Manufacturing is changing. The recent COVID-19 pandemic, supply chain disruptions, and volatile consumer trends over the past three years have all forced manufacturers and consumer packaged goods companies (CPGs) to look at adopting engineering flexibility in all their processes. They realize they need to be nimble and flexible in manufacturing and packaging, including end-of-line operations like palletizing, to stay resilient during the unexpected.
Mobile robots and cobots, such as mobile palletizing robots, provide enhanced production flexibility. Because of their lower price point, they also allow for cost-effective, automated palletizing for low volumes and rates with a greatly reduced footprint. And like most robots and automation solutions, they’re designed to easily integrate into packaging lines and are generally considered user-friendly.
Is mobile palletizing the solution you’ve been looking for? Is it right for your operations? Let’s explore both the advantages and disadvantages of mobile palletizing with this checklist to help you decide if this technology is for you.
- Consider speed. In general, conventional palletizers are the go-to option for high-volume, high-speed operations. Mobile palletizers, on the other hand, are great when you only require low-speed automation to meet your goals. They operate on a smaller scale than larger, fixed palletizing equipment. If you need a high-speed system designed to run multiple shifts, then mobile is not the way to go.
- Consider volume. Mobile palletizing robots work best in smaller operations with low volumes. So, consider your output. Small emerging brands, for example, will benefit from mobile robotic palletizing since the equipment is nimble and user-friendly, and is built to handle low-volume applications.
- Consider your space. These nimble systems take up much less space than traditional palletizing systems and are not fixed to one location within the plant. How much space do you have allocated for palletizing? Is space a concern in your operations? Note that cobots like these generally do not require special safety gating/ fencing, freeing up even more space in your facility.
- Consider flexibility. Additionally, mobile palletizing robots are portable, designed to be used on various lines within the plant as needed. They can easily be moved by workers without risk of injury, due to their collaborative nature. This mobility provides increased ROI and flexibility of the asset, allowing users to utilize this approach on multiple lines. This means they can cover production needs when some lines are down for maintenance, changeovers and cleaning, and that the palletizing equipment can be utilized on the lines that are in use. In contrast, fixed palletizing systems are inherently down when that production line is down.
- Consider complexity. As part of your palletizing operations, do you require slip sheets, stretch wrapping, corner boards, or related items to secure your pallet? Adding these types of pallet stabilizers during palletizing is generally not supported by mobile palletizing systems. Instead, you may require a large, fixed piece of equipment meant to handle these tasks. But there is some complexity that the mobile robots can achieve, which is the ability to run multiple SKUs. While mobile robots are not great at large volume loads, they can handle smaller pallets of mixed loads, if the system has the mixed SKU software and the necessary payload required. In the case of an emerging brand that is looking to palletize a smaller volume of each SKU in the line-up, a mobile robot might be a good option to handle that task without the timely changeover considerations of utilizing a conventional palletizer.
- Consider your labor force. Unreliable labor is a harsh reality in today’s facilities, especially considering the recent pandemic. In manufacturing, it’s all too common to be suffering from labor shortages. Mobile robots can help alleviate the issue by reducing the number of workers needed at the end of the line. Another consideration is that robots can be used to carry out repetitive and dangerous tasks, freeing up staff to perform more complex and diversified jobs requiring human skills, and reducing the risk of worker injury.
As you explore whether a mobile palletizing system is right for your end-of-line operation, consider the above factors like speed, output, labor, facility space, complexity, and the flexibility needed for you to stay nimble in today’s volatile market. Look at both your current needs as well as projected demands for the future. And be sure to work with closely with your OEM or systems integrator to find the right solution for you.
Image courtesy of ROI Industries Group, Inc.