There is almost no industrial manufacturing setting around the world where products don’t have to be palletized at some point. This task of stacking boxes, bags, parts, or assemblies onto a pallet is repetitive, and many times also dangerous. This is why many organizations seek ways to automate this process. And what better way to automate palletizing than with a help of a robot? As experts in the field of robotic palletizing and robotic integration, this time we decided to share with you ten important aspects of robotic palletizing systems:
1. Most important criteria: Reach/Payload/Speed/Axes
So, you identified a potential robotic palletizing application. Now you need to select the proper robot for the job. Every robot manufacturer provides a wide variety of robot specifications to meet the client’s needs. The Main points of criteria include:
Reach: The “reach” of the robot is usually defined as the distance from the center of the robot to the furthest point he can reach with the arm fully extended. This commonly resembles a spherical shape which must be considered when palletizing products from a low to a high elevation. Palletizing robots can have reaches anywhere from 70 to 125 inches.
Payload: There are several factors to consider when selecting the proper payload robot. Keep in mind that the payload includes both the weight of the End of Arm Tool as well as the product it is handling. You should also understand that the robot’s stated payload is valid for loads with the center of mass at the center of the faceplate of the arm. Any offsets in the End of Arm Tool or product will decrease this overall payload.
Speed: Speed can be harder to classify and compare since speeds are typically being stated in terms of rotational speeds of each axis/joint (i.e. degrees/sec). Usually, a simulation is required to evaluate speed requirements.
Axes: Commonly, a 4-axis robot is utilized because products tend to be parallel with the floor when picked and placed in palletizing applications. In cases where products need to be rotated or tilted, 5- or 6-axis robots can be used.
2. Palletizing Robot Additional Features
If you do a simple YouTube search you will certainly find thousands of examples of different palletizing applications used in various industries. Each application, however, has its own unique aspects that set it apart from others. There are several additional features that can be applied to robotic palletizing systems. Some of these may include:
- Integrated or 3rd party robot vision
- Force feedback to measure cases or parts as they are picked
- Foundry grade options
- Enhanced safety software
- Mobile robot / Robot-on-Rail systems
- Mixed load palletizing software
3. Re-Purposing and Flexibility
“We don’t know what the future may bring” is a statement that packaging engineers or plant managers often make when it comes to what the future holds for their packaging needs. Due to the ever-changing, custom nature of consumer goods, the way palletizing is done today might not be the way it will be done tomorrow. Robots are an excellent choice because one robot allows for a great deal of flexibility in handling various products and patterns. If future product specifications are known up-front, you can select the proper robot and End of Arm Tooling can be designed in a way that will make the change easy and effortless. In cases where a completely unique requirement is introduced, robotics can many times still allow for minimal implementation requirements by simply changing out tooling or ancillary equipment while re-using the same robot.
4. Reducing Maintenance Cost
Before the robots, conventional palletizers ruled the industry. These systems use conveyor, turning mechanisms, pushers, accumulation tables, stripper plates, and lifts to form layers of product to palletize. These systems are effective, but they typically involve plenty of moving parts and preventative maintenance components. Robots, which are basically a group of cast iron arms and servo motors, require quite little maintenance and will prove to be one of the most reliable pieces of equipment in your facility.
5. End of Arm Tool Design
The heart of any robot system is the End of Arm Tool. The End of Arm Tool is the last thing to touch a customer’s product before the customer receives it. That means that gentle, reliable, and effective handling of cases, bags, or parts is crucial in a successful robotic palletizing system. Robotic palletizing End of Arm Tools can take the form of:
- Zoned vacuum cups
- Compression plates with or without bottom support
- Universal vacuum pads
- Clam-shell, claw grippers
6. Multiple Lines
Robots can have a wide-reaching envelope in which to pick and place product when palletizing. Because of this, robots can handle multiple, simultaneous production lines with multiple load build locations. The economics for justifying a robotic palletizing system tend to increase as you handle multiple product lines.
The latest trend in the world of robotics is collaborative robots (or “co-bots”). The majority of uses for collaborative robots are in machine tending or part handling roles, but co-bots such as Fanuc’s CR-35iA model are made specifically with palletizing/de-palletizing in mind. Since it is one of the largest co-bots on the market, this robot can reach the far end of a pallet to place cases. However, with only a 35 kg payload, you must consider the weight of the product and a relatively simple, light-weight end of arm tool.
Robotic palletizing system implementation is more than affordable and justifiable. Robot and ancillary component prices are dropping while the robotic knowledge base is growing steadily, so achieving typical one to two-year return-on-investment thresholds is pretty realistic. With rising costs of labor, the need for safe working environments, and keeping operations on the cutting edge of technology, a cost of a robot is easy to justify.
Robots can do a lot without breaking a sweat, yet there is a point in which they cannot take on additional rate or complexity in pallet patterns. So, it is important to evaluate the utilization of the robot with respect to the tasks it needs to accomplish. You should complete a time study which would take in account all the time it takes to pick and place product, pick and place slip sheets and/or pallets, conveyance time, and any additional ancillary tasks required. This utilization calculation will tell the integrator or end-user if only one robot is needed or if multiple robots will be required.
10. Proper Integration
Applications of robotics are becoming increasingly complex. Proper initial development, engineering, integration, and after-market service are crucial for the overall success of an integration project throughout its life cycle. You must pay close attention to the specifications of every piece of ancillary equipment in a robotic palletizing cell as well to ensure overall system effectiveness:
- Pallet Conveyor
- Pallet Dispenser & Stackers
- Stretch Wrappers
- Pop-Up Transfers
- Transfer & Shuttle Cars
Nortech Packaging would enjoy the opportunity to look over your palletizing needs and determine if a Robotic Palletizing System would help you meet your business goals. Make sure to check out our Tetristack and Microstack palletizing systems!