Palletizing is an end-of-line operation that refers to the act of placing products on a pallet for shipment or storage in logistics supply chains. On a packaging line, this is one of the final steps before shipping to customers. One of the jobs of the palletizer is to stack in a pattern that maximizes the amount of product in the load by weight and volume while being stable enough to prevent products from shifting, toppling, or crushing each other. Traditionally, palletizing was accomplished by manual labor, but increasingly automated systems are taking over the task of palletizing products.
There are three types of palletizing that packagers can utilize at the end of their packaging line: mechanical or conventional, robotic and the new emerging trend within robotic palletizing of mobile robot palletizers. The three differ greatly in how they function, yet all have their individual strengths and weaknesses. Right now, high-level conventional palletizers dominate the overall market, but robotic palletizing will by far be the fastest growing segment in the years to come. Let’s explore the different types of palletizing systems and learn why robotic palletizing is on the rise.
When to choose mechanical palletizing
Perhaps the most widely used palletizing solution is the mechanical palletizer, also known as a conventional palletizer. Mechanical palletizers are ideal for single production lines that individually run multiple products throughout the day. The production rate of these palletizers varies depending on the exact model you choose, but most can operate at extremely high speeds. These are best for heavy loads, as the system is all bottom-supported all the time. Mechanical palletizers are great for high-volume, high-speed, common package sizes, and relatively common unit load patterns.
While this type of palletizer is capable of handling heavy loads at high volumes and high speeds, it does have its drawbacks. Because these are complex systems, mechanical palletizers have many more components than automated systems – parts that can fail or need to be maintained – which can increase downtime. In addition, conventional palletizers are best for a dedicated production run in a consistent presentation (without variation), so running mixed loads is not a good fit for mechanical palletizing. These systems can also take up a lot of space in your facility, so if you don’t need the high-speed, high-volume output and space is a factor, mechanical palletizing may not be the best choice for you.
Robotic palletizing is growing
Robotic palletizing is the segment that is growing in volume and popularity, as they offer consumer packaged goods (CPGs) and other companies who do palletizing user-friendly options. The advantage of robots is of course that they offer a great amount of flexibility and can always be redeployed or modified to grow with your production needs.
Robotic palletizing systems provide much greater flexibility when there are significant packaging variations spread across multiple production lines with high unit load variety. In some cases, they even utilize a vision system so the robot can “see” what it is doing and react to move and pack the product in a way that is best, thus being able to handle mixed loads far better than mechanical systems. And automated palletizers can easily handle repetitive work and free up employees for tasks that require on-the-spot thinking. Another benefit is that robotic palletizers typically feature user-friendly operation for faster set up and changeover that doesn’t require a dedicated operator.
One drawback: operation is limited by the end-of-arm tooling as it limits the pack format capability. Top grippers for example, work very well for nicely sealed cases but don’t function with open trays or bottled water. While the robot itself is very reliable, the limitations of end-of-arm tooling can be an issue as it takes time to change over the tooling, which in turn means downtime. But the consistent performance, accuracy and flexibility of these systems is continuing to spur their growth.
Enter the mobile palletizers
The mobile palletizing trend is on the rise. It refers to the use of mobile robots that have the capability to move around in their environment and are not fixed to one physical location.
Because these robots move around and do not use safety guarding, they often have motion sensors that make them safe for working alongside human workers (known as collaborative robots or cobots). Without requiring safety guarding or a fixed location in the plant, a tremendous amount of space in the facility can be freed up by utilizing this type of palletizing system – a huge consideration for small and mid-sized businesses. A greatly reduced footprint can translate into a cost-effective palletizing solution for low-volume/rate operations. In addition, mobile palletizers provide ultimate production flexibility as they can be moved around the facility and work on various lines and are easily deployed by operators.
Mobile palletizing systems also take repetitive movements off workers also help alleviate labor issues by reducing the number of workers needed on the line. All these factors help boost flexibility on the line, all for improved throughput and ROI.
But drawbacks include speed and volume limitations as these systems operate best for slower speeds than conventional palletizing as well as lower volumes (output). Mobile palletizers work best for small or emerging brands that don’t require the large production volumes of major CPGs -- and may not have the facility space needed for larger systems.
Finding the best solution
So, what’s the best palletizing solution or you?
Choosing the right palletizing system comes down to properly evaluating your needs. When considering a new palletizer, consider:
· Your facility’s existing floorplan (footprint requirements)
· Production rates and number of packaging lines
· Size of the cases, large bags, pails, you are palletizing
· Your projected future needs
Also, be sure to factor in changeover times associated with the high- or low-speed palletizing options that are on the table. Work closely with your systems integrator and OEM to discuss all of your needs to determine the equipment that makes the most sense for your current operation, as well as future production goals.
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