Boost Output, Cut Costs With Robotic (De)Palletization
Between manufacturing and distribution comes palletizing. Many factories still do this manually, risking injuries and compensation claims. Others have installed cumbersome palletizing machines, only to struggle with unwieldy conveyors and the lack of flexibility. The alternative is a palletizing robot. Manufacturing companies, from fields as diverse as chemicals, food and health care, are recognizing the advantages this technology brings. Cases, drums, bags or trays can all be palletized quickly, accurately and repeatably, and interleaving layers included as necessary. Robots with payloads of up to 2,866 pounds can stack in whatever format is needed. Uniform ventilation gaps can be guaranteed while controlled acceleration and deceleration mean there's no damage from dropping or banging cases together
A robotic palletizing cell offers far greater flexibility than a centralized palletizing machine. With the latest safety technology cells take up little floor space and can go at the end of a production line. This turns a group of machines into a mini-factory and eliminates long conveyors snaking their way through to the centralized system. When different case sizes are introduced or bag formats changed it takes just a change of program to reconfigure the robot. Operations managers like the reduction in downtime, and the marketing department loves the ability to switch formats and add SKUs at minimal cost. Modern gripper designs mean other pack formats like large bags or trays of beverage cans are handled just as easily as rigid cartons. Some advanced systems can even handle mixed pallets, making them almost as flexible as the workers they replace.
Productivity surges with a palletizing robot, and the indirect savings can be dramatic too. Injuries and injury-related absences are eliminated because employees are no longer lifting, twisting and bending. That means lower injury costs — and with OSHA estimating the direct cost of a hernia at nearly $50,000, those can stack up quickly. Unscheduled stoppages are eliminated as well, improving equipment utilization and increasing output from the line.
Robotic de-palletizing is possible, too, without the need for expensive pallet location systems, thanks to the addition of machine vision technology. Cameras, using either laser scanners or stereo vision, locate the pallet in 3-D space and determine the orientation of each case, bag or tray. Software calculates how best to unload each layer and guides the gripper to pick each unit. Depending on the product being handled, it can go straight onto the line, eliminating stoppages that occur when machines are waiting for material.
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