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Tag: robotics

Smart palletizing drives more efficient supply chains

Robotic palletizing is often the last process before products go out the door. The combination of robotic integration, software and auxiliary automation systems work together to create a palletizing solution that can have a profound ripple effect - setting up later supply chain processes for greater efficiency. The way pallet loads are constructed can affect how quickly and efficiently drivers can make convenience store deliveries and retail employees can re-stock shelves.

Today, a practically unlimited number of SKUs are available to accommodate ever-changing consumer preferences, pressuring businesses to maintain larger, more diverse inventories. This, combined with the industry-wide challenges of finding and retaining labor is driving up the demand for automation solutions flexible enough to handle complexity and capable of both saving labor inside the four walls and making it more efficient elsewhere in the supply chain.

Mixed pallets offer improved productivity

To meet consumer demands for various products, quantities and packaging, mixed-case or mixed-load pallets have become more prevalent. Automation solutions designed to create these loads allow manufacturers, retailers and distributors to replace repetitive, manual handling processes with greater efficiency and accuracy.

Palletizing software solutions allow pallet loads to be built-to-order, produced in the exact sequence in which employees will unload it or retail display specifications dictate, down to the cases in each layer. These custom, mixed-load pallets greatly enhance labor productivity, expediting each stop for delivery drivers and speeding up replenishment operations at stores.

The right tool for the job

Maintaining performance as products and packaging evolve requires choosing a robotic mixed-load order fulfillment solution with end-of-arm tooling capable of handling a wide range of packaging sizes, shapes and materials. End-of-arm tooling is a highly specific component that represents a large percentage of the overall costs of the palletizing system, so understanding the application and designing accordingly is critical.

What types of product and packaging? What are the target throughput rates? Working with the right partner will ensure robotic palletizers have the capabilities that match your operation's needs - custom-designed tooling included. For example, certain tooling types can even handle more than one product at a time, greatly increasing throughput and efficiency. 

With downtime needs in mind, smart palletizing operations can drive returns both on-site and at the point of sale, ultimately reducing costs and increasing throughput. To learn more about how your company can benefit from robotic palletizing solutions, contact a Honeywell Intelligrated representative and read the Picking the best robotic tooling for palletizing white paper. 

Robotics developments produce game-changing innovations for material handling

In the last decade alone, workflow innovations and technological advancements have permeated every aspect of our personal and professional lives - the way we communicate, manage our home, conduct meetings and especially the way we shop. 

The dramatic rise of e-commerce and its impact on the material handling industry and the supply chain at large has been remarkably transformative. The U.S. Census Bureau reports that U.S. retail e-commerce sales for the second quarter of 2017 was an estimated $111.5 billion, a 4.8 percent increase from the previous quarter. Manufacturers are scaling up output, and distribution and fulfillment operations are pushing more product out the door in an effort to serve ever-increasing order volumes. This growth drives a need to reduce order cycle times, increase accuracy and enable greater efficiency throughout the supply chain. In response, we've seen extraordinary industrial innovation over a very brief period.

Robots are not a new phenomenon. They've been around since the '60s performing various tasks in the factory, such as welding cars on assembly lines. Robots made inroads into logistics in the '90s in the form of robotic palletizing and case packing applications. All of these applications share a common thread of a consistent, known environment and material which yields optimal performance in repetitive manufacturing processes. Traditionally, robots have struggled with uncertainty and unstructured environments such as those seen in the warehouse as well as distribution and fulfillment operations. This is changing rapidly. Advancements in computer vision serve as excellent examples of the diffusion of innovation in robotic material handling solutions. However, some vision sensors for robotics systems weren't originally developed for industrial use. Any guesses?

The Microsoft Kinect (now discontinued - RIP) Xbox gaming consoles allowed players to direct the action of a game simply by moving their bodies, but researchers quickly realized this tech could be used to greatly improve how robotic systems "see." These sensors provided 3D data which proved to be extremely valuable since robots move in the real world. Fast forward a few years and we now have industrial sensors providing similar information that enables robots to function in new and more challenging environments like those seen in warehouses and fulfillment operations.

Coupling the advances in computer vision with the increase in computing power and adding the advances in machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI), robotic systems are becoming more capable every day. But, what can robots do in the warehouse now?

Applications like robotic tote or case palletizing and depalletizing are such examples of robotics in the warehouse. Building on the robotic palletizing core, robotic tooling to pick-and-place totes leverages both traditional robotics and advanced sensors to stack and de-stack totes for a wide variety of end use cases, driving greater efficiency in downstream supply chain processes. 

Fully automated robotic applications like each-picking are now becoming viable solutions, with the necessary degree of precision, processing power and handling capability becoming available at a cost-effective price point. Advances in perception, motion planning and grasping enable picking capabilities that approach the speed and ability of manual operators, while offering the superior predictability, scalability, accuracy and efficiency of automation. Although impressive, these robots still cannot yet handle the extreme variety of products seen in all e-commerce fulfillment operations, but they are showing quite some promise for the right product mix.

