Predicting the future of supply chain management can be a fool's game. Media outlets and trade associations alike hail big data, robotic solutions, the cloud and predictive analytics as the disruptive technologies and trends set to meet supply chain challenges of the future. But what about the here and now? Of the technologies pegged to cause disruption or drive competitive advantage in the 2016 MHI Annual Industry Report, two have already made a bigger impact than previously expected: robotics and automation, and driverless vehicles and drones.
Since their inception in manufacturing environments in 1954, robotics have delivered real-world results, helping companies optimize processes, improve efficiency and create a more flexible experience for workers. As today's operations battle SKU proliferation, managing a wide range of product and packaging types, the flexibility and adaptability of robotic solutions offer the right attributes to meet more dynamic downstream demand.
Case in point: Kelly-Moore Paints™ installed an Alvey robotics palletizing system that resulted in trading high employee turnover and injury risk of manual palletizing for the speed and reliability of automation. Prior to installing an end-of-line robotic palletizer, Kelly-Moore employees were hand-palletizing products weighing up to 70 pounds, leading to production flow inefficiencies. Intelligrated's robotic palletizing system now enables the line to run at an even pace throughout the day by eliminating the breaks required by heavy-lifting in the manual process. Additional efficiencies of the robotic palletizers came through faster line changeovers, which now take only nine minutes compared to 45 minutes with the old system.
But this technology can go much further than robotic palletizers in the warehouse or manufacturing facility. There are flexible, reliable robotic solutions to increase line speed, workplace safety and order accuracy in the following applications:
- Robotic case packing and unpacking
- Robotic picking
- Robotic depalletizing
- Robotic tote handling
In the long-term, robotic integration and other industrial automation increases productivity and creates safer work environments. And with the increasing demands of e-commerce fulfillment, new robotic solutions continue to emerge.
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.
It’s an exciting time of year in Chicago. Thanks to the World Series, Wrigley Field has taken over as the city’s epicenter in the north, but the Near South Side is primed to take center stage next week as McCormick Place hosts PACK EXPO International 2016.
From Nov. 6-9, attendees from more than 130 countries will find the latest solutions designed for today’s most influential challenges facing packaging and processing operations: constantly changing consumer demands, pressure to do more with less, labor challenges and advances in technology. At booth S-3666 in the south hall, Intelligrated will highlight high-throughput automation solutions, seamless integration capabilities and lifecycle support services.
The in-booth, live demonstration will feature the company’s new Alvey® 891i palletizer and a robotic depalletizing cell, integrated with vertical reciprocating conveyor and motor driven roller (MDR) conveyor. The solutions on display are ideal for food, beverage and consumer packaged goods operations with reduced or eliminated secondary packaging. This requires equipment capable of handling everything from display cases and polywrapped bundles to paper-board overwrap packs and more.
The Alvey 891i palletizer provides exceptional versatility and maintainability, thanks to an updated user-friendly design. Ideal for both single and multi-line operations, this high-level, row-forming palletizer manages intricate stacking patterns and handles packaged food, beverage, converted paper and personal care products. The 891i also includes enhanced features for improved safety, ease of use and maintenance.
Intelligrated is recognized by the Robotic Industries Association as a certified robot integrator, and offers end-of-arm tooling designed and built in-house to handle a variety of applications and product types. This flexibility allows for quick product changeovers, frequent packaging changes and can handle single cases, rows or layers.
The vertical reciprocating conveyor offers a simple, cost effective solution to move cartons and totes in a compact footprint. The scalable solution offers user-configurable input and discharge heights, and industry leading speed to match each operation’s unique requirements.
Representatives from Intelligrated Lifecycle Support Services will offer advice to maximize return on material handling investments and keep critical systems running smoothly. Mechanical and risk assessments form the backbone of proactive lifecycle management and offer proven solutions to improve safety, system longevity and efficiency.
Stop by Intelligrated booth S-3666 to see the automation solutions that leading manufacturers depend on to exceed expectations for reliability, throughput and flexibility.
To schedule a meeting at the show, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Multilingual booth support in Spanish and French will be available.
Intelligrated, now part of Honeywell, invites you to also visit their booth in Upper Lakeside Center, E-7441, for workflow productivity solutions that optimize manufacturing and warehouse operations, and embedded sensors and controls that help keep teams safe and productive.
I look forward to seeing you at PACK EXPO International 2016!
We recently presented an On The Move webinar called "Conquering palletizing challenges in manufacturing and warehouse environments." One of the most interesting aspects of our webinars is the ability to poll the audience during the presentation and learn more about their operations and preferences. To kick off this webinar, we asked the audience what palletizing method they were currently using. Surprisingly, the majority of attendees were either using manual palletizing procedures (42 percent) or none at all (42 percent). The remainder of the polling group were equally distributed between conventional and robotic palletizing.
