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Making FMCG manufacturing more sustainable through intelligent energy management

04 June 2024

Some factory managers take the view that 'if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it'. However, as fast-moving consumer goods manufacturers embark on net zero journeys, a passive attitude towards factory automation won’t cut it, says Patricia Torres

WHILE THERE are some areas of manufacturing where small changes can lead to big savings, reaching net zero will require fundamental changes in other more complex areas, such as the collection and analysis of production data and the movement of goods around the factory floor. Innovative new technologies will play a role but it’s a myth that manufacturing facilities have to be new to be energy efficient. There is plenty that can be done to make existing factories and production lines more sustainable.

AMRs: fossil-free moving

AMRs (autonomous mobile robots) are the future of sustainable materials handling in manufacturing environments. They are battery-powered, which means they are a fossil-free alternative to forklifts for transporting boxes and pallets, and they are intelligent enough to return to the charging station when they need to. They also represent a dynamic replacement for conventional linear conveyors, and unlike traditional autonomously guided vehicles (AGVs), require no facility modifications, such as floor magnets or navigational beacons. 

Palletising cobots enable mixed pallets

Reflecting the trend towards HMLV (high mix low volume) manufacturing, mixed pallets are becoming more popular. The challenge with multi-product pallets is optimising the various patterns to make better use of space in transit and storage, as ultimately, fewer pallets equal lower per unit carbon emissions. However, this is not easy as it requires complex programming. OMRON has overcome this challenge with the development of a new cobot palletising solution that can help manufacturers and packers load mixed pallets more efficiently. The palletiser is based on OMRON’s NX1 series modular machine controller with a specialised function block and intelligent vision embedded into the arm.

Smart sensors and analytics

However, the reductions in energy usage that are needed to achieve ambitious net zero targets can rarely be achieved on the factory floor alone, which is where smart use strategies that harness the IoT (Internet of Things) and AI (Artificial Intelligence) models come into play for analysing data and identifying efficiencies. To this end, OMRON has developed its i-BELT service, which transforms real-time production line data into meaningful solutions for eliminating inefficiencies and implementing improvements. Solutions can be as simple as adjusting settings on inverters. 

This approach was demonstrated in a clean room scenario where electricity was being consumed without much consideration to cost. When i-BELT was used to monitor the air and operational situations at a factory around the clock, it was found that there were hours in which production and quality were unaffected when the air-conditioning was turned off.

Sensorisation is the starting point 

One of the issues we come up against time and time again when companies call on us to identify opportunities for optimising energy usage is that they don’t have the necessary data because they don’t know how to collect it. To collect data, you need sensors and old lines will not have been designed with sensors - or at least not with sensors that are located correctly and are accurate enough for smart monitoring. Therefore, sensorisation is a pre-requisite of any data management platform. 

Patricia Torres is industry marketing manager food and commodities solutions at OMRON Industrial Automation Europe

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