- What is a palletizing robot? A palletizing robot, or palletizer, is a machine that helps you automate the process of packing and stacking onto pallets.
- Why is a palletizing robot a smart investment? By automating a dull and potentially dangerous task, your people will be freed up for other valuable work. Your palletizer, meanwhile, will automatically align and stack goods with maximum speed and efficiency.
You may be wondering ‘what is palletization’, ‘what does a palletizer do’, or ‘how to palletize’. Perhaps you’re also curious about how collaborative robots, or cobots, can help with this essential function. We’ve put together a straightforward guide to palletizing robots and how they can take a dull, potentially dangerous task off your people’s to-do lists.
What is palletizing?
To define it in the simplest way, palletizing means placing goods onto a pallet so they can be transported or stored. Usually, a set number of items will be placed into a box which will be moved to a pallet once the quota has been reached, or large items in their own boxes will be stacked onto the pallet. Implementing a cobot to automate palletizing saves time and energy by making it easier and quicker to transport goods around your facility and to their end destination.
While palletizing is a critical task for any business that handles physical goods, it isn’t always a pleasant one. Spending the day carrying out repetitive motions, potentially involving heavy boxes, puts strain on your people and it will quickly become dull to even the most resilient employee. That’s why lots of businesses will bring in a robot palletizing system to completely automate the process. However, for an SME, the size and expense of a traditional industrial palletizing robot means they’re not always a realistic prospect.
Collaborative robots (cobots) offer a solution for companies looking to introduce automation into their workflows without the need to implement a traditional industrial robot. They are simpler to deploy, more flexible and more cost effective, especially when it comes to automating palletizing. You can find out more about how robotic palletization fulfils business objectives in another of our blogs.
What is a palletizing robot?
A palletizing robot is an industrial machine that can transfer, sort, and stack boxes or items onto a pallet. You’ll most commonly find them at the end of a production or manufacturing line, making neat stacks of products that a forklift can take away for storage or transportation. There are lots of industrial applications for cobot palletizers, from robotic material handling to picking the correct items to be packed.
These clever machines automate potentially unsafe and dull tasks, which can lead to RSI (repetitive strain injuries) over time or sudden load-related injuries or accidents. Humans tire or get bored, putting them at risk of lifting with incorrect form or slowing down, but a machine will retain correct form and a consistent speed throughout its lifetime.
How can a palletizing robot be customized?
Palletizing is a broad category. Businesses use palletizing robots for lots of tasks, including handling extremely delicate items like glass, oddly shaped or tricky to grab items, products that can be damaged by a human touch or even hazardous materials. To meet a wide range of needs, there are lots of end effectors called ‘grippers’ that allow you to customize your cobot palletizer for your work.
You’ll find a gripper for virtually every sort of palletizing task. A vacuum gripper uses suction to transport items from one place to another, which could be ideal for an item that is hard to handle or easy to crush. Magnetic grippers can move metal products with ease. A claw or hand-shaped gripper can pick precise items and place them into boxes as part of the palletizing process. Read our guide to the types of grippers for palletizing to find out which ones are best for your operations.
What software and hardware do I need for a palletizing system?
If you’re planning on using a cobot for palletizing, you’ll need to start with a few hardware essentials – the cobot arm. Generally, an arm with a higher payload will be better suited for some palletizing tasks as it will increase how much you can move. For other tasks you may require a longer reach rather than a higher payload, so make sure you choose the right cobot model. You’ll also need to choose an appropriate end effector (also known as end of arm tooling, or EOAT) based on the items you’re going to be moving.
To ensure your cobot can automatically complete tasks, you’ll also need to find the right software. Different products will help you tailor your cobot or cobots to do exactly what you need. Some allow you to set custom paths of motion without using complex calculations, while others are designed for ultimate engineering precision. The UR+ ecosystem has more than 340 kits, end effectors and pieces of software, and you’ll be guided as to which ones are right for your business when you purchase your machine. Learn more about the key palletizing principles here, or discover the types of hardware and software that support robot palletization.
Does a palletizing robot have limitations?
While it’s possible to implement many types of palletization solutions with cobot arms, the technology does have some limitations. Cobots are much smaller and more lightweight than industrial robots, which means their lifting capabilities are more modest. If you need to handle heavy goods that are over 16kg, one of our cobots will not have the capabilities to meet your palletizing needs as they have a payload capacity of up to 16kg.
When handling items that are placed at two sites that are distant form each other, cobots may not be the right choice. A cobot arm with a maximum reach of 1300mm (51.2ft) is ideal for palletizing between two Euro-pallets. A traditional industrial robot, on the other hand, can reach across greater distances when palletizing goods in your production line.
Even if cobots can palletize goods for longer periods of time than people and relieve employees from this exhausting and repetitive work, their speed still falls short of that offered by a traditional industrial robot. To operate securely without safety barriers and without endangering workers, palletizing collaborative robots are often slower than other automation options. However, after adding a cobot into their palletizing processes, businesses still claim considerable productivity gains.
A big factor in these positive results is due to the fact that cobots are an excellent tool for addressing bottlenecks in workflow. They can, for example, address the need for human workers to take breaks or the need for manual checks to ensure consistency and regularity. There are ways to easily remove bottlenecks in palletizing processes to increase efficiency and outputs.
Do small and medium businesses need a robot palletizing system?
A robot palletizing system will transform how efficient and productive smaller businesses are. With a limited number of employees on the line, SMEs are more vulnerable to staff sickness or attrition. Engaged and satisfied employees are less likely to leave their workplace than those who are bored or unhappy. Automating a tiresome task like palletizing will free your people up for more purposeful work. By making employees’ roles more engaging, you can hold on to great talent.
Add into the mix the worsening global skills shortage, which a McKinsey survey found 87% of global companies are either currently or are imminently about to experience, and it’s clear that palletizing robots are a good investment. You can discover more about how robotic palletization can make a difference to SMEs here.
If you’re looking to bring a palletizing cobot into your business, check out our checklist and guide for first-time UR customers.