Material Handling Solutions for the Circular Economy

As populations worldwide grow and the demand for resources increases, companies are prioritizing conservation. Improved resource management protects the environment and can benefit a company in several ways.

The goal is to develop and maintain a “circular economy.” What exactly is a circular economy, and what role do material handlers, lift-assist devices, and other industrial manipulators play in enabling it? This article answers those questions.

If reading it raises other questions about our products and services, the Dalmec sales team is happy to answer them. Contact us at your convenience.

What Is a Circular Economy?

In a circular economy, resources are kept and used for as long as possible, extracting as much value as possible. Then, the items or materials are recovered and regenerated at the end of their useful life.

Regeneration is when an item that no longer functions as intended is repaired, refurbished, cleaned, or restored to its original state and used again. (This differs from recycling, where used products typically are broken down and turned into different items.)

The fundamental principles of circular economies include:

  • Designing for longevity. Companies in many industries historically developed products with planned obsolescence in mind — meaning they had a predetermined useful life. In a circular economy, companies design and build products to last longer and be easily repairable.
  • Maximizing resource efficiency. Companies focus on using resources more efficiently, reducing waste, and minimizing the need for raw materials.
  • Emphasis on closed-loop systems. Businesses strive to keep materials circulating within the economy through processes like remanufacturing and recycling, reducing the need for virgin resources.
  • Focus on value retention. This strategy aims to retain the maximum value of products, components, and materials throughout their lifecycle, creating economic opportunities and reducing environmental impact.

These principles intertwine and overlap, but the bottom line is getting more out of existing resources so that you need fewer new resources.

People first discussed the idea of a circular economy in the 1970s. However, today’s resource and environmental challenges have brought it to the forefront of how successful manufacturing companies operate.

Tools for Implementing Circular Economies

In addition to adopting the principles above, companies take other steps to create and maintain circular economies. For example, some have switched to product-as-a-service business models. These companies allow customers to pay for the use or performance of a product rather than owning it outright. This approach reduces resource needs and encourages businesses to design products for longevity and reliability, as they retain ownership and responsibility for maintenance and repairs throughout the product’s lifecycle.

Collaborative partnerships and ecosystems are other ways companies make their operations more circular. They engage with suppliers, customers, and other stakeholders to create circular economies. Actions include sharing resources, knowledge, and best practices to optimize resource use, minimize waste, and create value throughout the supply chain.

Digital technologies and data analytics also contribute to circular economies. Companies leverage new capabilities to optimize resource use, improve efficiency, and identify opportunities for creating or enhancing better resource management practices. This includes implementing intelligent manufacturing systems, Internet of Things (IoT)-enabled devices, and predictive analytics to monitor and optimize resource consumption, production processes, and product lifespans.

By adopting these and other resource-focused practices, manufacturers can minimize environmental impacts, reduce costs, enhance resource efficiency, and create value for their businesses and society.

How Material Handlers, Lift-Assist Devices, and Other Industrial Manipulators Contribute to Circular Economies

Material handlers, lift-assist devices, and other industrial manipulators can contribute to circular economies in several ways:

  • Efficient material handling. These devices can streamline material handling processes within manufacturing facilities, plants, and recycling centers. By efficiently moving materials and components throughout the production and recycling processes, they help minimize waste, reduce resource consumption, and optimize resource utilization.
  • Facilitating disassembly and recycling. Industrial manipulators and lift-assist devices can make it faster and easier to complete tasks like disassembling end-of-life products and separating recyclable materials. Mechanized resource handlers can then transport these materials to recycling facilities to be processed and reintroduced into manufacturing, closing the loop and reducing the need for virgin resources.
  • Streamlining the use of modular and upgradable designs. Refurbishing of products is an essential element of circular economies. Modular and upgradable designs simplify that process, and industrial manipulators streamline remanufacturing and repairs. Lift-assist devices can also play a role, helping workers handle heavy or awkward components during assembly and disassembly processes, which makes it easier to replace or upgrade individual modules instead of replacing entire products. This approach promotes product longevity, reduces waste, and supports a circular economy model based on reuse and resource conservation.
  • Optimizing resource recovery and waste management. Mechanized resource handlers can efficiently transport waste materials to recycling facilities, where they can be sorted, processed, and recycled into new products or raw materials. By optimizing resource recovery and waste management processes, these devices minimize the amount of waste sent to landfills or incinerators, reducing environmental pollution and conserving resources.
  • Enhancing worker safety and ergonomics. A healthy and productive workforce is essential to a circular economy. Lift-assist devices and material handlers can reduce the physical strain on workers in resource management tasks, improving ergonomics and reducing injury risks.

