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Carbon tiptoes

In this month’s article from the Automated Material Handling Systems Association, Dave Berridge, AMHSA secretary, reflects on the association’s recent Carbon Footprint Workshop held at AMHSA’s headquarters in Market Harborough

In common with many states around the world, the UK government is committed to reducing this country’s carbon footprint. It can, of course, start by tackling its own huge energy consumption but the demands of the defence, education and health sectors put severe limits on what can be cut.


The government is more effective in turning its attention to individual consumers, whether private households or commercial organisations. Although many consumers claim to hold environmental ambitions, the reality is that saving cash is the real incentive for most.

So is cutting your carbon footprint worth a candle and, if so, what can you do to cut your energy consumption? These were the topics explored at AMHSA’s most recent workshop on Carbon Footprint. Our four speakers – Stephen Barker, head of energy efficiency & environmental care at Siemens; Brian Jones, electronics manager at SEW-Eurodrive; Mike Loughran, solutions architect at Rockwell Automation; and Martin Needham, managing director of Lutterworth Ecolighting – brought automation expertise from various sectors of industry but their message was consistent: huge savings are possible.


A key point to understand when evaluating carbon footprint is that you must consider the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) when it comes to any form of technology. For example, an electric motor on a conveyor system that costs £400 can easily consume more than its purchase cost in energy every year if it runs 24/7. So, running costs must be factored in to achieve the lowest TCO over the lifetime of the asset.

Another key message delivered by our workshop speakers was the important role that control systems play in energy saving; typically 80% of cost reduction is the result of smart control systems, rather than simply using more efficient components. For example, a conveyor system only needs to run when there is a parcel in transit. In fact, only the particular section of the conveyor where the parcel is located needs to be live. Likewise, lights only need to be illuminated where people are actually working.

Of course, full automation of processes such as storage and retrieval of stock means that these operations can take place without the need for any heating or lighting, as automated stacker cranes and robots – unlike human operatives – simply do not require them. Any staff that are needed – such as order pickers, supervisors and maintenance engineers – can be housed in heated and lit areas that are strategically placed within the facility. In addition, any heat that is produced within the building will rise to roof level, where it can be captured and returned to where it is needed.

In order to maximise carbon reduction and cost savings, companies need to measure the energy consumed at subsystem level rather than simply at site level. The results need to be reported in a timely and appropriate way in order to allow the management team to make informed decisions and change behaviour to secure optimum savings.

If you are relatively new to automation or the material handling industry, please consider attending our next AMHSA event – a Training Workshop for those wanting to gain an overview of material handling systems. Taking place on 2nd April 2014, the event will cover a broad range of automated and manual handling topics from pallets and totes, through racking and trucks to sorters, conveyors, cranes, WMS/WCS, picking systems and overall system design.  

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