From cosmetics and apparel to food and beverage, palletizing plays a critical role for material handling operations in virtually every industry. But as operations look to ditch the high employee turnover and injury risk of manual palletizing for the speed and reliability of automation, they meet a new challenge. With so many choices - conventional automated machines, robotics, hybrid solutions - how can they pick the right palletizing equipment for their needs?
Get the right help
Once operations know their current and projected requirements, they need a proven partner with the palletizing expertise to find the right solution. Look for experience, third-party certifications and aftermarket support to ensure ongoing performance decades after installation.
Through its Alvey® equipment brand, Intelligrated draws from more than 60 years of palletizing experience. This offers end-users a thorough product line with choices tailored for different speeds, packaging types, infeed configurations and other requirements.
For newer technology like robotics, certification programs from trade associations help customers identify partners with the necessary expertise. After completing a comprehensive audit by demonstrating the ability to execute robotic palletizer projects in a safe, efficient and economical manner, companies can receive accreditation as a RIA-certified robotics integrator.
The best bet to keep mission-critical palletizing systems running at peak efficiency is a preventive maintenance program designed to head off any issues before they cause disruption. Just in case an issue does arise, look for 24X7 technical support and regionally-based technicians ready to respond in the event of an outage. Working with an OEM lifecycle management group and a computerized maintenance management system offers data-driven preventive maintenance programs and quick-response service.
Right tool for the job
Today's palletizing operations are subject to a variety of forces that present unique palletizing challenges. SKU proliferation means an increase in the variety of packaging types and sizes. As retail supply chains become leaner, more and more work is pushed upstream to the distribution center. For example, some operations also produce specially-arranged pallet loads used for end-of-aisle displays. Though they reduce time spent stocking and arranging store shelves, these pallet loads require that products be palletized in specialized "labels out" configurations. And of course, there's speed. High-performance supply chains cannot afford insufficient capacity to meet demand and missed shipments.
Of all the palletizing solutions available, what are the strengths of each technology? What operations are they best suited for?
Automated palletizers - Conventional automated palletizers are reliable, high-throughput powerhouses with superior package handling, pattern forming and reliability. A variety of case infeed, pallet feed and load discharge configurations are available to accommodate different layout requirements. These are often good choices for food and beverage operations that need to keep pallet loads flowing to wholesalers, grocers and other high-volume retailers. Some high-speed models can achieve throughput rates of up to 220 cases per minute.
Robotic palletizing - These systems use a robotic arm, integrated with end-of-arm tooling to pick product from infeed conveyor and place it onto pallets. End-of-arm tooling includes clamps, vacuum tooling, forks and other styles, even configurations capable of handling entire layers. Robotic solutions offer maximum pattern and product flexibility with fast, easy reconfiguration. For this reason, they make good choices for use in distribution centers or manufacturing operations with a variety of product, packaging types and sizes to meet more complex downstream demand.
Hybrid palletizers - Hybrid machines combine a conventional automated palletizer with a robotic arm to offer gentle product handling and precise, repeatable pattern forming at high speeds. This makes them ideal for industries with small or lightweight packaging and a high number of complex patterns. As more industries adopt reduced packaging in efforts to reduce costs and bolster sustainability efforts, the precision and soft handling of hybrid palletizers offers an effective choice for stability and throughput.
For more information on how industry forces affect palletizing, read the Intelligrated blog, Six key considerations when choosing a palletizing strategy.