Conventional and Robotic Palletizing
When it comes to warehouse automation, certain technologies tend to get a lot of the attention and glory: Sortation, AS/RS, etc. And it makes sense: These technologies can have a major impact on multiple steps within a warehouse, distribution center, or other order fulfillment operation. They’ve also seen a lot of innovation in recent years.
There are other automated technologies, though, that get less attention, yet stand to have a big impact on your ability to streamline your workflow and increase profitability. One such technology? Automated palletization.
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If you’re considering automating your palletizing process, you’ve got two options to consider: Conventional and robotic palletization. Below, we take a look at each so that you can better understand which makes sense for your operation, and offer some considerations that you should keep in mind while evaluating your options.
Conventional palletizing can be described as something of a black box. It’s a pre-engineered solution where product is fed in one end, typically in the form of cases and totes, and exits as a wrapped and ready-to-ship pallet. Typically, a conventional palletizing system is fed by an inline or infeed conveyor.
Depending on an operation’s exact needs, in addition to the inline conveyor feeding it, a conventional palletization system may include other components such as:
- Case turners
- Layer-forming tables
- Slip sheet and tie sheet dispensers
- Integral stretch wrappers
- Pallet dispensers
While exact rates will vary by application, conventional palletizers can reach rates of 150 cartons per minute. The highest throughputs tend to be achieved in operations with lower SKU variety, as this streamlines the layer-forming process. Typically, a conventional palletizer builds a single pallet at a time.
Because conventional palletizing requires product to be queued up on a conveyor before the layer can be built, it can require a significant investment in terms of space. As an example, an operation with four production lines might need 400 feet of conveyor or more just to be able to buffer one pallet.
In robotic palletizing, the primary task of layer and pallet construction is handled by a robotic component. This can take many different forms depending on the application, including a gantry robot that operates along two, three, or four axes or, more commonly today, an articulated robotic arm that is capable of operating along four, five, or even six axes. The arm can be fitted with a range of tools (called an end-of-the-arm tool, or EOAT) that enable it to pick up and interact with a wide variety of products.
Robotic palletizing systems can be fed by a single or multiple inline conveyors, and can construct one or multiple pallets at one time. As a result, an operation can often realize significant space savings by leveraging robotic palletizing compared to conventional palletizing.
Unfortunately, because a robotic palletizer works in so many more dimensions than a conventional palletizer, it operates in a more finessed environment. This means that the size and shape of the product, as well as the quality of the packing material, can all prove to be challenging.
Though robotic palletizers sometimes cost more than conventional palletizers, the fact that they require a smaller footprint and can construct multiple pallets at once can justify the increased cost for the right operation.
Choosing the Right System for Your Operation
Ultimately, choosing between robotic and conventional palletizing will require you to have an intimate understanding of your operation, your product, and the goals that you are trying to meet.
For operations with fewer SKUs, higher throughput requirements, and enough space to accommodate them, conventional palletizing has its benefits. On the other hand, robotic palletizing may make sense for operations with a more limited footprint paired with greater SKU variety and lower throughput requirements.
If you are unsure of whether conventional vs. robotic palletizing makes more sense for your operation, a trusted systems integrator can help. At Conveyco, our RightFIT methodology empowers us to craft the perfect solution for each of our clients.