With today’s economic uncertainties, becoming more energy-efficient is an invaluable way to lower costs.

A proactive approach to energy efficiency can help U.S. manufacturers comply with environmental regulations, conserve resources, cut costs, and ultimately reduce our dependence on foreign energy sources. Changing even a few, small parts of your assembly process can make a big difference in energy efficiency and operating profit.

Compressed air is one of the biggest energy costs in an assembly plant, so it’s a great place to look for small gains in energy efficiency. For example, retrofitting pneumatic grippers with SCHUNK micro valves can reduce the grippers’ compressed air consumption by up to 90 percent. They can also cut actuation times by up to half, especially in small-component handling applications. Without the micro valve, the air system must pressurize the cylinder inside the gripper as well as the supply line to the gripper. All that unused compressed air in the line is wasted. With the micro valve, only the piston area of the actuator is pressurized with each cycle.

Just as automotive engineers are making cars and trucks lighter to save fuel, manufacturing engineers can make assembly machines lighter to save energy and increase efficiency. One way to do that is to substitute aluminum components for steel ones. For example, the SCHUNK LEG lightweight gripper is made of recyclable aluminum. It weighs only 9.5 kilograms—one third the weight of traditional grippers—yet it produces a gripping force of 1,500 newtons.

Any energy saving effort brings us one step closer to energy independence. What other tools can make our manufacturing processes more energy-efficient? Have you examined your compressed air usage? Do you account for weight when designing or specifying new assembly equipment? What have you done in your assembly plant to save energy? Share your thoughts.

Editor’s note: “SCHUNK on Automation” is part of a series of guest spots by industry experts that will appear regularly on ASSEMBLY’s blog page. Check back frequently to read more commentaries from SCHUNK, as well as contributions on product testing, ergonomics, electronics assembly and robotics. For more information about automation components, visit www.schunk.com or e-mail info@us.schunk.com.