Palletizing can often be an afterthought when considering complete packaging line automation. In fact, it is not uncommon to see a company, especially with low-volume production, experience an uptick in production output based on primary and secondary robotic process automation alone. The major issue with this conservative approach is the unavoidable truth that successful implementation of robotic automation increases productivity, enabling businesses to thrive and grow.
Most likely, end users that fail to address end-of-line palletizing requirements will be forced to “catch up” at some point. No matter a company’s production volume or the success level, today’s market challenges will impact operations in some way. At the end of the day, it is how manufacturers embrace and utilize the vast array of robots and technologies available to tackle tough situations that matters.
The Growing Case for End-of-Line Palletizing
Traditionally, manual labor has been used to facilitate end-of-line process needs; however, a growing number of challenges are forcing manufacturers to recognize the difference that automated palletizing can make in packaging operations. All too often, decision makers are saying:
- “I can’t find or keep adequate manual labor for end-of-line palletizing.”
- “My end customers keep adding or changing patterns on the pallet, and even pallet types/sizes, which are hard to maintain and control.”
- “Since my shipments go to a distribution center, the customers want the bar code labels shown on all four sides of the pallet. My staff finds this difficult.”
- “My company wants to control all production setup and production information management in a real-time software method, instead of depending on individuals and manual methods on the plant floor.”
These examples reflect a portion of current conditions manufacturers face daily, and with the ultra-competitive market in Consumer Products manufacturing, keeping every customer satisfied is of upmost importance.
It has become increasingly difficult for manufacturers, especially food processors, to maintain a high level of efficiency in managing end-of-line palletizing, and pallet shipment or movement into storage, using conventional methods. Combine this need for high throughput efficiency with stricter safety regulations and rising labor costs, and the case for end-of-line robotic automation gets stronger.
The Ideal Palletizing Combination
While having the proper hardware to facilitate application needs is important, having a complete packaging solution – equipped with comprehensive, user-friendly palletizing software to streamline the process – is equally important to enable fast development and deployment of palletizing workcells.
From single-line to complex multi-line palletizing operations, it is ideal for companies to be able to achieve the upmost efficiency. This is why Yaskawa Motoman listened to customer feedback prior to radically re-engineering the palletizing software, known as PalletSolver®:
- Offline, PC-based software component permits layer patterns to be “built” in the simplest way:
- Easy 3D model of the case and pallet, via a drag/drop/snap command method
- Use of over 70 templates from the Layer Pattern Library for minor modification
- Importation of electronic files from leading, third party software providers, CAPE & TOPS
*Since these tasks are performed offline, there is no downtime of the cell to perform these changes.
- Simple, visual command identifies label location on cases and if they need to remain visible on all four sides of the pallet:
- All step-by-step robot commands are automatically generated
*The process is completely automated.
- Multi-size or -style capability manages various pallet types:
- Popular pallet types (i.e.: GMA, CHEP, PECO, etc.)
*Multiple pallets can be used and managed with ease, meeting ever-changing market demand.
- Easy programming facilitates changes:
- Quick changes can be made to layer patterns, case sizes and confirmations by an operator.
*Operator does not need to understand how to program a robot to utilize software.
Robotic automation is a direct solution for many challenges, including labor availability, and pallet type or size changes. While some manufacturers (i.e.: food manufacturers) may feel more pressure to automate all aspects of packaging operations, the need for preparing and transporting end-of-line pallet loads efficiently with proper product tracking and minimal product damage is crucial for all companies to maintain a competitive edge.
As businesses grow and evolve, so must the equipment being used to fulfill orders. End-of-line palletizing equipment and pallet transport systems should be flexible and durable to meet demands. When companies recognize the need for end-of-line automation and invest in the innovative equipment and software available, substantial benefits can be achieved.
*Image courtesy of CSi Palletizing
Jack Uhl is a Sales Manager – CPG (Consumer Products Group) for Yaskawa America, Inc.’s Motoman Robotics Division.