Boosting warehouse sustainability with robotics and automation
As sustainability becomes a top priority around the world, the topic of warehouse sustainability has come to the forefront in our industry. Businesses, staff and customers alike are eager to see facilities cut emissions and implement sustainable practices.
Many warehouses are still wasteful and energy intensive. Fortunately, the same technologies that can make processes more efficient and improve a facility’s bottom line also represent a major step forward in warehouse sustainability.
The boom in eCommerce and eGrocery, combined with ever-growing demand for faster online order fulfilment, has driven businesses to invest in warehouse automation technologies.
Here is how automation and robotics are driving sustainability in warehousing.
Greater density, greater efficiency
There are some things that machines simply do better than human beings, and warehouse processes are one of them. Although around 90% of warehouses worldwide still rely on manual processes, this is an inefficient use of both space and energy.
A facility designed for human employees has a footprint four times larger than a fully automated system, on average. Lighting and heating this massive space is both expensive and energy intensive. Robots, by comparison, can work in a quarter of the space – and don’t need light or a comfortable temperature to operate. This means that a warehouse operator only has to light and heat the smaller area used by human workers.
Density also offers other advantages. Experts estimate that around 30% of an average building’s lifetime carbon footprint comes from the construction process, so the most sustainable warehouse may be one that has already been built. Retrofitting existing spaces also makes more financial sense than buying or building new facilities.
What’s more, the ability for automated warehouse systems to operate in tight, unusually shaped spaces means that they can be installed in ‘non-traditional’ environments, such as at the back of an existing high street store. These micro fulfilment centres or “dark warehouses” can reduce the carbon emissions associated with last-mile deliveries.
Rather than relying on a diesel vehicle to drive around a neighbourhood making stops, a store can have stock on hand so people can easily pick it up in-store. In environments where people can walk, cycle, or use public transport to reach the store, this represents a significant decrease in carbon emissions – and it’s faster and more convenient than relying on delivery.
Intuitively, non-experts may assume that a warehouse packed with technology would be more energy intensive. The reality is that many modern robots are extremely energy efficient and the key to a sustainable warehouse.
AutoStore robots, for example, use rechargeable batteries and recapture a significant portion of the energy they expend using regenerative braking. In fact, the total energy usage of ten of these robots equals that of just one ordinary vacuum cleaner.
To go one step further, a sustainable warehouse can use solar power to operate robots with zero carbon emissions. For example, a warehouse for Berggaard Amundsen in Norway – a country with very little sunlight – installed solar panels on the roof and façade. For the majority of the year, the energy generated is enough to power the for the entire AutoStore system – as well as 40 electric vehicle chargers for the community.
An efficient warehouse is a sustainable warehouse
The good news is that operators can kill two birds with one stone: increasing efficiency is both good for the bottom line and good for the planet. Automated warehouses can be smaller, closer to the products’ ultimate destination, and more energy efficient, making them an obvious choice.