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20 May, 2022

Selfridges robot 3D-prints items using recycled plastics

12 April, 2022

Visitors to Selfridges department store in London this month will be able to see an industrial robot 3D printing a variety of objects using recycled plastic recovered from the sea. A Nagami plastic extruder attached to an ABB IRB 6700 robot is creating printed furniture, homeware and other objects chosen by customers via a screen.

The 3D printing demonstration, displayed in a shop window, is part of a Selfridges’ concept, called Supermarket, which challenges consumers to think about how the goods they buy are produced, and the impact of this production on the environment.

As well as underlining the importance of eco-innovation, the demonstration also highlights the potential of robotic automation to attract customers to retail stores. Robots are being used increasingly in inventory and delivery management and in-store services, and the market researcher Coherent Market Insights is predicting a 30% growth in retail uses for robots by 2028.

The Selfridges demonstration is using marine plastic debris collected by the environmental organisation, Parley for the Oceans, which converts it into a product called Parley Ocean Plastic. The organisation’s founder and CEO, Cyrill Gutsch, says the material was invented “to catalyse change in response to marine plastic pollution and the destruction of our oceans. 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.”

“By re-using plastic from the world’s oceans to print designer objects,” adds ABB Robotics president, Marc Segura, “we are helping to highlight the important contribution of robots in creating the sustainable manufacturing processes central to a circular economy.

“Robots are increasingly used to help draw customers back to the high street,” Segura reports. “We believe that future adoption will be influenced by three main trends:
micro-fulfilment, where robots are used in-store to enable order fulfilment and delivery;
personalisation, where a robot makes a product to a customer’s specific requirements, with the added option of automatic personalisation where data on previous purchasing habits is used to offer new choices; and
‘retailtainment’, where the robot is used as part of an interactive display or show to inform or entertain customers.”

The demonstration in a Selfridges window shows a robot fitted with a plastic extruder 3D-printing items chosen by customers

One example is a demo at the Berlin store of the German fashion retailer Solebox, where a robot picks shoes chosen by customers via a screen. If the shoe doesn’t fit or the customer wants to try something else, the robot returns it to the shelf. In China, a retail kiosk developed by the Chinese mobile communications giant, Huawei, in collaboration with ABB, allows customers to collect devices such as smartphones and tablets from high street locations. The kiosk uses ABB’s FlexBuffer system to deliver devices that have been ordered online or purchased on-site.

“The ability to introduce robots into their stores both behind, and in front of, the counter offers exciting opportunities for retailers,” says Segura. “By using robots to handle in-store micro-fulfilment operations, staff can be released to people-facing roles, allowing them to focus more on providing customers with a better all-round experience.

“As demonstrated by the installation at Selfridges, robots can also be used on the shop floor to enable personalised production of goods at the point of consumption, adding a whole new dimension to the retail experience.”

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