ABB and Zume to accelerate transition away from single use plastics

ABB robots will automate production, enabling the scale and speed required to make Zume’s packaging a cost-effective alternative to single-use plastics.

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ABB Robotics has signed an agreement to collaborate with California-based Zume, a global provider of innovative, compostable packaging. ABB will supply robotic cells that will enable Zume’s production of sustainable packaging on a global scale, helping to reduce reliance on single-use plastics.

ABB will integrate and install 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. ABB will leverage its program management capabilities and automation experts in its network of Global Solution Centers to enable the scale, modularity and speed required to launch the solutions, which have the potential to produce millions of pieces of sustainable packaging annually. Financial details were not disclosed.

Manufacturers face increasing pressure from consumers and policymakers to find alternatives to single use plastic packaging. New packaging needs to be sustainable, while being easy to mold and as cost effective as plastic. Zume’s packaging material is made from sustainably harvested plant material left over from agricultural production, including bamboo, wheat and straw. Plant material uses significantly less water and energy and reduces CO₂ emissions when compared to the production and disposal of plastic packaging. Unlike plastic, plant-based material is 100 percent biodegradable and simply breaks down after use.

“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, 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.”

Zume has developed and patented an innovative manufacturing process to make compostable packaging for anything from food and groceries to cosmetics and consumer goods. Containers are molded from the plant material by Zume’s molded fiber cells integrated with two ABB IRB 6700 robots, with each cell processing up to two tons of agriculture material every day, creating 80,000 pieces of sustainable packaging. Working with ABB, Zume expects to equip factories with up to 100 robotic cells each. With the automation, speed and scalability provided by the MFC, each site would have the potential to process 71,000 tons of agriculture material annually, potentially producing up to two billion pieces of packaging each year.

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