short term, while alleviating costs for owners who need to continue to produce at the rates they’re used to.

Autonomous robots can compensate anywhere between 80-90% of a given manufacturer’s labor utilization, thus opening the gates for their employees to work on other tasks that have been paused due to production backlogs. Autonomous robots are still relatively new, but the industry is burgeoning. 

ROS allows for the programming of autonomous robots, but even that requires programmers to constantly update what the robots can do. Omnirobotic’s AutonomyStudio™ allows manufacturers to remove coding from the equation, instead opting for behaviors that will allow autonomous robots to see, plan, and act accordingly for every new part placed in their line of sight.

The labor shortage may begin easing up, but not all ex-manufacturing employees will return. To replace human labor for arduous tasks like sanding, autonomous robots can provide a stopgap solution to continue producing at high rates.

 

While autonomous robots at the moment may be short-term solutions for a long-term problem, in the future they will be even more powerful and capable, furthering the amount of time is freed up for employees looking to help their respective companies grow in a fruitful way.

With AutonomyOS™ and AutonomyStudio™, it’s never been easier to deploy an autonomous robotic system. Using 3D Perception with AI-based Task Planning and Motion Planning, manufacturing engineers and integrators can configure autonomous robotic systems to sand various pieces of wood regardless of their sizes. Contact us to learn more

4 Problems A Sanding Robot Could Help Resolve

Manual skilled labor is always as difficult and time-consuming as it seems. When it comes to sanding, there is a recurring set of problems that can arise due to many factors. Sanding is still a human’s game despite significant advancements in autonomous technology. Like most things, being human means human errors are still part of the process. Some of the biggest problems lie in the equipment setup, miscalculations of distances, and, of course, fatigue.

Moving toward an autonomous can solve a great deal of the problems that lie in sanding processes, but, first, it’s important to understand what kind of problems are the most common.

Chatter Marks, Wavy Surfaces, and Ridges

Chatter marks describe the rippling pattern that can appear across a piece when something goes wrong in the sanding process. Wavy surfaces on a piece of wood mean that there are a consistent number of peaks and valleys across the surface. Finally, ridges are raised lines that appear along the surface of the worked piece.

Oftentimes, these problems occur when there’s an issue with the sanding machine itself or if there has been inconsistent or poor maintenance. Some of the causes include the improper installation of paper on the drum sander, the belt speeds being too fast or slow, or the conveyer belt wearing out. If most of these problems occur because of machine problems, then the burden of constantly checking the integrity of these machines falls on the employees themselves.

Disfigurations on improperly sanded wood will become immediately apparent. Moving toward an autonomous robotics system will minimize the negative outcomes.

Not Enough Sanding

Sanding is a long and arduous process. One that is immensely demanding on the worker going at it for hours on end. Sometimes, the process can involve sanding whole floors or simply an abundance of pieces that need to be sanded in a set amount of time to reach a quota. In any case, when there’s a large amount of work to be done, sometimes a worker will cut corners to reach the deadline, even if that means sacrificing quality.

Even though you might see a noticeable difference in the floors after the first round of sanding, this doesn’t necessarily mean the job is done. Ideally, you’d want to increase the grits in your sandpaper as the work progresses as each higher grit will help remove scratches from lower grit sandpaper. Typically, the grits available will go from 80-120-180 but ideally, you’d have grits available from 80-100-120-150-180. It’s possible that the latter sizes aren’t all available or convenient to come by, but adhering to the former sizes, it should be just enough to ensure that there aren’t scratches left behind if you decide to just use one set of grit-size sandpaper. If it sounds like a lot of work, it most definitely is, but a longer, proper job is infinitely better than a quicker job with mediocre results.

Over-Sanding

Of course, if problems arise when you don’t sand enough, there will surely be some if you sand too much. A sign that wood has been over-sanded is if it starts to look uneven. Over-sanding will not generally occur when you’re sanding the entire piece. Instead, it’s more likely to occur when a specific part of the piece has some sort of discoloration, scratches, or gouges. In an effort to fix these small problems, the person sanding might think they can fix it by continuously sanding that one part until it’s been overdone. 

Luckily, over-sanding isn’t so big of a problem that you have to throw out the piece and restart from scratch. There are ways to fix over-sanded wood and, while it may add to the amount of working time, it at least provides a way to fix a mistake that could have been avoided.

Over sanding and misusing the sander will cause several problems on the wood. Human error is mostly at play when this happens.