Building on many of the recent advancements from the massive investments in self-driving cars, indoor mobile robots have been making inroads into the warehouse. These vehicles are capable of navigating autonomously in the warehouse by using a suite of sensors much like a self-driving car drives on the street. These vehicles can do some of the walking required of warehouse workers, freeing them up to provide more value-added services unique to the worker's skillset. 

Though still in their infancy, small carrier robots are currently on the sidewalks of San Francisco and a handful of other test cities delivering hot meals to hungry customers. Autonomous drones are also being evaluated for use in inventory warehouses and external deployment as last-mile and direct-to-consumer delivery solutions. And that's just one of many recent technological developments. This up-close and personal consumer interaction with autonomous machines is a relatively new phenomenon and still needs to mature. 

As technological breakthroughs continue at an extraordinary rate, it becomes less clear where the next material handling innovation will come from. Self-driving cars? AI? Alternate / virtual reality? Only time will tell. 

For more information on how robotic solutions from Honeywell Intelligrated can work as part of your distribution, e-commerce fulfillment or manufacturing strategy, contact a Honeywell Intelligrated representative, or reference the robotics solutions brochure. 

More palletizing flexibility - hold the hassle

SKU proliferation continues to drive change and innovation in virtually every part of the supply chain, in distribution centers and manufacturing operations alike. For palletizing operations, this spurs a need for greater adaptability as moving a more diverse product mix to more markets around the world dictates new package handling requirements, pallet types and pattern configurations. 

Making adjustments to account for these changes can be a cumbersome process, requiring complex programming and technical support. Even basic adjustments for product changeovers may require a service call or external software programs. 

But what if these adjustments didn't have to be so complicated?

Complexity takes time, an increasingly scarce resource for operations with high throughput goals and tight production timelines. And the challenge to find staff with the advanced skillsets necessary to execute palletizing changes is exacerbated by the well-documented talent gap facing supply chains.

These challenges call for simplicity. What if operations could take advantage of the palletizer's standard control system to make adjustments? Using the local human machine interface (HMI) can reduce the extra work and enable user-friendly, flexible adjustments of pattern and load configurations according to changing product dimensions, pallet types and other variables. 

Make adjustments a cinch and move into the fast lane

IntelliGen™ palletizing software comes integrated with the palletizing cell's standard control system and allows personnel to create pattern configurations with a simple drag-and-drop interface, greatly simplifying the introduction of new products or changes to existing SKUs. It also enables easier creation or modification of existing layer patterns by utilizing searchable templates. If case size changes slightly, or an extra layer or tier sheet needs to be added, the pattern and load configuration can be adjusted straight from the operator terminal - a far more efficient process than rebuilding from scratch. Making these new patterns and load configurations quickly and easily is critical to maintain tight schedules, keep output high and maximize efficiency. 

Any brand, any tool, any pattern

The IntelliGen platform offers wide-ranging compatibility across major robotic arm brands and a variety of end-effectors, including vacuum, clamps and bag tools. This reduces integration startup challenges, and produces an automated solution capable of handling everything from corrugate cases and plastic totes to bags. The software also supports advanced palletizing functionalities like row-forming, case-turning, partial row picks and multi-drops, all of which enable pattern flexibility - yielding higher throughput rates and maximum flexibility. 

The right combination to get ahead

This seemingly contradictory combination of expanded capability and simplicity is critical for successful palletizing in the warehouse and manufacturing environments. As an RIA-certified robot integrator and single-source provider with over 20 years of robotics experience, Honeywell Intelligrated brings the expertise and experience to provide material handling solutions tailored to operational challenges that deliver results. IntelliGen allows operations to focus on what they do best - protecting customer satisfaction and the bottom line. 

For more information on palletizing solutions designed for the challenges of today and tomorrow, read the Honeywell Intelligrated blog Picking the right pieces for a successful palletizing solution.

Six benefits of robotic palletizing software

For decades, robotic palletizing technologies have provided an automated alternative for companies whose operational demands have outgrown the capabilities of manual processes. These robotic palletizing (and depalletizing) cells have not only helped offset labor costs and availability challenges, but also have enabled many manufacturers to keep pace with increasing order volumes. But to maximize operational efficiencies and address the demands of modern palletizing challenges - such as rapid changes in packaging designs, SKU proliferation and complex load configurations - software is becoming an integral part of robotic cell operation.

In our recent On The Move webinar, titled "Stacking up the advantages of robotic palletizing software," I explained how recent advancements in software are making the ownership of robotic palletizing cells more user friendly while accelerating their return on investment. What follows are the top six benefits of palletizing software that I discussed in the webinar. 

1. Flexibility in the hands of the end user - Robotic palletizing software has placed advanced programming power into the cell owners' hands, providing facility personnel with a wide range of features and configuration options.