Some companies strive to achieve all these benefits in one initiative, while others implement material handlers and other devices in a phased approach. Either way, every improvement moves an organization closer to a fully circular economy.

Business Benefits of Circular Economies

Using and managing resources more responsibly delivers many environmental and operational benefits, as well as multiple business benefits.

For instance, companies known for focusing on sustainability attract the attention of potential customers who share their concerns and goals. As a result, they may enjoy access to new business opportunities. They are also more likely to retain customers who appreciate their efforts to implement “greener” business practices and appreciate that work is completed faster and more efficiently.

Using resources carefully and correctly handling waste also reduces the risk of regulatory non-compliance. Consequently, companies that develop circular economies are less likely to incur fines and penalties. Since adherence to the rules is built into their operations, they also spend less on monitoring and ensuring compliance.

In addition, environmentally responsible companies may have an edge in talent acquisition and retention. Employees today want to work for companies that prioritize earth-friendly practices over profits. So, in hiring scenarios where all other factors are equal, many employees will choose an organization that has embraced circular economy principles.

Implementing Effective Measures to Support Circular Economies

Solutions like industrial manipulators, lift-assist devices, and mechanized resource handlers are crucial in supporting circular economies in manufacturing environments. They benefit companies by optimizing material handling processes, facilitating resource recovery and recycling, improving worker safety and ergonomics, and supporting modular and upgradable product designs.

However, maximizing the benefits of these systems requires working with an organization that understands where, when, and how they are best used. Any misalignment of manufacturing operations and system functionality will fail to deliver the desired results. For example, implementing an industrial manipulator at a point in a manufacturing process where it provides minimal value doesn’t move a company closer to its circular economy goals. Similarly, focusing on the right point in a process but implementing the wrong device won’t enable a company to achieve its desired results.

Manufacturers who turn to Dalmec get more than industry-leading products. Our team works closely with theirs to understand the organization’s processes, identify areas for improvement, and develop the ideal solution. In the process, we share best practices developed from our work with companies in a wide variety of industries, including:

  • Automotive
  • Building
  • Chemical
  • Electromechanical
  • Food
  • Foundry
  • Mechanical
  • Packing
  • Pharmaceuticals
  • Textiles
  • Wood

In these and other industries, our material handlers simplify the manipulation of every item imaginable. The list includes glass, ceramics, drums, bales, tanks, sheets, pallets, furniture, tires, batteries, electric appliances and motors, building components like window frames, and many more items.

Final Thoughts

Effective resource management and waste reduction are increasingly important to manufacturers. Creating and maintaining a circular economy requires time, effort, and capital. The good news is that the material handlers, lift-assist devices, and other industrial manipulators deployed to help with these efforts will continue delivering benefits for many years.

That is especially true with solutions designed and implemented in collaboration with Dalmec. We have deep expertise in leveraging our array of devices to achieve a customer’s stated goals. Whether those objectives include streamlining item regeneration, reducing resource consumption, improving waste handling, or others, the potential combinations and configurations of our systems are virtually limitless.

The first step toward a circular economy for your manufacturing business is a conversation with Dalmec. Maybe you’re ready to deploy material handlers, lift-assist devices, and other industrial manipulators soon. Or perhaps you’re just doing your “due diligence.” Either way, we’re happy to discuss your challenges and propose opportunities for improving your processes.

Contact us today to learn more about our manufacturing solutions and how they can help your company adopt circular economy principles that improve your operations, impress your customers, open doors to new business opportunities, and attract excellent employees — all while protecting the environment.

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