To boost production, manufacturers are moving toward automated material handling systems to help convey items in the production cycle and palletize them for transportation to the dock.
When production speeds are low, manufacturers do manual palletizing and depalletizing. However, they turn to automated processes when the speeds increase, or the products become hard for people to handle.
Automated palletizing and palletizing systems help remove empty containers, return them to a filling line, and load finished products. In the past, manufacturers used conventional palletizers, which adequately performed all the tasks. As products are conveyed, the palletizer arranges them in patterns on a stripper plate, then sets them in layers on pallets.
Manufacturers can use low-speed palletizers that load 1-10 cases a minute when production speeds are low. However, people dealing with high production speeds and large product volumes can use high-speed palletizers that stack approximately 150 cases a minute. Both palletizers come with a floor-level infeed at three feet or a high-level infeed at 10 feet.
As technology advances, robotics has shown promise in improving the performance of high-speed palletizers. The robotic depalletizer systems have grippers or end effectors to pick up products as they travel down the conveyer belt and stack them on a pallet.
How to Choose a Palletizer
The systems come in scara, Cartesian, gantry, and articulating arms. Articulating arm robotic depalletizer systems are the most flexible and fastest, making them the best choice among manufacturers.
When choosing the system to automate the palletizing and depalletizing operations, supply chain managers and manufacturing operations should research and compare each system before choosing. They can configure conventional and robotic palletizing and depalletizing solutions to fit any pattern. The most important thing is to choose a system that matches all parameters in their operations.
Although not a universal rule, conventional palletizers are best used in operations that involve products with reduced packaging, or that need high palletizing and depalletizing speeds.
Robotic systems are best for lower-speed lines and where palletizers handle several lines simultaneously. Since they have a smaller footprint than conventional systems, manufacturers should also consider them if they have smaller floor space.
The ultimate consideration for choosing a conventional, robotic, or automated system is carefully constructed ROI. Automating full-load handling, for example, can dilute the ROI for multi-line robotic palletizing and depalletizing systems.
If manufacturers choose to go with a robotic system, they also have to think about the components and types of robots they will use. The majority of current robotic depalletizer systems use gantry robots or joint-arm robots.
Gantry robots are also known as square robots, while joint arm robots are also known as round robots, indicating their motion types.
Gantry robots can be over 80 feet long, and they are linear-motion robots, which means that they move up, down, and across floor spaces. They are usually built to match the dimensions of the project they are handling. They are also more flexible and can work with many pick-and-place locations.
On the other hand, round robots are fast and economical but are more limited in the size of the floor space they work in. In normal palletizing operations, these robots can stack four pallets within their work cell.
Another important consideration when choosing robotic systems is the end-effector or end-of-arm-tool. Vacuum-type end-effectors are great in general manufacturing.
However, they are not the best choice for palletizing and depalletizing, especially when dealing with products packaged for display like shrink-wrapped trays and open-top cases. In such situations, the best end-effector is the fork-and-clamp or side-clamp.
Other guidelines to get the best robotic palletizing and depalletizing system include:
● Don’t be lured by the flexibility robotic companies say the systems have. In certain applications, conventional palletizers are more flexible than robotic systems. Therefore, it is essential to do a technical evaluation of the systems depending on your applications.
● Ask for firm guarantees on the rates of the systems and consequences if they don’t meet those rates.
● Employees who will handle the systems should receive adequate training on operating and troubleshooting them.
● Look for a robotic integrator specialized in the tasks the system is intended to accomplish.
While choosing the right depalletizer and palletizer system is essential, getting the best partner to build the system is more important. Manufacturers should look for a trusted, well-known, trained, and adequately experienced partner to ensure they get the best system and eliminate any chances of failure.
Many manufacturers will approach general robotic companies, which is not always the best choice. Palletizing and depalletizing operations need experience in material handling integration to determine whether robotic systems are appropriate for the intended tasks. It also helps determine whether there is a need to mix robotics and other technologies.
Another mistake manufacturers should avoid is working with a company that outsources their components instead of using a single-source provider to design, manufacture, and support the system.