If you have ever heard about how robots can be used in factories or manufacturing plants, you may have come across the time ‘palletizing’ before. But what exactly is it, and how can robots help with that? It is important you know what it means – because if your company requires any sort of high-volume packing process, then palletizing will probably be essential to it. As such, if you are still using human employees to complete this task, then it may be time to consider outsourcing this job to a robot instead.
Below, we have explained a few fundamentals regarding robotic palletizers so that you can better decide if using a palletizing robot is the right choice for you. Keep reading this article to find out more.
What is robotic palletizing?
To put it simply, robotic palletizing is the task of using a robot to place and stack goods and products onto a pallet for transportation – usually for shipping purposes. The robots can also be programmed to depalletize – as such, these tasks are essential to many production lines.
In the past, factories and manufacturers used conventional palletizers instead – in fact, they have been around for more than half a century. These palletizers generally consist of a series of conveyors and other trappings. As a product moves through a conveyor, it is rotated into its proper orientation before forming a row at the end. These rows are then gently pushed onto a layer-forming table, with the layers stacked onto pallets.
Unlike their conventional counterparts, robotic palletizers give manufacturers a lot more control over the way in which the pallet is arranged. This is because these robots excel at manipulating the product – such as stacking bags and pails or turning boxes to show the labels out – in addition to handling high-SKU counts in multi-line operations. Furthermore, with if you program the robot well, you can specifically allow it to create mixed pallets even with objects that have various shapes and sizes. These robots are also easy to reprogram and deploy on different product lines – this kind of change and flexibility or almost unheard of when using conventional palletizing machines (in fact, it may take months for them to be mechanically redesigned!)
But what is palletizing, specifically?
When most people think of palletizing, they mostly think of huge robots moving a lot of heavy and large boxes onto pallets, which are usually piled high with goods and products. This may make people mistakenly believe that palletizing robots are only ever suitable for moving heavy objects. However, this could not be further from the truth. In fact, you can do palletizing on any scale, no matter the size and shape of the product. This is because palletizing, in its simplest form, is just a more complicated version of pick and place (picking up an object and placing it somewhere else).
However, the key element that makes palletizing different from basic pick and place is that the put-down location will always changes (or in the case of de-palletizing, the pickup location. This is because objects are put down in a grid on the top of a pallet, so each new location is immediately next to the previous object.
Of course, just because you place the object onto pallets, doesn’t mean that the pallets have to be large either! As a matter of fact, you can implement a palletizing task on almost any surface – provided you have programmed the robot well, of course!
So, what are the main benefits of automating your palletizing process? Well, there are quite a few, which we have listed and explained below for your perusal:
When it comes to doing tasks consistently and accurately, robots tend to have humans beat. This is because robots will move and do the task in the way they were programmed to every time. They will not get distracted by other activities, they will not tire, and do not need breaks or rest. Unlike human workers, who may become bored when doing monotonous tasks, which may lead to an increase in errors and damages.
If a product ends up being damaged during the production process, then that means it will not be sent out to customers. As a result, this not only wastes materials, and money but also time too! Fortunately, when it comes to using robots, they are less likely to damage the product, meaning less wastage as a whole for the manufacturer!
With robots becoming more and more sophisticated every year, they can now be equipped with an end-of-arm tool that is capable of doing a wide range of tasks, such as handling bags, cardboard boxes, pails, heavy totes, and more. Manufacturers can also outfit robots with sensors and adaptive gripping technologies such as clamps and vacuums and can be programmed to apply the right amount of pressure onto a particular item consistently without breaking, bending, or tearing it.
Some of the most common workplace injuries are sprains, strains, tears, and overexertion. This is a result of repetitive motion, such as workers needing to lift large and heavy items on a regular basis. Not surprisingly, manually stacking and unstacking products on and off of pallets is exactly the kind of task that can lead to injuries and health issues in the long run.
One way to solve this problem is by giving human workers more and longer rest breaks. However, operators need to reach their quotas, which may conflict with realistic human limitations and other safety regulations.
Fortunately, another way to protect employees from doing hazardous tasks is by not putting them in danger in the first place. As such, using a robotic palletizer can help remove the risk inherent to people gaining injuries from doing repetitive tasks by replacing them with robots instead. Robots do not have to worry about any of these problems, as they can do operations consistently and repetitively, and do not fear injuries.
For those worried about robots making the workplace unsafe though, one way to mitigate this is by using cages and gates around the robots or other palletizing equipment. This means that fewer people will accidentally contact the equipment, leading to fewer injuries. As technology becomes more advanced, some robots are designed to be even more collaborative with humans. Dubbed cobots, they can specifically work alongside human employees without any barriers in place and are already programmed with sensors and safety features designed to prevent any injuries in the workplace.