While shopping several months ago, I stopped dead in my tracks after rounding the supermarket aisle. In front of me was a mobile robot scanning shelves, presumably checking for out-of-stock items.
The experience was both startling and futuristically impressive.
This month, a robot at another retailer halfway across the globe is pushing boundaries farther.
Fortunate shoppers at a high-end Selfridges on Oxford Street in London, England, can watch a ABB IRB 6700 robot 3D printing a variety of personalized designer objects made from Parley Ocean Plastic-diverted marine plastic debris collected from Parley’s Global Cleanup network.
Notably, it’s not the retailer, but the shoppers who determine what the robot will do.
Developed in partnership with environmental organization and global network, Parley for the Oceans, and innovative design brand, Nagami, the demonstration uses ABB’s simulation software, RobotStudio and the robot to create a variety of printed furniture, homeware, and other objects made from Parley Ocean Plastic. The robot works with Nagami’s unique plastic extruder to print the objects which can be selected by customers on a screen and made to order on the premises.
It’s part of Selfridges’ SUPERMARKET concept, which challenges consumers to think about how the goods they purchase are produced and the resulting impact on the environment.
Manufacturing on demand.
The demonstration serves as a case study of on-demand manufacturing.
“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,” says Marc Segura, ABB’s robotics division president. “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.”
Says Parley Founder and CEO Cyrill Gutsch. “Parley Ocean Plastic was invented to catalyze change in response to marine plastic pollution and the destruction of our oceans. Working with ABB and Nagami we can now print on-demand anywhere in the world to turn a problem into a solution. Beyond the huge potential for reducing waste by printing directly inside retail locations like Selfridges, we want to use this technology to empower local communities across the globe – giving them the tools to turn local plastic pollution into business opportunities and useful objects. For the oceans, climate and life.”
Besides emphasizing the importance of eco-innovation, the demonstration will also serve to highlight the wider potential of robotic automation to help retailers attract customers. Robots are already being used in increasing numbers in inventory, delivery management, and in-store services, with research organization Coherent Market Insights estimating a 30% growth in the uptake of robots in retail by 2028.
The demonstration runs throughout April.