Misusing The Sander

Most sanding is done by real people in real time, but they need machinery to make the sanding work. Naturally, the sander is the worker’s most prized possession during the sanding process. Using it, however, requires a great deal of patience, detail, and willingness to spend long hours perfecting the job.

A recurring problem that arises in sanding is when there’s too much pressure being applied on the sander.  This excess pressure can lead to swirls, the disfiguration of the wood, uneven edges, and the potential overheating of the sander. The last thing you need is the machine breaking halfway through the job.

Along with sanding carefully, the pace at which you sand should be calculated, avoiding the urge to go too fast or too slow. Unless you need a specific job to accomplish, most sanding companies will agree that 10,000 RPM is good enough to handle most jobs. If you have some finer sanding to do, you’ll likely need to recalculate that so it fits your needs.

These problems will once again arise with human error as it is the person themselves who set up how the machine will work. If you’ve been at it for too long and are fatigued or if you’re just not sure what the exact process is, it’s likely that you will encounter problems throughout the sanding process.

Mitigating The Sanding Problems

Most of the problems listed above have a recurring theme: human error. As much good work as people have done sanding over the years, it’s only normal that they slip up from time to time. After all, they are human. Sometimes, they’re tired and forget a step. Other times, they simply lack the guidance to perfect their work.

As the skilled labor market continues to tighten, finding experienced sanders is always a tough ask. For those who are left, their skills will retire with them. A potential solution could be to think about automation. Robotics and sanding aren’t a new concept together, but there’s an extra layer that will eventually be tacked on: autonomous sanding.

Most robots are programmable using a plethora of robotics middleware while others trade in coding for behavioral-based autonomy. This means that robots can learn the size, placement, and dimensions of the pieces at hand and learn how exactly to sand them without the constant need of human labor. Humans won’t be entirely replaced as they will then be tasked with replacing the parts when necessary and watching over the processes, but the risk of human error falters as autonomous robots will take up a brunt of the work.

An autonomous robotic sander will eventually mitigate all the human errors that arise during the sanding process.

 

With AutonomyOS™ and AutonomyStudio™, it’s never been easier to deploy an autonomous robotic system. Using 3D Perception with AI-based Task Planning and Motion Planning, manufacturing engineers and integrators can configure autonomous robotic systems to sand various pieces of wood regardless of their sizes. Contact us to learn more

Going Green With Manufacturing: The Path Towards Sustainable Automation

There’s no question we’re in the midst of a climate crisis. As officials from all over the world struggle to create a plan to mitigate the effects of climate change, the causes are still points of contention. The beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic paved the way for a brief but impactful decline in carbon emissions. Once the world reopened, however, it brought climate challenges back to square one. The pandemic also highlighted a stark drop in available goods due to a labor and supply shortage in which the effects are still being felt. Factory automation is a solution for the lack of labor, but how sustainable is it? At a glance, it might be easy to write off automation as energy-consuming, but this doesn’t tell the whole story.

Like most technologies, automation requires careful attention and planning to maximize its efficiency. If left unchecked, it could lead to different forms of waste. For example, in paint spraying procedures, human labor will account for a certain amount of waste. When fully autonomous robots execute that same task, the waste should be greatly reduced. If this autonomous robot is using iffy software or is poorly programmed then it could waste even more paint all while consuming large amounts of energy to complete a job in mediocre fashion

How Bad Can It Get?

The International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) developed a board that listed the best- and worst-case scenarios for the environmental impacts of automation technologies. The IISD breaks down different categories of automation categories and lists the impact each sector has on the environment based on greenhouse gas emissions, resource usage, and ecosystem usage.

The worst-case scenarios here are predictable. If left unchecked, the environment could have significant adverse consequences in fields such as autonomous transport and the Internet of Things. Essentially, if resources aren’t properly managed, then it’s only normal that waste could become an issue.

Resource management is essential to the preservation of the environment. The chart predicts that in a best-case scenario, artificial intelligence – along with autonomous transportation and the Internet of Things – would have a “significant positive impact” on the environment. Again, these are purely predictions from a single source, but they aren’t unattainable. If advanced technologies, like nuclear fusion, can advance to a point of universal adoption, then these predictions will be closer to reality.

Figure 1. Showing a best- and worst-case scenario of greenhouse gas emissions, resource use, and ecosystem use for various sectors where autonomous systems can be implemented (via Dusik et al.)

