Robotic Palletizing and the Transition to Automated Systems

Robotic Palletizing and the Transition to Automated Systems

Automated palletizing solutions, whether conventional or robotic, can offer significant productivity and efficiency improvements to your operation while taking up minimal floor space. Of the two, robotic palletizing systems have become increasingly popular in recent years, both for their flexibility and easy adaptability to changing needs and products. 

This article is designed to help you decide if robotic palletizing systems are right for you. Even if you have low-volume production lines, robotic palletizing could increase the throughput of your upstream operations and ease labor challenges. 

You can also learn more about the full range of solutions offered by Honeywell Intelligrated in our Palletizers and Depalletizers brochure.

Advantages of robotic palletizing over conventional systems

Many variables need to be considered when determining whether your operation is better served by robotic or conventional palletizing. Robots may seem high-tech, but they ultimately need to be practical. 

While every site has its own unique needs, robotic palletizing tends to outperform conventional solutions in applications like these:

  • Low-speed, simple case palletizing — The limited hardware requirements of these applications make them ideal for robotic palletizing. As long as processes permit manual intervention (for example, to replace pallets or remove full loads), all you may need to account for are infeed conveyor, robot and safety standards.
  • Low-speed, multi-line case palletizing — A palletizing robot can simplify multi-line palletizing by eliminating the need for complex upstream accumulation conveyor systems. Graphics-driven software also makes it easier for end users to change how pallets are built in response to new SKUs or other inventory changes. 
  • Bag palletizing — Clamshell tooling allows a jointed-arm robot to handle bags without disturbing their contents, producing straight and square loads. The robot can also palletize bags above 20 cycles per minute — and doesn’t mind confined spaces or dusty environments.
  • Pail palletizing — Palletizing robots excel at this precise job, which typically requires pails to be nested inside the lids of the layer below.
  • Mixed, partial or display loads — Popular with warehouse stores and other retailers, these complex loads can require four-way, labels-out orientation, a variety of SKUs in a single layer or load, multiple different sheets within a single load, particular dunnage and other specialization. While some conventional machines may be up to these tasks, robotic palletizing is often more cost-effective.

Our Conventional vs. Robotic Palletizing white paper features additional details about the factors to consider when comparing these two solutions.

Automated palletizing addresses labor shortages

Palletizing is a difficult job. Products can be heavy. The work is tedious and time-consuming. And injuries and absenteeism are frequently higher than average, with turnover rates as high as one in four workers. 

Automated palletizing can help overcome these challenges by enabling you to shift limited labor into more effective and satisfying positions within your organization. This can reduce your labor burden, increase the job satisfaction of your employees, and reduce absenteeism and turnover. You’ll also minimize (or even eliminate) injuries caused by overexertion and repetitive motion in palletizing operations.

For more workforce optimization strategies, download the white paper Do More With Less: How to Thrive in a Challenging Labor Market.

Picking the right robotic tooling for palletizing

Designing a robotic palletizing cell has become more complicated as companies invest in environmentally friendly and sustainable packaging. While these changes are good for the planet, they also tend to result in weaker packages that create challenges for palletizing robots.

Secondary packaging is also becoming less common, both as a result of environmental and cost factors, plus rising demand for pallets to be stacked with direct-to-consumer and marketing applications in mind. Corrugated cardboard cartons are giving way to thinner pressboard, shrink-wrapped bundles of product and even loose product in trays. Depending on your product, this may require you to add sheets between layers to keep the load stable. You’ll also need to account for an ever-expanding range of packaging sizes, shapes and materials.

Selecting the right end-of-arm tooling — whether it be vacuum, side clamp, fork style or layer handling — is critical to ensuring that your robotic palletizing system can effectively handle the full range of packaging types you need. Here are five questions to consider before you invest in any palletizing robot solution:

  1. What kinds of product are you handling? — Analyze your full range of products and packaging types to determine how each needs to be handled. For example, can the packaging support its own weight, or will it need to be supported from underneath?
  2. How fast does your packaging line need to move? — The tooling you choose can significantly affect your throughput capabilities. Start by determining an acceptable range of cases per minute, which will help you make informed decisions when evaluating tooling options.
  3. Are aesthetics important? — Some tools can cause indentations in shrink-wrap or leave marks on your packaging, which may be unacceptable for items intended for display.
  4. Will your robot be handling slip/tier sheets or pallets? — Tier sheets or pallet handling will reduce line palletizing rates and may also require peripheral tooling. 
  5. Will your system be able to adapt to future packaging changes? — You’ll want to build as much flexibility as possible into your system in order to accommodate new products or packaging changes without retooling in the future. 

You can learn more about the different types of tooling, and which jobs they are best suited to perform, in our white paper, Picking the Best Robotic Tooling for Palletizing.

Working with an experienced integrator will help you make informed choices and specify the equipment best suited for your application. Look for an integrator that’s certified by the Robotic Industries Association (RIA). This independent, nonprofit organization awards the title of RIA Certified Robot Integrator only to the most accomplished organizations who demonstrate a high level of skill and experience.

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