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.
Robotic palletizing cells are becoming an increasingly viable option for those seeking to boost palletizing efficiencies. Faced with manual labor challenges, ever-expanding product profiles and frequently changing pattern and load configurations, more businesses are investing in robotic palletizing systems to make good on the promise of automation. But justifying a robotic cell investment requires a clear understanding of the actual cost of ownership and the cell's ability to fulfill both near- and long-term objectives.
Traditional robotic palletizing systems require the use of teach pendants or PC-based software utilities to create new or change existing pallet patterns. Recent advancements in palletizing software have placed this programming power into owners' hands, making robotic palletizing cells even more user-friendly - and their ROI even more appealing. Instead of making a service call or using complex external software programs, the software enables facility personnel to plan and adjust for current and future load configurations, patterns and product sizes.
In our next On The Move webinar, taking place on Thursday, Sept. 14, at 2 p.m. EDT / 11 a.m. PDT, Doug Stoll, Intelligrated's palletizing product manager, will take a closer look at how palletizing software is helping plant managers more effectively program and support these indispensable robotic cells. Attendees will learn about the types of palletizing software and the many advantages this new generation of functionality offers, including:
- Drag-and-drop for ease of use
- Enhanced user help tools and screens
- Adaptive capabilities that flex with business needs and future expansion
- Integration with leading PLC providers for maximum applicability
Using this intuitive new software, owners can simply create new robotic palletizing patterns from scratch or quickly modify existing templates. In addition, multiple patterns, templates and slip sheets can be configured per load and pallet type, giving cell owners the flexibility to adjust for variations in case size and store a wide variety of stable load options. And integrated multi-pick, multi-drop and row-forming capabilities enable higher palletizing rates, even on "labels out" patterns.
To learn how your company can benefit from advances in robotic palletizing software, register now to join Doug Stoll on Thursday, September 14.
Intelligrated's Lifecycle Support Services (LSS) understands the crucial role that assessments play in our abilities to predict and prevent issues before they occur. But for many plant managers in order fulfillment or manufacturing environments, the importance of performing regular assessments is often overlooked. And while some may think that planned preventive maintenance activities are enough to keep operations running at sufficient levels, the truth is they're often not equipped to identify unseen problems in mechanical structures or uncover issues that may lie dormant in material handling control systems. Unfortunately, when a piece of the system breaks, their parts inventories are often unorganized and understocked, preventing fast issue resolution and prolonging costly downtime.
These were the very scenarios our LSS team addressed in Intelligrated's most recent On The Move webinar, "Identifying minor issues before they become major problems." Joining me for this live webinar were Javiera Aguirre, assessment manager and Doug Bach, director of lifecycle sales. Together we discussed the importance of assessments and then answered many questions from attendees after the presentation.
We started the webinar by introducing the concept of assessments and discussing what's at stake for those who ignore this crucial step. In our first polling question, we asked attendees how many unplanned downtime events they had experienced in the past year. We weren't surprised to learn that 50 percent had experienced at least one unplanned downtime event. From our experience, we've found that these downtime events can cost anywhere from $10K to $200K per hour. Obviously, prolonged outages can have lasting operational and financial impacts.
Javiera explained that assessments are analogous to the annual physicals individuals typically have performed by their doctors. Just as we have our skeletal, blood and neurological functions evaluated to check our overall well-being, manufacturing and distribution operations should have their MHE system mechanics and controls assessed at regular intervals to prevent costly and dangerous conditions and ensure optimum performance.
But assessments don't stop just at mechanical systems and controls. Javiera discussed the many types of technology, mechanical and maintenance assessments that LSS teams perform - from software, sorters, palletizers and conveyors to personnel safety, thermography, parts and computerized maintenance management systems. Simply put, these assessments can uncover "what's under the hood" and potentially prevent substantial productivity loss, accidents and expensive repairs.
Javiera walked through the key steps involved with the assessment process, starting with understanding the baseline system performance and culminating with taking necessary remediation steps to return the system to optimal operations and plan a system's lifecycle. She emphasized the importance of using assessments to not only take a proactive stance toward maintenance, but also to better prioritize repairs and align them with the capital planning process.
