Here are some tips and trends to consider when choosing palletizing equipment:
1. Look for more hybrid solutions and simultaneous operations.
The effort to reduce secondary packaging is accelerating, which is having a significant impact on the design of palletizing equipment. The trend is driving hybrid palletizing solutions involving both conventional and robotics technology. Simultaneous operations are also becoming more prevalent, such as palletizing and stretch wrapping in a single integrated piece of equipment. Increasing numbers of package applications are better suited to fully automated equipment; thus, the need for package handling flexibility involving quick “tool-less” or fully automated technology.
2. Weigh total cost of ownership and future needs.
ROI tends to favor conventional palletizers at very low and very high speeds. Despite varying opinions, proponents of robotics claim to handle a wider range of SKUs and package types, and cite applications involving more than 60 cases (or multipacks, etc.) per minute. Beyond speed and costs, consider your application. For example, when one bottler’s conventional palletizer was damaging lightweighted bottled-water multipacks, the company chose robotics for gentle handling and newfound sustainability cost savings.
3. Don’t forget about safety when updating palletizing technology.
The safety of palletizing systems is of primary importance. These are large powerful machines that move heavy cases, bundles, and pallets at high rates of speed. The vendors must adhere to OHSA and ANSI requirements in the design of their equipment. If the system employs robots, additional OSHA regulations are in effect. Respect of these safety features is the responsibility of the end user as well as the use of good LOTO procedures.
4. Consumer-level developments and graphics technology may affect your machine decisions.
Warehouse stores are driving more display-type pallet loads and cases. In turn, this drives the need for graphics-out palletizing, often requiring the placement of tier sheets between layers and corner boards to improve load integrity and warehouse stackability. It may also require you to think about hooding versus stretch wrapping—a single layer of hood film will show off graphics and bar codes more easily.
5. The growing use of shrink film impacts palletizing flexibility.
Shrink-wrapped loads often require different handling methods within the machinery, compared to corrugated cases or paperboard packages. In addition, both very small and large pack sizes create the need for greater flexibility. This explosion in SKUs has resulted in frequent production line changeovers and further highlights the importance of versatility.
6. As the costs of complex equipment rise, careful budgeting is even more important.
Newer, lighter-weight packages with little or no secondary materials, combined with the need for greater flexibility and automated changeover are driving up the cost and complexity of palletizing equipment. It is also resulting in an accelerated use of robotics technology. Be sure to consider all bottom-line costs before purchasing equipment; assess if the investment proves its worth in empowering you to handle higher-quantity outputs and lower per-pack weights.
7. Make sure to look at machine builder risk assessments.
Machine builder risk assessments are supposed to be available to end users, but palletizing equipment purchasers are not necessarily aware of them. Ask the machine builder for the risk assessment, or at the very least, the information that the machine builders must disclose to OSHA.
8. Consider slip sheets and tier sheets for pallet stability.
This capability should be planned up front because it is complex and expensive to add later. Think about how you supply slips or tiers to a palletizer; if those sheets aren’t straight, a robot may not know that, and the placement might be incorrect.
9. Consider palletizing material flows and orientations.
Think about how bulk pallets of sheets and empty pallets will be supplied to the palletizer. If those sheets are not straight, the machine (or robot) will not know the difference and the sheet may be placed in the wrong location. Asking the vendor about options to keep the sheets straight or separate the sheets if more than one is picked for the stack may help avoid headaches in the future.
10. Machine controls should meet site norms and existing controls standards.
Keep your controls constant and up to standards on all equipment. With the increase in globalized manufacturing, you often need to meet international standards, and you should always have independent testing done to make sure your potential palletizing equipment is in compliance.