For years, automated palletizers have taken the place of human labor in the onerous task of stacking products on pallets in many production facilities, but these automated systems are not truly robotic. They use conveyor belts and a succession of adjustments to line up cartons for stacking. Because they have difficulty palletizing mixed case loads and have a large footprint, many manufacturing plants and distribution centers still palletize their products manually.
In some cases, the total throughput of the facility may not be enough to justify the space and expense of a conveyor belt palletizer. Even if a large number of products is produced and shipped, the range and diversity of product packaging may be too difficult for traditional automated case picking systems to deal with. However, with robotics making great strides, the benefits of robotic palletizing make it a practical option for facilities with diverse sizes of products or a smaller throughput.
What Is Robotic Palletizing?
Automated palletizing is usually accomplished by using machinery to sort, line up, and turn products as they make their way down a conveyor belt. At the end, they are deposited on a pallet layer by layer and wrapped in plastic by turning the entire pallet. Afterward, a conveyor belt may carry the finished pallet to the loading dock and deposit it in truck trailers. These systems can sort and palletize massive numbers of cartons, however, they do have their disadvantages.
The first is that they take up a great deal of space, with hundreds of feet of conveyor belts required to move and adjust cartons. The second is that this sort of automatic palletizing isn’t very flexible. Product changes and packaging redesigns will require troubleshooting and, in some cases, an overhaul of the automated system, to ensure that products are palletized reliably. The solution that addresses these problems is robotic palletizing.
Robotic palletizers make it possible to efficiently palletize mixed case pallets that carry a variety of different products.
Robotic palletizing and depalletizing systems have some of the features of automated palletizing, such as conveyor belts. However, they add articulated robot arms at the end or beginning of the palletizing system. This additional fine control, coupled with sensors and analytical algorithms, allows a great deal of flexibility in the system, making it possible to efficiently palletize mixed case pallets that carry a variety of different products. It also builds some inherent flexibility into the supply chain; a redesign of products or packaging necessitates a reprogramming of the robotic arms rather than a fundamental rebuild of the entire core system. Robotic palletizers offer many benefits to supply chains that use them and are an effective way to deal with current and future changes in the supply chain.
The Benefits of Robotic Palletizing
There is a growing movement to fundamentally change our current dominant business model from a linear “make, purchase, and discard” model to a circular business model in which packaging and products are recycled or reused. The packaging being developed for this new model is lightweight and often made of biodegradable or reusable materials. For this reason, it may not always be durable enough for traditional automated palletizers. The lighter touch of a robotic palletizing system is a better solution. And since new packaging designs are likely to go through several iterations, perhaps the greatest benefit of robotic palletizing is its flexibility. There are other advantages to consider as well:
- Smaller Scale: Robotic palletizers take up far less space than more conventional conveyor-based systems. This allows them to be used in small-scale facilities where space for palletizing is at a premium. Retrofitting a facility that had been using automated palletizing with robotic palletizers may also open up space for other uses.
- Modular Design: A robotic palletizer is much more modular than traditional forms of automated palletizing. Largely self-contained, robotic arms fit in smaller areas and multiple robotic arms can work simultaneously on the same product line or on different product lines. They can also switch between programming for different products and pallet plans easily, allowing for flexibility as demanded. This enables warehouse layouts and workflows to evolve in step with changes in the supply chain, business model, and even daily operations.
- Scalability: Due to a robotic palletizer’s modular nature, palletizing can be scaled up to meet demand or to service new product lines. In times of reduced demand, robotic palletizers can be easily stopped for a shift or a few days until demand picks up again.
- Synergy: Integrating robotic palletizers into existing spaces and into existing production flow is relatively easy as they are self-contained units. Robotic palletizers and Autonomous Guided Vehicles (AGVs) can service newly established smaller-scale production lines alongside an existing large-scale automated palletizer, allowing for easy testing of new products that doesn’t disrupt existing operations. Companies can begin piloting and testing new products, packaging, and supply chain models while continuing existing product lines and servicing existing customers.
With robotic palletizing, even small-volume production lines gain the benefit of mechanically consistent and reliable palletization. Robotic palletizers can also be easily scaled up very quickly as the operation expands. This is not true of conveyor belt palletizers and manual palletizing, both of which require a great deal of planning and scheduling prior to even small changes.
Optimizing Robotic Palletizing for Your Supply Chain
In order to maximize the benefits of robotic palletizing, these and other automated systems need to be supported with consistency and precision throughout the supply chain. A more reliable shipping pallet provides the consistent weight and dimensions that companies need for increasing levels of supply chain automation. Consistency at the basic load unit level helps companies enjoy the full benefits of robotic palletizing and other forms of warehouse automation.
Plastic pallets also weigh far less than wood pallets.
Plastic pallets have the consistent dimensions and weight needed for automated warehouse systems to work reliably time after time. Plastic pallets retain their weight and dimensions regardless of environmental factors. This translates into fewer variables that can cause automation downtime and less troubleshooting and reprogramming to account for variables. Plastic pallets also weigh far less than wood pallets at under 50 pounds and lack the steel nails and screws that hold wood pallets together. These two factors reduce wear and tear on automated machinery, as well as damage due to jams. Plastic pallets are the ideal shipping platform to help your business gain the maximum benefits of robotic palletizing and optimize the advantages of warehouse automation.
iGPS is the market leader in plastic pallet rental. In any location and industry, high-quality, GMA-spec iGPS plastic pallets maximize the benefits of robotic palletizing and warehouse automation. To make the switch to a consistent, durable, and reusable plastic pallet, give our team a call at 1-800-884-0225, email a specialist at [email protected], or visit our contact page.