Palletizing Robots and Their Impact on Production and Revenue
Palletizing is the process of taking packages from one location and stacking them in an orderly fashion onto a pallet. This is usually the last part of the production process before the product is moved to long-term storage or shipping. Robotic palletizing is the act of automating this process with robots.
Many high-volume production facilities demand an automated palletizing solution. This article will discuss the basics of robotic palletizers through the following topics:
- Industries for robotic palletizing
- Benefits of automating the palletizing process
- When is it time to automate?
- Robot types used for palletizing
- The importance of end of arm tooling
- Additional considerations & how to get started with robotic palletizing
Industries for Robotic Palletizing
Manufacturers across a broad range of industries require robotic palletizing solutions. Common industries for this application include:
- Food and beverage
Essentially, most high-volume manufacturers are candidates for robotic palletizers. These industries often load product into boxes. The boxes are often shipped wholesale via freight on pallets. Palletizing is a standard task that tends to be a target for automation. What are the features of manual tasks that can be automated? You can read more about this topic here: Industrial Robots: The #1 Guide to Robotics for All Industries.
The palletizing process is usually at the very end of the production line. This puts it in a critical phase to keep products flowing. A bottleneck here will limit the maximum throughput of your entire facility. For this reason, it is important to consider automating this process. Manual palletizing carries with it the following risks and limitations:
- Risk of injury
- Payload capacity
- Consistency of time on task
- Repeatability of quality pallets
These limitations lead to the largest impact on your business when automating the palletizing process. Do these benefits sound like things that could significantly improve the efficiency or quality of your production process? If so, it is time to consider automating. Robots are faster, stronger, more durable, and more reliable than manual operators. These benefits have inherent monetary value based on the details of your business.
If your process is manual today, how do you know when it is time to automate? Since it is a critical part of production, it’s important to consider this and any area where automation may be possible. Our potential finder tool helps you determine which automation projects in your facility hold the most value based on your business. There are a few instances that will lead a manufacturer to automate the palletizing process. Here are some challenges you might face today:
- You need more throughput
- You need to reduce labor costs
- You need to make more efficient use of floor space
- You have workplace injuries
Any of these challenges alone could be a justification for automating this task. Throughput has a heavy impact on the bottom line of most manufacturing operations. More parts mean more revenue for you and your business. The fact that manual operators can’t match the speed of robotic palletizers leads to a simple conclusion. Robotic palletizers give you the most potential throughput at the end of the manufacturing line. This reduces bottlenecks and increases operational efficiency.
Reducing labor costs is a major reason for introducing a robot into a facility. Although they have a high upfront cost, robots pay you back over time. An industry standard is somewhere around 6-18 months for a good return on investment. Your business model may allow for a broader range, but the fact remains that robots will pay themselves off in the long run.
Do you know how much automating could be saving your company? If you have never performed an ROI calculation before our investment calculator can help you get started and find out today.
Manufacturing facilities have a limited amount of space to perform operations. Because of this, a growing business can face some unique challenges. Maximizing throughput within the confines of a limited space poses an efficiency problem. Robots are often an elegant solution to this challenge. Reallocating a manual worker often means removing additional space-consuming elements. Such elements include additional equipment and ergonomic considerations. Automated palletizing systems can be designed custom to your specific space. This allows you to make the most efficient use of the area allocated for your palletizing process.
Palletizing tasks often involve moving heavy packages in ways that can lead to injuries. Common injuries include muscle strains and joint pain. These injuries have a severe impact on daily production. At a minimum, aches and pains will cause operators to perform tasks more slowly. Injuries could become severe enough that rehabilitation is needed. This might leave you operating less efficiently as labor must be reallocated to keep production moving. Depending on the laws in your country, workplace injuries can also lead to fines and monetary compensation. These concerns can be negated with the introduction of a robot palletizer.
Obviously, robots don’t experience injuries or fatigue like manual operators. They don’t require sick leave or breaks either. Robotic palletizers keep your palletizing operation running at better efficiency than possible. If you have experienced workplace injuries in your facility, especially in palletizing tasks, then it is crucial to consider automating this operation.
When Robotic Palletizing Isn’t Right for You
Automated palletizing solutions aren’t the answer for every operation, however. What might make this the case for you? You might determine that there are other projects in your facility that have a greater impact on production than palletizing. Some manufacturers don’t have the production volume that often leads to a need to automate this process. Depending on your area, labor rates might not have a significant impact on your operation. Additionally, palletizing cells can be an expensive investment. For some manufacturers, this cost can be too much based on the current ROI calculation. It is important to consider the specifics of your business and determine if automating your palletizing operation is the right move for you.
Palletizing is a simple application that can be performed by several different robot types:
Six-axis and to a lesser extent collaborative robots own the majority share of the palletizing robot market. Other robot types have a presence to a lesser extent. Generally, these other robots are used for specialty tasks. For example, delta robots have superior speed but limited range and payload capacity. This means you won’t find them in most palletizing tasks, but they could be a good option for small package, high-speed, and high-volume palletizing. However, the combination of range, speed, and payload capacity of six-axis robots gives this type the biggest share of palletizing tasks.
A major feature of palletizing robots is their unique end of arm tooling. End of arm tooling (EOAT) is the mechanism that allows the robot to engage with the material. An example of this might be a vacuum suction cup on the end of a six-axis robot. When actuated, this pneumatic device allows the robot to pick up a box. When the box is in the proper location, the system tells the pneumatic system to stop creating a vacuum. This allows the robot to “let go” of the box.
End of arm tooling for palletizing can include pneumatic suction devices, mechanical grippers, or electromagnets. End of arm tooling can be scaled to pick up multiple packages at once. This allows end-users to find ways to optimize their palletizing operation for peak efficiency.
Most robotic integrators will provide options for end of arm tooling. HowToRobot’s RFQ tool helps you quickly receive offers from multiple suppliers for service and components.
Most palletizing operations can be improved with the integration of a robot. However, there are other components to a complete palletizing solution. These components include:
- Safety devices
- Pallet conveyors and mobile robots
- Robot transfer units (RTUs)
As with any robot solution, safety must be considered for your application. Safety devices might include:
- Safety cage
- Safety scanners
- Light curtains
The nature of palletizing applications makes safety a top priority for successful operation. Palletizing robots are often fast and have high payload capability. This combination is dangerous for operators in the work envelop. Safety devices and proper risk mitigation help limit the likelihood of workplace injury with your robot.
Palletizing robots can be built to handle different types of packages in your facility. This may require using different types of end of arm tooling to meet the requirements of the different boxes. This could be due to size, shape, weight, etc. Robotic palletizing systems can be designed to handle these tool changes, called changeovers, automatically. This keeps your production process moving quickly and efficiently without major delays.
Pallet conveyors are additional devices that are sometimes used to transport full and empty pallets in and out of the loading zone. Mobile robots can also be used for this purpose with more flexible and robust capabilities. These additional machines can be paired with your palletizing robot to automate your palletizing process further. This might increase your throughput and efficiency even further.
Robot transfer units (RTUs) are systems that can move a stationary robot linearly. When paired with a palletizing robot, this system is used to extend the range of the robot. This adds to the flexibility and scalability of your palletizing robot solution.
How can you get started with automating your palletizing operation? Inquire about your application today with HowToRobot’s request for solutions tool. This helps you receive proposals from several different suppliers quickly and easily—cutting down on the time you spend researching on your own.