For years, palletizing work has been carried out by humans using brute force to handle different loads. Improvements in production line performance and worker working conditions have led to automated palletizers replacing human labor in the tedious task of stacking products on pallets in many production facilities.
There are many benefits to an automated palletizing process. Most apply to both conventional and robotic palletizing.
- Improved safety
Sprains, strains, tears and overexertion are the most common workplace injuries. These are usually caused by repetitive motions, lifting large or heavy objects, or both. Manually stacking and unstacking product on and/or off pallets is exactly the type of work that can cause injuries.
One way to mitigate this, protected by the LPRL, is to provide workers with sufficient breaks, and not just scheduled breaks for these workers (snack, meal…). Operators must meet their quotas, but companies with strong safety cultures will be realistic about human limitations.
Another way to protect employees from risk is not to expose them to danger. For example, robotic palletisers free people from the inherent risks (falling loads) of stacking products by replacing them with robots.
The use of guards and gates around palletizing equipment prevents further risks of injury. Access to the robot’s working area is prevented except from the infeed conveyor. Although this section is beginning to change due to the use of COBOTS, which allows cooperation between machine and human.
- Zero errors
In repetitive tasks such as palletizing, robots are more accurate than people. They move as programmed. They are not distracted by external disturbances in the warehouse, they do not rush and they do not confuse one SKU with another, which means that the product is not stacked on the wrong pallet, in the wrong orientation or under something too heavy.
Robots can be equipped with different tools capable of handling bags, cartons, heavy containers, etc.
Specific software is available on the market to program these industrial robots for palletizing. The Wepall software, for example, works with any brand of robot and can be used by anyone without prior knowledge of robot programming. WEPALL gives the user the autonomy to change pallet formats and offers the most optimal route to get the most out of the robot’s functionality.
- Plannable production
Because robots are faster and more reliable than people, their production is also more predictable. And in a culture that is increasingly moving towards just-in-time (JIT) and/or make-to-order production, predictability is key.
A robot running 10-12 cycles per minute can do so for 24 hours without needing a break like its human counterparts. This means it knows exactly how long it will take to form a pallet or have enough pallets to fill a truck.
- Human factors
The reduced labor and associated costs are obvious savings that these production systems provide.
But more than that, freeing people from the undesirable task of stacking loads on pallets can have a positive impact on the entire facility. The operator feels that his work has greater added value, which can improve his self-esteem. This, in turn, will improve productivity and increase their level of involvement.