Earth Day 2022: collaborative robots and sustainability 


Last year, Earth Overshoot Day fell on July 29th. This marks the day that our ecological footprint passed the planet’s biocapacity. Now, with Earth Day here (22 April 2022), it’s our chance to consider how this can be improved from both an individual and economic level. 

While collaborative robots (cobots) – robots that can work safely alongside humans - and sustainability aren’t a pairing that most people commonly think about, Earth Day gives us the opportunity to reflect on the difference that robots can make:

Reducing waste in manufacturing

Masayuki (Masa) Mase, Country Manager for Universal Robots Oceania explains that the manufacturing sector is one of the many sectors to consider in our plight. “It requires a lot of raw materials and generates waste - including those generated through manufacturing defects.” 

One of the most effective ways to reduce waste in this sector is to improve the quality of manufacturing procedures using cutting-edge technology and robotics. Here we see some grounds for optimism as we know that the cobots being built today can help reduce manufacturing waste.

Masa adds that unlike humans, cobots can repeat processes in the way cycle after cycle to improve production quality. “While the impact on waste at each workshop or factory may seem insignificant in the context of the world’s challenges, the total impact of precise robotic technology across the global could be considerable.”

Increasing resilience in industry

The European Commission’s vision for industry in the future (or Industry 5.0), is a sector that is sustainable, human-centric, and resilient. Over the last few decades, the focus has been on mass production at low prices. We have seen the development of complex global production chains, but mindsets are changing. 

The pandemic has highlighted vulnerabilities in supply chains and forced many companies to look more carefully at their production processes. “The trend towards reshoring in Australia and New Zealand has been commendable over the past two years. Bringing production close to home reduces the impact of global transportation and makes our economy more resilient through local employment and the empowerment of local supply chains.” 

Space savings

While traditional industrial robots were designed as large, fixed installations focusing on a single task, collaborative robots require less floor space, making it easier for companies to increase their output without the need to build new cells and buildings. In addition, the versatility of cobots is a huge game-changer for companies, opening new possibilities for high-mix, low-volume tailored production.

To conclude, Masa says that Universal Robots foresees a shift in preferences from mass-produced goods to more individualised and personalised products. “In this way too, we may see collaborative automation used to produce goods in a more artisanal and less wasteful way.”