Sustainable Machining: Reducing Waste with Automated Machining Processes

Jul 9, 2024 | News, Robotics and Automation

automated 5-axis milling

“Sustainable manufacturing” has become a catchphrase in the industry as manufacturers seek to boost production while reducing waste. In this race towards greater sustainability, automation is solidly positioned as a key driver in making the production of goods more sustainable. Machining is an area that particularly lends itself to automation, supporting this drive for greater sustainability and, in turn, having profound yet positive effects on productivity, efficiency, and costs. Yet, what exactly is sustainable machining? Further, what role do automated machining processes play in sustainable manufacturing?

Automation in manufacturing gained traction in the 1960s and has been transforming industries ever since. While improving profitability and growing industries exponentially, automation also augments environmental sustainability. Automated processes minimize waste generation while streamlining production, optimizing resource use, and enhancing efficiency. Though initially, the industry focused on robotics and other automated hardware solutions, what’s fundamental to sustainable manufacturing in the 21st century are the technologies that support this automation.

Sustainable Manufacturing & Machining

Sustainability isn’t something that can be bought like a piece of equipment or a software program. Automated hardware and the software that supports it aren’t on their own, which is what makes production sustainable. At its core, manufacturing still requires raw materials, which are a finite resource. Additionally, energy is still required to operate any system that fabricates products or parts. While some kind of human supervision is still necessary for any automated system, through lights-out machining, this supervisory role can often be remote rather than on-site. These resources, in turn, require their own processes.

Defining Sustainable Manufacturing

Sustainable manufacturing solutions look at ways to reduce the impact on both the environment and resources with automation, process optimization, and economic efficiency. To be considered sustainable, manufacturers need to look at how resources are consumed, not only for the products they make but also the resources used in making the equipment and software used to make the products. 

How Automated Machining Supports Sustainable Manufacturing

Automation helps manufacturers reduce other negative effects their processes might have on the environment. Sustainable machining involves using automation and technology to make machine processes more ecologically sound, extending to efficient energy use. Sustainable machining involves using technology to promote real-time monitoring through smart cameras and sensors, supported by data analytics to detect defects or other deviations in quality better.

Companies benefit from sustainable machining through: 

  • Attracting new customers by bolstering competitiveness.
  • Creating a means to cooperate and collaborate with other stakeholders.
  • Decreased costs realized through augmented efficiency.
  • Development of comprehensive and formal procedures to drive sustainable practices and incorporate these into normal business functions.
  • Employing greater creativity in the development of a company
  • Minimizing waste of resources used in production.
  • Offers another way in which to remain competitive and increase profitability.
  • Protecting employees from harm.

Automation strengthens efforts to make manufacturing more sustainable. Machining automation offers a means to do this directly through sustainable ways of cutting fluids, reduced rejection rates, less material waste, and increased production while augmenting ancillary processes and promoting continual improvement.

Reduced Rejection Rates

Automated processes decrease the number of rejected parts produced. This is done by automating tasks previously done manually while adding sensing devices and other quality control equipment to improve precision. Sustainable machining means implementing robots for assembling products to reduce variability and the number of rejects produced per batch. This, in turn, results in cost savings from greater energy efficiency while also decreasing the amount of material from rejects and offsetting the cost of automated solutions. Any comparative analysis should be done for a specific period to ascertain how long it might take to achieve a return on this type of investment.

Less Material Waste 

With fewer rejected components, there will naturally be less waste. However, automation goes beyond making rejection rates lower to make manufacturing techniques more sustainable. Machining via automated methods enables manufacturers to reduce how much material is used in the first place to produce a finished workpiece. In essence, more efficiently employing the material used to make products reduces the overall consumption of raw materials, resulting in lower costs and greater profitability.

Increased Production 

Sustainability may also relate to automation assisting in lowering energy consumption through increased production rates so that the same number of parts or products are produced in less time. Time savings translate into lower labor and energy costs, allowing machine shops to make more products with fewer resources. Machining automation also allows shops to use lights-out manufacturing methods that require little or no supervision, permitting production to run overnight and on weekends without noticeably increasing overall costs while decreasing the price per piece.

Augmenting Ancillary Processes 

Machine shops can automate their workflows with the right equipment and software to make their operations more sustainable. Machining processes in modern shops can use a program logic controller (PLC) to power down machinery when not in use, enabling greater energy conservation. Automation also facilitates more efficient management of inventories, allowing manufacturers to employ just-in-time manufacturing methods.

Inventory control software integrated into automated systems allows manufacturers to analyze in real time. This allows them to estimate demand better, constantly track what needs to be stocked, and coordinate machining operations for better order fulfillment. Synchronizing production with demand also prevents waste by curtailing excess inventories, decreasing the prospect of obsolescent stock, and inhibiting overproduction. This, in turn, leads to less waste and more sustainable machining.

Continual Improvements 

As the tools used for automation continue to advance, sustainable machining becomes more easily attainable. Digital and robotic technology continues to drive automated efforts to achieve efficiency throughout nearly every economic sector, focusing on reducing energy consumption and optimizing production. These digital software tools that support automation make manufacturing more sustainable.

Though machine shops are just one point in the supply chain, optimizing their performance through automation helps make manufacturing more sustainable. Machining operations that work under contract and invest in sustainability also enable their customers to trumpet the products and parts they fabricate as sustainable. For manufacturers who are looking for a contract manufacturer focused on precision machining, engaging a partner committed to sustainable machining is a step toward making their operations more sustainable.

The Staub Difference in Sustainable Manufacturing

At Staub Precision Machine Inc., we pride ourselves on maximizing output and using automation to optimize our processes. Staub seeks to make our work for our customers more sustainable by reducing variability and increasing efficiency. Machining components with Staub’s state-of-the-art equipment and the help of our experienced staff, we deliver finished components when and as expected. While known for our automated and high-precision machining, Staub’s capabilities also extend to custom jobs, where we’re no less committed to sustainable machining and manufacturing.

Staub’s automated processes that support sustainable machining include: 

  • Assembly: Staub’s automated assembly processes allow for high-volume processes that greatly decrease rejection rates.
  • Component unloading: Automated unloading of finished components reduces manual labor and reduces handling and potential damage to parts. 
  • Inspection: Manual inspection allows for much greater variability, while our automated equipment for measuring and testing finished components leaves nothing to chance.
  • Wash system: Staub uses a tri-stage water-based automated system for washing components to ensure they’re contaminants-free.

To learn more about Staub’s approach to sustainable manufacturing, contact the experts of automated machining today.