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  • Writer's pictureAzad Jafari

Sustainable Machine Design Offers Real-World Benefits in Intralogistics

New equipment designs focused on reducing material waste and energy consumption can also boost margins and system uptime

Right-size packaging machine
Right-size-packaging machines, such as Kern AG’s PackOnTime® system, increase sustainability in intralogistics by reducing waste cardboard and optimizing density in delivery vehicles.

Use LED lightbulbs. Properly inflate your tires. Get all your protein from plants.

We’ve all heard plenty of advice in recent years about ways to practice sustainability in our own lives. Some of it makes a real impact, while the effects of other ideas are debatable.

For engineers across industries, however, there are real, measurable ways to boost sustainability. And best of all, implementing sustainable automation technology can also increase the reliability and cost-effectiveness of industrial equipment. Let’s look at intralogistics as one example.

E-commerce grew exponentially during the pandemic. It provided a lifeline for people to get what they needed, from electronics to groceries, without going into a brick-and-mortar store. But the larger number of people ordering (and ordering more often) put the environmental impacts of distribution centers under a microscope as well. I mean, how many times did you have a massive box delivered to your door with just one little item inside?

Consumers aren’t the only ones who recognized this, as waste packaging and energy also affects companies’ bottom lines. As such, intralogistics providers and machine builders are exploring new ways to reduce their impact.

Sustainable automation for distribution centers

Beckhoff power measurement components
Increased data transparency due to a coordinated system for power supply, fusing and monitoring simplifies energy management in production environments.

What does that look like in practice? For starters, new automation solutions enhance the sustainability of packaging for e-commerce, such as right-sized packaging solutions. This can directly contribute to improving environmental friendliness. In addition, reducing waste can boost your margins.

Automation technology and intralogistics equipment manufacturers must prioritize sustainability to ensure that their design, construction and operation have minimal negative impact on the environment while promoting long-term resource availability. Achieving this goal involves reducing energy consumption, minimizing waste, and using environmentally friendly materials.

Practical sustainability measures for automation technology and intralogistics equipment include designing energy-efficient systems that incorporate low-power components and limit energy use during idle periods. Using recyclable or compostable materials during the production process and implementing waste reduction systems such as closed-loop material handling systems play an important role as well.

Designing equipment with extended lifetimes and easy reparability also reduces the need for frequent replacements, while environmentally friendly disposal processes are necessary for end-of-life equipment.

Focus on sustainability, achieve reliability

These efforts do more than allow companies to be “green.” In industrial equipment, sustainability and reliability are interdependent on each other because they both contribute to the overall success and longevity of a system.

Power monitoring dashboard on a Beckhoff HMI
Reliable power supply and fusing, including energy monitoring for both 24 V DC and 230 V AC, reduces costs and increases system availability.

Reliability refers to a system's consistent and failure-free ability to carry out its intended functions. A reliable system reduces waste and the need for frequent replacements, promoting sustainability by conserving resources.

On the other hand, a sustainable system is designed to minimize negative impacts on the environment and conserve resources, which can improve profitability by reducing the demand for raw materials. A system that is designed to promote sustainability by conserving resources and minimizing waste is more reliable in the long term. As a result, it reduces risk of failures and offers a longer lifespan.

At the same time, a reliable system that operates consistently and without failure offers greater availability and contributes to sustainability by minimizing waste and preserving resources.

Monitoring and maintenance ensure continued sustainability

To guarantee the equipment lives up to its eco-friendly promises, someone needs to monitor performance and quantify the benefits. But who should do the monitoring? And are they also responsible for maintenance if the performance falls short?

The frequency and extent of monitoring required to ensure the sustainability and reliability of automation technology and intralogistics equipment may vary depending on the equipment and its usage. Nevertheless, some general guidelines include:

  • Regular maintenance: Regular maintenance, such as daily, weekly, or monthly inspections, can help identify and address issues before they lead to equipment failures. It’s best to implement predictive maintenance technologies to automate these efforts.

  • Energy consumption monitoring: Regular monitoring of energy consumption, such as daily or weekly, can help ensure energy-efficient equipment usage and identify any spikes that can point to a developing problem.

Responsibility for monitoring sustainability and reliability can be shared by several parties, including the equipment manufacturer, operator and any third-party maintenance providers. However, the end user ultimately bears the responsibility of ensuring that the equipment is being used and maintained in a sustainable and reliable manner.

The frequency and extent of monitoring required for sustainability and reliability depend on the equipment and its usage. Nonetheless, regular monitoring is crucial to ensuring that the equipment is being used and maintained in a manner that promotes sustainability and reliability.

EL3453 power measurement terminals and other EtherCAT Terminals from Beckhoff
Implementing EL3453 power measurement terminals and other EtherCAT Terminals from Beckhoff enhances sustainability and availability of systems.

Sustainable automation for end users and OEMs

More and more companies are adding sustainability initiatives across their organizations. No matter the industry, machine builder OEMs can find the benefits of sustainable equipment to be a key differentiator when launching a new product into the market. For end users, there are several steps to promote sustainability and reliability with automation technology and intralogistics equipment. Here are some examples that both groups can follow:

  • Ensure your operations and processes are energy efficient in the first place. End users can optimize energy usage and reduce waste by controlling equipment energy consumption, such as turning off equipment when not in use.

  • Power monitoring through automation is a great way to enhance sustainability and reliability, as it can signal an upcoming maintenance concern when there is a surge in equipment power consumption. For greenfield applications, this can be built in with data collected by a PC-based machine controller, then sent to the cloud or enterprise level. For brownfield retrofits, adding power monitoring can be as simple installing several I/O terminals and an IoT coupler, rather than a complete rip-and-replace scenario.

  • Machine learning is a highly effective method to automate energy conservation in industrial environments. For example, it can be leveraged to optimize the ramp speed of shuttles on an AS/RS or to identify the most efficient paths for AGVs/AMRs, leading to reduced energy consumption without operator intervention.

By following these best practices, end users can promote sustainability and reliability. By implementing New Automation Technology in intralogistics equipment, you can make a real impact to reduce waste and protect natural resources – and pad your margins at the same time. And to do so, you won’t have to eat a single veggie burger.

How can New Automation Technology boost the sustainability of your industrial equipment? Contact your local Beckhoff sales engineer today.


Azad Jafari of Beckhoff USA

Azad Jafari is the I/O Product Manager for Beckhoff Automation LLC.


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