Manufacturing and Its Impact On the Environment

In an article published by Al Jazeera in 2021, they state that “manufacturing – especially of the cheap construction staples steel and cement – accounts for about a third of global greenhouse gas emissions.” In the United States, manufacturing processes consist of 25% of the country’s energy use. Manual methods of manufacturing are quickly becoming archaic and will require an overhaul towards automation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Inefficient technology is one factor behind the world’s overconsumption of technology. In 2013, a report published by the International Energy Agency (IEA) estimated that the world’s 14 billion online electronic devices had wasted around $80 billion every year. Though the IEA lacks an update nearly a decade later, it’s fair to assume that this number hasn’t gotten any better.

New technologies are hoping to make energy consumption all the more sustainable with different parties advocating for different methods such as solar-powered electronics and the aforementioned nuclear fusion. Neither of these forms of energy is ready for widespread use – in fact, nuclear fusion is still very much in its infancy – but that doesn’t mean advances in other sectors won’t help mitigate the effects of climate change.

Figure 2. Coal- and oil-based electricity generation cause the most greenhouse gas emissions while hydro, wind, and nuclear all have minimal impact (via Let’s Talk Science 2020).

What the Research Says

A research paper titled “A global horizon scan of the future impacts of robotics and autonomous systems on urban ecosystems,” written by a number of authors including Mark A. Goddard and Zoe G. Davis, detailed how exactly a robotic autonomous system (RAS) could affect the environment down the line. While they touch upon the ecological benefits of factory automation – more on that later – they also specified how automation could benefit entire cities and ecosystems.

In short, automation could lead to better use of land, especially in dense cities, like Dubai, which could lead to less space being used for transport infrastructure. They predict that if automation becomes widespread, then fewer people will need cars, paving the way for reduced roads, car parks, and driveways. They add that automation in buildings could regulate energy consumption and reduce heat loss.

With these services becoming more eco-friendly, “RAS will reduce human-nature interactions by, for example, reducing the need to leave the house as services are automated and decreasing awareness of the surrounding environment while travelling.”

While the research goes far more in depth about topics such as managing invasive species and biodiversity, it’s clear that, if properly implemented, RAS could be a game-changing service provided to the world.

These long-reaching effects are not just for cities and communities, they will also immensely benefit manufacturers who will be able to both augment productivity and reduce their carbon footprint.

Considering a sustainable factory will not only benefit the environment, but will benefit your savings in the long run

How Sustainable is Automation Really?

The world of automation is vast. There are many different ways an autonomous system can help the environment. Robots can be programmed in empty fields to plant trees. Self-driving electric cars will one day be commonplace, not only eliminating the need for gas refuels but also greatly reducing noise pollution as cars will be mostly silent and obnoxious honking from irritated drivers. While these are more day-to-day and simpler options, enabling autonomous robotic systems in manufacturing plants can also go a long way toward reducing their carbon footprint. Here are some examples of how automation can contribute to the fight against climate change:

Reduced Energy Consumption: Fewer humans in the factory means you can downsize and use less space in the factory. With less space means heating and air conditioning costs will decrease. As well, autonomous robots will take less time to complete a task, therefore using less energy.

Reduced Waste: With human labor, it’s normal to expect waste when performing certain tasks like paint spraying or powder coating. A fully autonomous robot will know exactly how much of each resource to use, minimizing waste. It will also reduce reworks, touch-ups, and complete revisions.

A reduction in both energy consumption and waste will not only benefit the manufacturers’ costs but will also contribute to a substantial reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, eventually minimizing a factory’s carbon footprint. As well, if new forms of energy, like nuclear fusion, become usable, then it will improve a factory’s level of sustainability as well.

Figure 3. Greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) from industry make up for nearly a quarter of the U.S.’s total GHGs in 2020, signifying an urgency to move towards sustainable forms of energy. (Via EPA)

Getting There: The Road to Sustainable Manufacturing

The world is slowly but surely taking steps to ensure our collective carbon footprint declines. With autonomous robotics systems, manufacturers can directly contribute to that. While it might not be the sole reason manufacturers will switch to a fully autonomous robotics system, they can find some solace in knowing that adopting these systems won’t only be beneficial to their company, but to future generations who depend on the Earth’s wellbeing.

 

With AutonomyOS™ and AutonomyStudio™, you can move towards a fully autonomous robotics system that is as practical as it is ecological. Using 3D Perception with AI-based Task Planning and Motion Planning, manufacturing engineers and integrators can configure autonomous robotic systems for value-added processes that allow manufacturers to achieve more consistency and flexibility in production than ever before. Contact us to learn more