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.
Totes are used for e-commerce fulfillment, kitting, order consolidation, packing and other processes that leverage traditional material handling equipment, but quite often tote stacking and de-stacking are left to manual operations. The rigid structure of totes enables AS/RS, conveyor, sortation and other automated equipment to easily route them securely through material handling processes, and their design and size provide the flexibility to accommodate a wide range of products and primary packaging types.
From manual to automation: A fast track to efficiency
Recirculating totes back through automated systems or building pallet loads typically requires manual intervention, with employees bending, lifting and twisting to stack them. This type of arduous, repetitive task carries the risk of injury, and a lack of labor availability combined with high turnover rates means operations cannot rely on manual tote handling to deliver consistent efficient results.
An automated tote handling solution offers a much higher level of overall efficiency. Robotic tote handling delivers increased reliability, higher throughput, reduced long-term costs and ergonomic improvements that enhance workplace safety. From an operational standpoint, the increased speed of an automated solution enables operations to carry reduced tote inventory and use a smaller footprint for tote stacking and palletizing.
Advanced robotic tooling makes it possible
With the number of tote types and configurations, flexible, customizable end-of-arm tooling enables robotic solutions tailored to handle unique tote requirements. These can accommodate fluctuations in size, shape and weight to seamlessly handle totes in a variety of applications, from end-of-line palletizing to stacking in preparation for new fulfillment cycles.
Flexible end of arm tooling can also handle other types of packaging and execute other tasks. Taking advantage of this modularity enables operations to maximize the utility from robotic systems and increase ROI.
To learn more about robotic tooling best-suited to handle the products and packaging types in your operation, read the Intelligrated white paper, Picking the best robotic tooling for palletizing.
The evolution of item picking in order fulfillment has taken giant steps toward automation in recent decades. Today's AS/RS, shuttle and robotics technologies have the potential to deliver revolutionary throughput advances. We are now in an e-commerce era where traditional fulfillment methodologies struggle to keep up with proliferating SKUs and escalating order volumes. But these advances come with a cost, and making the move toward shuttles and robotics requires a clear justification of the investment. In our most recent On The Move webinar, titled "Shuttles: The new face of the DC workforce," I examined this evolution and discussed the factors involved with making the transition to shuttle system efficiencies.
To put things into the proper context, I began the webinar with an anology that illustrates the difference between traditional operator-to-goods (OTG), manual warehouse fulfillment methodologies and the goods-to-operator (GTO) philosophy employed by shuttle systems:
- OTG is akin to a visit to the grocery store, where shoppers traverse from aisle to aisle to find the goods they're looking for
- GTO is similar to a visit to the dry cleaner, where the item is delivered automatically to the stationary cashier via a carousel system
OTG fulfillment strategies are characterized by labor-intensive processes that can lead to time wasted walking and result in pick rates of approximately 250 items per hour. While OTG requires a low capital investment due to the absence of advanced automation technology, onging labor resources lead to high operating costs.
Although 99 percent of fulfillment operations today still utilize OTG processes, there are compelling factors driving the move toward GTO methods and the adoption of AS/RS and shuttle technology:
- Rising minimum wage
- Aging baby boomer generation and lack of qualified workforce
- Shuttles provide much higher throughput (1,000/hr)
- Improved scalability, and layout and application flexibility
Generally speaking, GTO requires the presence of an AS/RS system with a stationary operator, and thus a relatively higher capital investment than OTG strategies. But when you factor in the labor savings, higher pick rates and the elimination of wasteful walking, GTO significantly reduces operating costs.
Continuing along the specturum of automation technologies, I introduced the concept of humanless warehousing, or goods-to-robot (GTR) fulfillment. While GTR also requires AS/RS shuttles, a robot performs the actual item picking at the point of fulfillment. As a result, GTR holds the promise of continuous productivity (with no breaks) while completely eliminating labor. GTR is an ideal fit for single-item picking and packing as SKUs proliferate and DCs strives for maintaining lean inventories. This sophisticated automation architecture requires the highest capital investment, yet results in the lowest operating costs.
It's also important to understand the relationship between capacity and throughput in selecting a shuttle or automation technology, from unit-load and mini-load to carousel and shuttle systems. As the amount of storage space or throughput speed increase, these different technologies have unique applicability.
Finally, I closed the webinar by demonstrating the flexibility and efficiency of Intelligrated shuttle systems and how AS/RS is ideal for high-volume operators with high-turn storage and short order cycle times. To learn how to integrate shuttle systems in your DC operators, please visit the Intelligrated website to view this webinar in its entirety.