How to use cobot arms for palletizing solutions
- Can cobot arms help with palletizing? Collaborative robot (cobot) arms can help with palletizing a range of goods, with zero downtime and no human intervention.
- How does a cobot arm palletize? Using an end effector and bespoke software, the cobot arm will pick up items and move them across to a pallet. It can move entire layers at once or pick and place individual items.
- Are there limitations with a cobot arm? Cobot arms have payload limits. But as long as you’re working within them, they’re an efficient and cost-effective palletizing solution.
An automated palletizing system takes the tedious and potentially dangerous yet business critical task of palletizing off your people’s hands. With a collaborative robot (cobot) arm, you can implement a range of palletizing solutions that boost the efficiency and safety of your operations. Here are some of the most common ways to use cobot arms for palletizing.
How cobots can help with palletizing
There’s a misconception that large industrial robots are the only option for manually intensive palletizing solutions. When palletizers were first introduced in the 1950s, they were large and cumbersome, and remained that way until the introduction of new solutions like cobots. Now, for small or medium businesses, which deal with smaller volumes or lighter products, a cobot arm could be the ideal way to automate your palletization process.
Collaborative robots, or cobots, are smaller, lighter, and easier to fit into your existing warehouse or production line. In many cases, risk assessments deem them safe to work without barriers, meaning your cobot will likely be able to work on palletizing tasks in the same area as your humans. Plus, they’re comparatively affordable and highly cost effective, with companies typically recouping their cobot investment costs within 12 months.
What palletizing tasks can a cobot do?
A cobot can tackle a wide range of palletizing tasks including case erecting, packing, stacking, and depalletizing. The end effector or end of arm tooling (EOAT) and software you choose will determine which tasks your cobot can complete. For example, you could choose a vacuum gripper that is designed to move fragile items with care every time, or one with a larger surface area to maximise the amount it can lift.
If your cobot needs a little extra power for heavier palletizing tasks, an additional component such as the Cobot Lift will increase its payload while still being smaller and lighter than an equivalent industrial robot. You could also opt for an end of arm tool changer, which would give your palletizing cobot diverse capabilities.
There are three core tasks that a cobot-powered palletizing system can handle. Here’s a brief rundown.
2 UR10 cobots have been deployed at L'Oréal India Private Limited for end-of-line palletizing
1. Layer palletizing
With layer palletizing, goods can be stacked and moved far more quickly than with a pick-and-place approach. In terms of programming, there is not much difference between moving one box or multiple at the same time. Once a layer has been completed, the gripper will move the neatly aligned items over to the pallet in one movement. The majority of our customers use pneumatic grippers designed by our UR+ partners and system integrators.
While the maximum payload and reach of a cobot rules out carrying multiple heavy items at the same time, there are still ways you use it to implement a layer palletizing application. For example, the OmniPack solution has a ‘magic pack’ option that automates the process of filling in pallet layers in the most optimal way. There is also scope to utilize a custom made gripper.
2. Pallet stacking
Pallet stacking is a relatively simple task on paper, but it is taxing and can easily lead to dangerous mistakes. To maximise safety and ensure you’re getting as many items onto each pallet as possible, the ideal pattern for stacking your pallet is in an ‘overlapping brick’ formation. However, when working at speed and with loads that will quickly become tiring, your workers will become more susceptible to mistakes and injury. They could deviate from the perfect stacking method or use poor form to lift significant loads.
At best, an inefficient stacking method will waste space and lead to higher logistics costs. At worst, an entire pallet of goods, which could weigh hundreds of kilos, could topple over and result in serious injury or death. Letting your cobot handle pallet stacking is more efficient, as your cobot won’t deviate from the stacking pattern you’ve programmed and create an unstable stack.
3. Mixed case palletizing
In enormous commercial operations, entire pallets can be stacked with a single type of item. But as a smaller business dealing with lower volumes, it’s likely your pallets are stacked with different products. This is known as ‘mixed case palletizing’. But without a solid plan on how you’re going to use pallet space before you begin stacking, it can be a difficult task. Getting items of different sizes and shapes to fit together seamlessly, in a way that efficiently uses the space and is stacked safely and securely, is hard for humans to do alone.
Using software to plan out how your mixed case pallet is going to be stacked before you begin the task will save you time and money. Rather than hoping for the best, you can precisely work out a safe way to load your pallet and have your cobot carry out the task quickly. Plus, using a versatile gripper, like a vacuum gripper, will allow you to pick up items of all shapes and sizes (within the cobot’s payload limit) without the time-consuming process of changing the end effector.
Cobot palletizing solutions for all businesses
The most attractive aspect of a cobot palletizing system is its versatility. If you’re looking for something that requires minimal setup and can be installed quickly and easily, there are turnkey options on the market. Or, if your products are challenging to palletize manually due to their odd shape or size, you can use software to create custom solutions. Regardless, all cobot palletizing systems have one thing in common: they handle some of the most unpleasant and taxing jobs in the factory and free up your workers to do something far more pleasant and fulfilling.
Speak to one of our experts today to find out how a cobot can improve your operations.