Increasing operational efficiency with automated palletizing

Collaborative robotics (cobots) and Automated palletization are changing the way that manufacturing leaders and managers are able to think about their operations.

Increasing operational efficiency with automated palletizing
Increasing operational efficiency with automated palletizing

Bottlenecks are one example of a once accepted part of everyday working life that can now be consigned to the history books through automation. In fact, the combination of cobots and automation is being used by manufacturing businesses of all shapes and sizes to create Automated palletizer solutions that are driving big gains in operational efficiency.

Automated palletizing

Your business depends on the smooth running of your production processes. But in an increasingly digitalized economy, your ability to compete also requires you to increase the speed and scale of your operations while keeping costs down. Being able to do this in the context of a global shortage of skilled labor and rising prices means effectively utilizing the benefits that technology like cobots has to offer. Luckily, it’s an approach that is helping companies all over the world work faster, smarter and more efficiently.

Automatic palletization solutions are helping production managers and team leaders eliminate some of the operational bottlenecks that have limited a company’s ability to drive sustainable, long-term growth in its output or customer base. Your business can benefit too, if you have an understanding of the bottlenecks created by your current workflows.

To help you see the full potential of automated palletization, here are some examples of common bottlenecks and how cobots are helping make them a thing of the past.

Inefficient forecasting

What is the bottleneck?

You know all about forecasting – it is a mission critical part of making sure your business can operate. But that doesn’t mean that you can eliminate uncertainties and risks. There may be unforeseen issues with your suppliers, high levels of staff sickness or planned vacations as well as unexpected spikes in consumer demand.

What does this mean in practice? It creates periods of relatively low activity where your resources are underutilized followed by periods of high activity where processes, machines and people are pushed to their limits. This not only adds to the wear and tear on equipment but increases the risk of human error, accidents and dips in quality.

How can cobot help?

Cobot-powered systems provide repeatability, consistency and high quality as well as decreasing waste and lead times. They bring an element of predictability to your production operations that make forecasting easier. Implementing automated solutions also allows you to scale your operations up and down in line with the peaks and troughs of customer demand without the need to incur extra costs.

Watch SortBot application developed by BMW in Leipzig/Germany that automated the sorting and palletizing of boxes in the logistics department

Lack of labor

What is the bottleneck?

Companies all over the world are competing for a limited pool of talent. It is not just highly skilled workers that are in demand as many companies are struggling to find the workforce they need to grow. When you add unplanned sicknesses or accidents, into the mix, your production line can quickly be forced to run at a limited capacity. This is likely to impact your ability to fulfill your existing orders or take on new ones at all.

For processes like palletizing, this shortage of labor can be compounded. Perhaps understandably, people are reluctant to commit to a role that may involve hours of repetitive heavy lifting. This can leave companies reliant on a contingent workforce.

How can cobot automatic palletization help?

Cobots are ideal for repetitive, dangerous and dull work. Following a risk assessment and some basic initial training, your cobot can be safely deployed into your production lines and your existing workforce can either be redeployed to higher value work, or reskilled in the areas of automation and robotics. This can be hugely valuable for small and medium sized businesses as they can remove their dependence on contingent labor while keeping quality employees and delivering higher quality and output.

Feed-in processes

What is the bottleneck?

Up until now, palletizing has been an entirely manual process. This means that staff are responsible for tasks like layer forming, stacking and managing pallets. These tasks take time and are often physically demanding. It is unreasonable to expect your employees to carry out this kind of work for extended periods of time without breaks. The feed-in process of any manufacturing process is nearly always a great place to add value through technology.

How can cobot automatic palletization help?

Cobots can be used to optimize the feed-in process too. By installing feed-in conveyors, your cobot can help you add a huge amount of additional speed and consistency to the process of preparing and positioning pallets into your loading stations. This is a great example of an area of your production lines where automation can start adding value almost immediately. This ease of setup and versatility, when compared to traditional industrial robots, is why companies typically achieve ROI in under a year with cobots. It is also much simpler to create effective cobot-human teams, whereby the role of the human worker shifts from carrying heavy loads to monitoring machine performance and checking quality.

Wrapping and stacking pallets

What is the bottleneck?

Just like the feed-in process, manually wrapping up pallets and stacking pallets is a time-consuming and potentially dangerous job for a human worker. Without regular breaks, some human error may occur. This can impact the overall quality of the loaded pallets and may lead to some products becoming damaged during transportation.

How can cobot automatic palletization help?

The flexibility and versatility of cobots allows you to customize your model that suits your needs. Using our UR+ ecosystem, you can choose from a huge range of application kits and products designed specifically for palletizing automation. In particular, the ecosystem is home to lots of grippers and palletizing applications like pneumatic grippers that utilize external air or all-electric vacuums. Application kits like PackMate come with a range of pre-programmed stacking patterns but also make it simple for users to create patterns tailored to their own defined parameters.

Underutilized floorspace

What is the bottleneck?

Often, one of the biggest limitations a company has is the amount of space available to them. Traditional industrial robots take up a lot of space in the production area and the safety guarding required can add another 20-30% on top of that. For production managers, being able to safely fit more production areas or stations into a limited space can be a real game changer in terms of productivity.

The palletizing collaborative cells from Sinterpack with UR10 cobots have a gripper to move the packages at a rate of six cycles per minute, an additional lift column that can reach up to a height of 3.20 metres and safety sensors for stopping the robot arm in the event of collision or overexertion.
The palletizing collaborative cells from Sinterpack with UR10 cobots have a gripper to move the packages at a rate of six cycles per minute, an additional lift column that can reach up to a height of 3.20 metres and safety sensors for stopping the robot arm in the event of collision or overexertion.

How can cobot automatic palletization help?

Our cobots are designed to have a small footprint – meaning that you get to utilize more of your floorspace for palletizing. If, for example, you are operating a common dual pallet setup using a single cobot, your footprint will not be much more than the size of two pallets. The ability to utilize human-cobot teams also means that you can make the most of automation without having to drastically alter your existing layout or routing. By adding an extra scanner to your cobots, you can configure the machine to automatically operate at a slower speed when a human operator enters the workspace. For many companies, it is the fact that implementing a cobot does not require large-scale disruption or rethinking of floorspace that makes them an attractive option for automatic palletization.

Optimizing outputs. Maximizing value.

In the world of manufacturing, bottlenecks used to be a painful yet unavoidable challenge for managers to try and mitigate as best they could. No matter what measures were implemented, there were always likely to be some inefficiencies in their workflows that were impacting their ability to grow effectively. Cobots offer a cost-effective way to increase productivity while also increasing efficiency. They can help you speed up your processes, better utilize your floorspace and make sure your human workforce no longer needs to perform long stints of repetitive, physically demanding and potentially dangerous tasks.

With their small footprint, low training requirements and ease of use when compared to traditional industrial robots, cobots are a great productivity tool for manufacturing businesses of all sizes. Talk to a member of our team about how you can deploy them into your production lines today.

Universal Robots

We believe that collaborative robotic technology can be used to benefit all aspects of task-based businesses – no matter what their size.

We believe that the latest collaborative robot technology should be available to all businesses. The nominal investment cost is quickly recovered as our robotic arms have an average payback period of just six months.

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