Listen to this article
As you browse the dozens of window displays on London’s Oxford Street, you’ll notice something unique in the window at Selfridges: an ABB robot 3D printing designer furniture, houseware and other objects.
The robot makes the items from upcycled plastics provided by Parley for the Oceans. Parley creates materials from marine plastic debris and fishing gear it collects from islands, coastal communities and shorelines.
The display is a collaboration between ABB, Selfridges, Parley for the Oceans and Nagami, a design brand. Hard at work in the window is an ABB IRB 6700 industrial robot arm, which will remain there for the month of April. Inside the store, customers can pick and customize items on a tablet. The product is then printed on site with the help of Nagami’s plastic extruder.
“While expanded choice is great for consumers, it also comes at a cost to the environment, with products and packaging often being discarded with little thought about where they end up or whether they get recycled,” Marc Segura, ABB’s robotics division president, said. “By re-using plastic from the world’s oceans to print designer objects, we help to highlight the important contribution of robots in creating the sustainable manufacturing processes central to a circular economy.”
ABB is also using the demonstration as an opportunity to showcase the potential robots have in getting customers in the door and enhancing the retail experience. ABB has other such displays, like its demo at a Solebox store in Berlin. At the store, customers can watch as an ABB picking robot picks shoes they selected from a screen. The robot will even change out sized for you.
“Robots are increasingly used to help draw customers back to the high street,” Segura said. “We believe that future adoption will be influenced by three main trends including micro-fulfilment, where robots are used in-store to enable order fulfilment and delivery; personalization, where a robot makes a product to a customer’s specific requirements, with the added option of automatic personalization where data on previous purchasing habits is used to offer new choices; and ‘retailtainment’, where the robot is used as part of an interactive display or show to inform or entertain customers.”
ABB’s demo in Berlin falls into this ‘retailtainment’ category, while its demo in London fits into the personalization category. Its demo in China, where an ABB FlexBuffer is being used at a Huawei kiosk, is an example of how robots can help in micro-fulfillment in stores.
At the kiosk, a robot selects devices ordered from Huawei online or purchased in person. After selecting the devices, they’re placed into a collection drawer for the customer to take. While the customer doesn’t get to watch the robot at work, it frees up employees and allows them to focus on more customer-facing tasks.
By targeting this new customer segment, ABB hopes to broaden its portfolio and expand into new and high-growth sectors, including logistics, healthcare and construction.
ABB partnered with Zume on compostable packaging
In another sustainability project, ABB recently partnered with California-based Zume, a global provider of compostable packaging. ABB is supplying robotic cells that will enable Zume’s production of sustainable packaging on a global scale, helping to reduce reliance on single-use plastics.
ABB is installing more than 1,000 molded fiber manufacturing cells (MFC) – including up to 2,000 robots at Zume customer’s sites worldwide over the next five years.
“Automating production of Zume’s sustainable packaging with ABB robots makes this a viable and economic alternative to single-use plastics. With Zume, we have the potential to remove trillions of pieces of plastic from the global marketplace, preserving scarce resources and supporting a low carbon world,” said Sami Atiya, president of ABB Robotics & Discrete Automation. “Today, robotic automation is expanding possibilities, making the world more sustainable through more efficient production that reduces energy use, emissions and production waste. Our collaboration showcases what is possible when organizations that are committed to pursuing a low-carbon society work together.”