These results reveal something that we know all too well: that the importance of palletizing in manufacturing and warehouse operations is something that's often overlooked. Inadequate palletizing processes create a ripple effect throughout the facility's operations that ultimately jeopardize customer commitments and have a direct impact on the bottom line. So, to make sure you're selecting the correct palletizing strategy for your operation, we presented the following six key considerations:
1. Palletizing and line efficiency. The impact of palletizer downtime on operating performance has a direct impact on a facility's overall efficiency. It's important to think of the palletizing function as part of the overall production or distribution system, with inefficiencies causing backups to the whole operation. The speed of your operation plays an important role in the palletizing selection.
2. Packaging trends create new challenges. Less packaging, more fragile materials, smaller items and more totes are changing the palletizing landscape. In some cases, the pallet itself is becoming the consumer display method. All of these factors can dramatically affect stacking patterns and pallet stability.
3. Explosion in the number of SKUs. E-commerce has increased the variety of case and pack sizes, including large packs for club stores and small packs for convenience. This variance requires a palletizer capable of rapid, tool-less changeover to continually adapt.
4. Changing load configurations. End-of-aisle display loads, "label out" preferences and reduced pack strength all impact how pallet loads are constructed. Palletizers must enable frequent pattern revisions and incorporate various options to shore up load strength, such as: shorter loads, stretch film, tier sheets, trays and cap sheets, and corner boards.
5. Increasingly stringent safety requirements. Deploying a palletizing solution in your facility requires careful consideration of applicable safety standards. Robotic and automated solutions must adhere to CAT 3 control system requirements.
6. Labor market challenges. The dwindling pool of qualified workers, increasing minimum wages, high turnover rate in manual palletizing functions and the potential for injury are all reasons to consider an automated palletizing solution.
With all of these factors to consider, the next topic we discussed in the webinar was the different palletizing solutions available - from high-speed row-forming and inline conventional machines to robotic and hybrid solutions. If it's time to consider a change to your palletizing strategy, please visit the webinar library on our website and view this presentation in its entirety. Then, consult with one of our palletizing experts to determine what the best solution is for your operations.
Facility managers place a lot of focus on improving the productivity of their distribution and manufacturing environments. The importance of effective palletizing, which is often the last process that takes place within a facility, is sometimes overlooked. But when problems arise in the palletizing process, they create a ripple effect throughout the entire facility, often backing up other areas critical to maintaining productivity. Regardless of the operation, facility managers must try to minimize this pain and determine what the best palletizing method for their operation is.
Knowing when to incorporate or upgrade an automated palletizing solution is a difficult decision for facility managers. If you're struggling to keep up with increasing order volumes, unable to adapt to evolving packaging methods or outgrowing your manual pallet-building processes, these are indications that it may be time to reevaluate palletizing automation. From conventional systems and state-of-the-art robotics to hybrid options with varying degrees of sophistication, today's palletizing options can be difficult to sort through.
In our next On The Move webinar, Frank Pellegrino, vice president of machine products, and Matt Wicks, vice president of product development, will explore several key drivers for palletizing automation and help you decide which solutions are the best match for your unique throughput and capacity challenges. This webinar will take place on Thursday, Oct. 20 at 2 p.m. EDT. Attendees can expect to learn the following:
- How palletizing automation is helping manufacturers increase production
- Why distribution facilities are integrating palletizing solutions into their fulfillment workflows
- When it's time to transition from manual pallet building to automated solutions
- How to decide which is the best palletizing option for your operation
For facility managers whose operations have outgrown their manual palletizing processes, the decision to move to an automated solution is a matter of keeping up with production volume. It's as simple as realizing that there just aren't enough labor resources to meet manual palletizing demands.
There are also many changes in the market causing facility managers to reevaluate their palletizing strategies. First, rates are increasing, driving the need to maximize pallet efficiencies. Second, packaging materials and pallet profiles are changing, creating issues for older palletizing equipment that is incapable of accommodating them.
The primary packaging change is the reduction of secondary packaging materials, typically the outer shell that protects the product. In many instances, this secondary packaging is going away altogether, causing the consumer product itself to be palletized with a much thinnner layer of alternate packaging material, such as loose paper or film that offers little protection. While this may increase the volume of product on the pallet, the low coefficient of friction is more difficult to control.
To add to the challenge, some pallets are designed to display the palletized product in the store, often allowing one side to be open or perforated. And as packaging materials become thinner to improve sustainability - such as plastic bottles - it becomes increasingly difficult to avoid product damage or loss. All this adds up to a loss of productivity and efficiency, and the need for increasingly flexible palletizing options.
If any of these challenges sound familiar to you, register now to join Frank and Matt for this timely On The Move webinar.