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Second Life for Industrial Robots: A Sustainable Path Forward

The rapidly advancing world of technology continuously pushes us towards newer, better, and faster tools and devices. However, this often leaves behind a trail of outdated, discarded, or abandoned tech. In the realm of industrial robotics, manufacturers have found an innovative way to address this issue, by giving industrial robots a "second life".


Industrial robots, designed with a service lifetime of up to thirty years, are crucial contributors to the manufacturing sector. As technology advances, these robots can quickly become outdated, but they do not have to become obsolete. Pioneers in the robotics industry have established programs that refurbish or upgrade used units in a resource-efficient manner, giving old robots a new lease of life. This not only conserves resources but also allows the potential for significant cost savings, creating a win-win situation for both manufacturers and the environment. One such example is ABB, an industrial robot manufacturer that has established specialized repair centers close to its customers. The company offers a remanufacture work program, which allows existing robot users to sell their inactive or legacy robots back to ABB rather than scrapping them. Over the last 25 years, ABB’s remanufactured robot teams have refurbished and upgraded thousands of robots, and this trend shows no signs of slowing down.

The process of refurbishing a robot involves rigorous checks, including a detailed inspection and a minimum 16-hour functioning test. The refurbished robots come with a two-year warranty, and buyers of this equipment enjoy the same level of support from local service teams as they would with the purchase of a new robot. This includes services such as installation and training, making the transition to a refurbished robot seamless and cost-effective.

Upgrades are also a significant part of the refurbishing process. For instance, each remanufactured robot can be upgraded to the latest controller, which unlocks new functionalities like ABB Ability Connected services or the latest version of RobotStudio, ABB’s simulation and offline programming software. In some cases, upgrades can even unlock the potential of collaborative robotics, with ABB’s SafeMove software providing businesses with the opportunity to enable robots to work alongside operators without the need for extensive guarding. This not only cuts the cost of installation but also reduces the overall footprint, making it ideal for locations where space is at a premium. Companies worldwide are reaping the benefits of refurbished robots. By extending the lifetime of their robots, these companies have been able to boost flexibility and productivity while maximizing their return on investment. In some cases, companies have even been able to source and install remanufactured models of discontinued robots, allowing them to maintain long-term efficiencies in maintenance, spare parts, and staff training.

Beyond ABB, other organizations such as Robots.com offer robot refurbishing services. The company has a comprehensive refurbishing program which includes a pre-grease inspection of all axes and functions, troubleshooting, replacement of grease, oil, and batteries, and a post-grease inspection. In addition, they clean, paint, and thoroughly test the robot and controller, offering a complete customer care package. This ensures the refurbished robots perform at peak condition, just like their brand-new counterparts.

In conclusion, the second life of industrial robots has emerged as an innovative and sustainable solution to the issue of technological obsolescence. Not only does it contribute to the conservation of resources and the reduction of electronic waste, but it also offers an economically viable solution for businesses looking to leverage the power of robotics. The trend of refurbishing industrial robots, therefore, is an important step towards a more sustainable and economically efficient future.

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