Finally, Doug demonstrated that assessments are integral for all types of facilities, regardless of their current phase in the system's lifecycle. Whether you're operating a brownfield site, sharing maintenance tasks with multiple vendors or starting up an all-new greenfield site, everyone should make assessments a mandatory part of their maintenance processes.
To learn more about how assessments can help you formulate and execute an effective lifecycle management strategy, please view this webinar in its entirety.
Investments in material handling equipment (MHE) are among the most significant capital expenditures a company can make in its order fulfillment and manufacturing facilities. To maximize ROI and extend the longevity of these systems, facility operators must always be mindful of the working condition of their equipment. But too often that is not the case, and minor issues that could easily have been fixed are ignored until they become major problems.
The true costs of this inattention can be far-reaching, from unplanned downtime and lost productivity to expensive repairs and untimely equipment replacement. But these consequences can all be avoided - even prevented. By performing periodic assessments, facilities managers and maintenance teams can gain accurate knowledge of equipment status and plan accordingly.
On Thursday, August 17 at 2 p.m. EDT / 11 a.m. PDT, three of Intelligrated's Lifecycle Support Services (LSS) team members will host the next On The Move webinar and discuss the importance of periodic MHE equipment and system evaluations. Javiera Aguirre, assessment manager; Doug Bach, director of lifecycle sales; and Dave Trice, senior director of business development, will explain how assessments not only give operators insights into the condition of their equipment, but also recommend how to mitigate imminent risks and potentially extend system lifecycles.
Webinar attendees will learn about diverse types of assessments and how they help solve numerous business challenges, including:
- Prevent system downtime and productivity loss
- Guide capital planning priorities (obsolescence, major projects, upgrades, changes in operational requirements)
- Establish effective preventive maintenance plans
- Identify gaps in the maintenance operation
Register now to join the LSS team on Thursday, August 17 and learn how assessments can help you identify minor issues before they become major problems.
In Intelligrated's most recent On The Move webinar, "Using business intelligence to improve your labor force," I explored the potential of marrying business intelligence's (BI) visualization and self-directed investigation capabilities with the known benefits of labor management software (LMS). Combined, these tools are helping businesses better identify labor performance and efficiency problems, and exploit opportunities to improve performance.
To start the discussion, I explained how BI has evolved from an IT-driven pursuit to a self-service model - one where the end user performs the data investigation process and generates visualizations that help companies quickly see trends in large sets of information, as well as identify anomalies. To demonstrate the value in this concept, I presented a visualization of the traffic patterns in the greater Los Angeles metropolitan area. By briefly looking at the visualization, one can quickly determine L.A.'s traffic pattern origins and its concentration of commuter destinations.
Then, I transitioned the focus of the discussion to the use of BI in labor, specifically about how advancements in self-service tools and their integration with LMS are enabling companies to gain new labor insights and address labor market challenges. With the integration of BI into LMS, companies can take traditional performance analytics a step further, by digging deeper into root cause analysis that often belies original assumptions.
To demonstrate the impacts of self-directed investigation in labor management, I walked through three case studies using Intelligrated's BI tool.
1. Shipping error investigation. A repeat missed shipment problem on third shift warranted further investigation by the labor manager. The initial investigation suggested that those shipping errors likely stemmed from the temporary workers on that shift. But upon further investigation, the BI tool revealed that the temps on third shift were outperforming the full-time employees (FTEs). From that insight, the manager inferred that the company's third shift temp training was producing higher performance rates than those of its FTEs. The manager could then take steps to refresh FTE training and address the performance problem.
2. Star performer identification. Most organizations typically have one employee who regularly outperforms others. Through self-directed investigation, BI visualizations help labor managers uncover the specific work patterns that allow these individuals to excel. In this example, I demonstrated how an investigation revealed one shipping staff member who far exceeded the performance levels of his co-workers. Further digging with the BI tool uncovered that this person was especially skilled at processing cases. From a management perspective, this allows leadership to follow up with this individual, understand their processes and then pass these learnings on to other staff members.
3. Execution monitoring. One of the primary goals of resource planning is to make sure the current labor force can execute the daily volume of work. The BI tool enables management to evaluate volume levels throughout the day and adjust the labor force as needed. Visualization clearly shows where the resources and execution plan do not line up. Management can use this tool at different points of the day to see a snapshot of performance versus execution, and then plan accordingly.
To learn more about the potential of BI in labor management, please view this webinar in its entirety.