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Environmental benefits of warehousing automation technologies

In addition to productivity and safety advantages, automated warehouse and logistics technologies have a range of environmental sustainability benefits

For a long time, the primary driver of warehousing and logistics automation advances has been efficiency. Robots and machinery can perform repetitive and complex tasks faster, safer and with greater precision than manual methods ever could.

But what about the environmental benefits of automation?

These may not always be the most obvious focus when it comes to FMCG warehousing and logistics applications, but any technology that can save costs and simultaneously help to achieve sustainable, eco-friendly outcomes, has a competitive edge.

The advantages of automation (including those that follow) make FMCG logistics facilities more neighbourhood friendly. Less space, better hygiene and reduced fossil fuel needs are major assets for distribution facilities located in densely populated regions or near residential areas.

A smaller footprint

Automation has many benefits, including the environmental advantage of occupying a smaller physical footprint in a warehouse or logistics facility. Products can be stacked neatly, almost right to the roof, and an automated storage and retrieval system (ASRS) can swiftly select products from anywhere in a compact grid.

Not only is less land required for a fully functioning warehouse, but the carbon footprint is further reduced when you consider that a smaller space will need less electricity, water and other resources. Based on Swisslog’s past projects, when comparing a manual warehouse to an ASRS, up to 60 per cent less space is required.

And the carbon footprint of a warehouse or logistics facility is further reduced when automation technologies perform tasks previously undertaken by fossil-fuel powered materials handling alternatives.

Reduced power consumption

An ASRS can operate in the dark, leading to significant savings in electricity and carbon emissions. And, as technology advances, further power-saving features are incorporated into automated warehouses, including functions where robots ‘go to sleep’ to save power when not in use.

Off-peak power can also be utilised, with automated technologies able to work around the clock, and be controlled remotely, which provides a cost-saving as well as environmental benefits.

Health, safety and hygiene

Reduced manual handling of goods has broader long-term sustainability benefits to society, including lowering the risk of product contamination or product tampering. 

Naturally, hygiene benefits have never been more apparent than in a post-Covid world, where hygiene is top of mind for all companies and individuals.

Long-term sustainability is also further enhanced by a greater level of worker safety. Workers in an automated warehouse – from technology controllers, to maintenance crews, to warehouse managers – typically have a safer, healthier job than manual labour workers in older warehouses.

Green packaging

As companies begin to more widely adopt environmentally friendly packaging, including materials that biodegrade more easily over time, one disadvantage is that it’s often more prone to breakages in the handling process. Automation technology can apply a smooth, gentle touch, which has allowed greener packaging to be employed by more companies.

Profitability and sustainability – a win-win

The efficiency and productivity benefits of automated warehousing or logistics operations have been proven in service worldwide. And these benefits contribute to better profitability over a sustained period, as operations are further tailored to meet customer needs and eliminate inefficiencies.

As this global trend towards greater sustainability continues, automation will be a major driver in making it possible.

For more information, read the full story here.

*The author of this article, Paul Stringleman, is a senior consultant at Swisslog Australia, with more than 20 years of local and international experience designing and engineering automated systems to handle a wide variety of goods, in applications such as distribution centres, airports and supermarkets. In the past five years, Paul has developed several data-driven automated warehouse solutions for e-commerce and retail companies in Australia.

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