CHICAGO — Sustainability is entering all areas of the automation business, and the advancements are not just for environmental purposes. They can also benefit the corporate bottom line, said Andrew Winston during a panel kicking off the Automate/ProMat 2017 shows here yesterday.
Businesses are recognizing that environmental concerns are already affecting their supply chains, said Winston, author of Green to Gold. This is prompting companies in all parts of the supply chain to seek sustainable materials, processes, and designs that will enable them to save on energy and commodity input costs now and in the future.
“The cost of the commodity inputs keep rising, but the cost of the technology keeps dropping,” he said. “Innovating helps build brand value.”
UPS looks for efficiency
Logistics innovation is key for United Parcel Service Inc. to tightly manage its fuel costs and maximize efficiency for its massive fleet of ground vehicles and aircraft, said Tamara Barker, the company’s chief sustainability officer and vice president of environmental affairs.
UPS could save $50 million if drivers could reduce their driving by just a mile a day, she said. So it continues to tweak its On-Road Integrated Optimization and Navigation (ORION) system, looking for further improvements in routes and delivery schedules.
The delivery company spent a decade developing the system, which it initially deployed in 2013 and is now deployed across all of its 55,000 U.S. routes.
ORION saves UPS about 100 million miles per year. That’s a reduction of 10 million gallons of fuel consumed. It also reduces carbon dioxide emissions by about 100,000 metric tons.
“The company is consistently collecting data to improve the system,” Barker added. UPS looks at driver habits, route changes, road improvements, and other changes that can be rolled out across its fleet.
Though there will be incremental improvements along the way, the next major change for ORION is expected to be in 2019, when UPS plans to provide route data to drivers in real time. This will enabling them to recognize unexpected route changes because of factors that have changed since the truck left the regional or local facility.
Beyond reducing miles driven, UPS also continues to work on alternative fuel usage to reduce carbon emissions and save money, Barker said. UPS has been using alternative fuels since the turn of the century, and it has logged more than 1 billion miles for its alternative-fuel fleet. She estimated that the company drives more than 1 million miles every day with alternative-fuel vehicles.
Watching the skies for satisfaction
Sustainability is important to airlines in terms of both managing fuel costs and ensuring that passengers can get to their destinations, said Randolph Bradley, a technical fellow of supply chain management at Boeing Co.
Not only does Boeing use giant robots for aircraft assembly, but it also has several sustainability and energy conservation initiatives across the U.S. Examples include reuse of all viable jet parts after a vehicle is retired.
Boeing is also working with universities and air carriers on various efficiency and alternative energy efforts, said Bradley.
In terms of accessibility, the company has collaborated with Alaska Airlines. A high percentage of its flights to Juneau, AK, are canceled because of bad weather.
By closely examining weather and wind patterns, Boeing and Alaska Airlines found that by adjusting the route, flight times, and altitudes, they were able to avoid an average of two canceled flights per day.
These changes saved the airline some $15 million annually and resulted in a much more satisfied customer base.
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Plan ahead for sustainability
The key to any sustainability effort is planning, said Rick Bingle, vice president of supply chain at REI. The outdoor goods retailer just opened its second fully sustainable facility, meaning it does no net environmental harm.
Such a project would not be possible if a company such as REI looked to do it all on its own, Bingle said. Suppliers, building contractors, utility providers, and others all need to be involved from the outset of the design to make such a facility possible.
For instance, the company’s facility in Goodyear, Ariz., has all of its air conditioning units inside the building. A similarly sized neighboring facility (housing a different company) has 120 air conditioners on the roof.
If REI had designed its facility the same way, there would have been no room for the solar panels that cover the roof and provide the power for the facility. “Everything below the roof is powered by what’s on the roof,” Bingle explained.
In order to make sure that the solar panels could fully power everything in the plant, REI also took care to use the most energy-efficient designs possible. It had to make sure that there was no unnecesssary power consumption by extraneous devices.
Construction sites are becoming more efficient thanks to robotics. The use of aerial drones for surveying, mobile robots, and even 3D printers for building has attracted attention in an industry with a shortage of skilled labor.
The panelists at Automate agreed that another benefit of encouraging a business culture that values sustainability is that it helps with recruitment. The next generation of workers wants to work with companies that are “purposeful” as well as successful.Read More