Automation and Sustainability: Manifold Benefits
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Automation and Sustainability: Manifold Benefits

Aug 15, 2023

(Courtesy of SEE)

From business leaders to consumers, most everyone nowadays acknowledges the importance of having sustainability goals.

Companies are looking at ways to source and use recyclable materials, reduce packaging consumption, achieve net zero emissions, and eliminate waste sent to the landfill. In fact, McKinsey research states that 83% of Fortune 500 companies have goals to address these top sustainability issues.

Many consumers also are looking for opportunities to conserve resources and reduce waste. A study from Shelton Group states consumers are most personally concerned about plastics in the ocean (65%) and climate change (58%).

One often overlooked opportunity is how automation can contribute to achieving sustainability goals for both brands and consumers. Automation provides real-time data and analytics that can help identify inefficiencies and areas for improvement. This helps manufacturers produce goods more efficiently, using fewer resources and generating less waste. By conserving energy and resources, companies can reduce their carbon footprint and thus minimize the environmental impact of their manufacturing processes.

How automation can enable a more efficient process and reduce waste

In the case of food processing, automation may reduce resource consumption, including energy and materials, by identifying a production problem soon after its first occurrence. For instance, automated solutions can identify and flag packaging issues, such as leaking packages, immediately after production, enabling prompt resolution. This proactive process monitoring ultimately results in reduced rework, less materials waste, and potentially less food waste if a compromised package is shipped, rejected or returned.

In addition, automation helps take the guesswork out of choosing the right amount of protective material. The result is less wasted material from overpacking or less damage from underpacking. While labor scarcity and its associated costs are an ongoing challenge, automation can also help optimize labor by making processes more predictable and efficient.

When looking at production processes, constantly operating under a surge mode is much less efficient than a steady, consistent pace. Running at a high rate but with very low utilization results in higher energy consumption and unnecessary equipment wear-and-tear.

Ultimately, automation brings consistency and predictability, which in turn helps to reduce waste and conserve a variety of resources.

Automation minimizes the perceived tradeoffs of sustainability

Typically, companies have had to consider tradeoffs when it comes to implementing sustainable solutions, especially where materials are concerned. Some sustainable solutions may cost more, not perform as well as lower-cost alternatives or may not be as aesthetically pleasing.

Automation can minimize these tradeoffs and allow the best of both worlds with a more efficient process that reduces costs without impacting packaging performance or brand experience.

Invest in the right-size and scale of automation to eliminate waste

It is essential to assess business operation needs and to implement automation at the appropriate scale. Right-sized automation solutions with flexibility to scale up, if needed, ensure efficient use of capital and appropriate consumption of resources.

For example, investing in the right size and scale of automation shares similarities with buying the right-sized truck to meet your needs.

Just as buying the right-sized truck ensures that you are using the appropriate amount of resources for your load requirements, investing in the right size and scale of automation allows for the efficient utilization of resources in various processes. Both approaches aim to avoid overconsumption or wasteful use of resources.

Investing in automation solutions that are appropriately sized and scaled can minimize errors, scrap, rework, and other forms of waste by optimizing processes and reducing inefficiencies. Similarly, buying the right-sized truck can avoid the potential waste of resources, such as fuel, maintenance, and operational costs, by matching the truck size to the load requirements.

Right-sizing is all about getting the best fit for your use.

How automation helps tell your sustainable story

Your company is doing all the right things to be sustainable; you’re choosing all the right materials and have invested in automation to right-size or reduce. But how do you help consumers understand your story and how it relates to them?

With an automated process, you can print directly on a package, which not only helps eliminate the need for extra materials, such as labels, but also provides additional information and education to your customer.

On-product messaging can help you tell your sustainability story and can help educate the person who receives your package to let them know why the material was chosen and how it can be reused or recycled.

A data-driven approach to proactive waste reduction

As more and more companies create their sustainability goals, they’ll also look for ways to report on their achievements in lowering their carbon footprint and how they are measuring and tracking emissions. Automation not only helps to reduce energy use, but also to generate data to help measure and report on it.

Automation brings predictability back to your business, and that means that when you catch issues sooner, you can prevent bigger issues from happening later. In this way, being proactive with preventive measures to reduce waste and energy use can contribute to a company's sustainability story and its bottom line.

Dan Healy – Sustainability Director, Americas at SEE

Dan leads SEE America’s commercial sustainability efforts, where his holistic “life-cycle” approach to assessing environmental impact is helping change the way companies think about packaging and shipping their products. With over 21 years in the packaging industry, Dan can combine past experiences in R&D, marketing, and business leadership to help customers meet both their business and sustainability objectives.

Scott Keefauver – Executive Director, Marketing Equipment & Automation, Americas at SEE

Scott is a driven professional with a passion for uncovering, understanding and unlocking customer value in food, fulfillment and industrial markets. He leads SEE's focus on equipment, automation and digital service innovations to improve operational efficiencies and gain value-added insights for customers across their packaging facilities.

How automation can enable a more efficient process and reduce wasteAutomation minimizes the perceived tradeoffs of sustainabilityInvest in the right-size and scale of automation to eliminate wasteHow automation helps tell your sustainable storyA data-driven approach to proactive waste reduction