2. Easily adapt and optimize operations when changes are introduced - Software enables end users to quickly modify existing patterns or loads and/or create new configurations as business dictates. End users can quickly search, store and share patterns for maximum operational efficiency. 

3. Reduced operator training and skill sets required - Intuitive software interfaces allow end users with a basic understanding of load construction to design complex load patterns without having to receive ongoing robotics training. 

4. Lower total cost of ownership - Software has enabled a much more self-sufficient robotic cell support model which has in turn lowered the cost of ownership. By allowing robotic cell owners to take programming into their own hands, software greatly reduces the need for vendor interaction or maintenance team involvement. 

5. Increased quality and performance - Whether it's the ability to simulate the integrity of a potential load design or the flexibility to optimize load sequencing at the required throughput rate, robotic palletizing software delivers the advanced tools and features to significantly increase operational quality and performance.

6. Improved implementation and execution times - Software reduces the implementation time of robotic cells, including setup, commissioning and testing. It also reduces the time required to make changes during operations and adapt to changing production requirements, such as creating, modifying or validating load configurations. 

While software advancements alone have enabled robotic palletizing cell owners to take more ownership of setup, configuration and optimization responsibilities, it's important to remember that software is just a part of the overall palletizing solution. A robotic cell architecture may be comprised of a laptop, personal computer, robotic controller and pendant, system level controllers and human machine interface. With such a wide range of solution types and integration scenarios, there is no one-size-fits-all solutions for today's diverse scenarios. 

To gain a more complete understanding of how software can significantly improve robotic palletizing (and depalletizing) programming efficiencies, please view this webinar in its entirety

A lucky 7 things to do in Vegas while at PACK EXPO 2017

The biggest packaging and processing show in North America is back in fabulous Las Vegas! PACK EXPO 2017 is coming soon to the Las Vegas Convention Center, with more than 30,000 attendees, over 2,000 exhibitors and more than 40 vertical industries expected from Sept. 25-27. If there's one town in which you don't need help finding things to do, it's Vegas. But to help make the most of the Entertainment Capital of the World and PACK EXPO, check out these seven can't-miss activities. 

Stay organized with My Show Planner

Before arriving at the show, set up a profile here. The My Show Planner app provides an easy way to stay organized and on-schedule with your mobile device. It combines planning and logistics into one easy-to-use tool to help find exhibitors, sort by location and add conference sessions.

Take off at the drone demo

A new addition, the PACK EXPO DRONE DEMO - Packaging for the Last Mile features the latest in drone technology. Scheduled for presentations on the half hour, unmanned drones take off from the top of electric trucks and make deliveries to mock houses in the 15,000 square-foot exhibit in the north hall, booth N-645. 

"Listen to the Music" with the Doobie Brothers! 

Legendary California classic rockers The Doobie Brothers bring their unique blend of R&B, soul and Southern-fried boogie to PACK EXPO! The Doobies kick things off Monday, Sept. 25 at 4 p.m. to rock hits like "What a Fool Believes," "China Grove" and "Takin' It to the Streets." Don't forget to pack your dancin' shoes!

Have a dance with Lady Luck

What's a trip to Vegas if you don't try your luck at the Roulette or Poker table? From the airport to the legendary strip, take a shot at all the classic table games, slots, video poker, race and sports books, daily and monthly events and much more. Virtually non-stop gaming action can be found up and down the strip and open all night.

Watch future industry innovators compete

On Wednesday, Sept. 27, be sure to check out the Amazing Packaging Race. It includes stops at the Intelligrated booth C-3906 and other exhibitors, with students from colleges and universities around the U.S. racing around the PACK EXPO show floor to complete various engineering challenges. We can't wait for students to see what we have in store for them at the Intelligrated booth! 

Take a virtual journey, from skydiving to the factory floor...and more! 

At booth C-3906, Intelligrated Lifecycle Support Services (LSS) will host a virtual reality experience that's sure to get your pulse racing. It starts about 13,000 feet off the ground in an airplane, before visiting the factory floor and some other unexpected locations. The immersive experience gives more information on complete lifecycle support, including assessments, modifications and upgrades, training, parts and technical services designed to maximize value from material handling system investments. Representatives from Intelligrated LSS will be available for further discussion of system assessments - part of our comprehensive lifecycle management framework. 

See the robots in action at the Intelligrated booth!

The Intelligrated booth demonstration at C-3906 showcases robotic palletizing and depalletizing solutions, with a focus on the flexibility to accommodate a wide variety of workflows, product types and layout requirements. Learn about our IntelliGen palletizing software, a flexible solution offering easy adjustment of pattern and load configurations according to changing product dimensions and other variables - no service calls or complex external software programs required. And to keep automated systems performing at peak levels, talk to Intelligrated LSS about system assessments that form the foundation of our proactive lifecycle management framework.

Have a great PACK EXPO 2017! VIVA LAS VEGAS!