History and Impact of Robots in Palletization Processes



What is Palletizing or Palletization?

Refers to the act of placing products on a pallet for shipment or storage in logistics supply chains. It is a method of storing and transporting goods using pallets. Can it provide a competitive advantage? We examine its significance for logistics and the history of pallets.


Ideally, products are stacked in a pattern that maximizes the amount of product in the load by weight and volume while being stable enough to prevent products from shifting, toppling, or crushing each other. Traditionally, palletizing was accomplished by manual labor, but increasingly automated systems are taking over the task of palletizing products.


Packaging is one of the main applications for robots. Pallets are a part of the packaging process. Many companies receive and send products as a way of doing business. The task of unloading and loading is repetitive, dull, and ergonomically risky. This is when robots are a clear solution.


We explore the capacity for palletization and the significance of robots and pallets to provide your company a competitive edge. But first we must go back to where it started.


Quick History of Pallets in Automation

Logistics worldwide has been revolutionized by pallets. Since the 1920's they have played a substantial part in the world market. They have had enormous effects on all types of products from pharmaceutical drugs, to product design, and even items as simple as mugs. It is typical for merchandise to be redesigned to match components onto a single pallet.


The tactics to send products were barrels, boxes, and crates. However, to move a product, then pile it and immediately need to move it again became a lot more difficult. That is until pallets made it very straightforward.


Ahead of pallets there were skids for centuries, they are similar but without a deck. This difference means they stacked and may be hauled around but not raised. Today, they are employed as platforms that are freestanding.


Pallets were created coinciding with the creation of the truck. That was no coincidence. Forklifts provided a means to transfer heavy loads. Pallets made it simple and fast to lift volumes of merchandise and pile them. It is apparent that pallets and technology have worked hand and hand from the start.


Currently in 2020 we have Manual, Automatic and Collaborative Palletizing Processes. Let's examine each one of these.


Manual Palletizing


Up until the 1950s, pallets were loaded manually. People hands were freed from the function of unloading and loading. Believe it or not currently in 2020 there are some countries where manual palletizing processes of loading and unloading continue been carried out by humans.


Unfortunately, working with pallets can increase the risk of developing musculoskeletal disorders. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), workplace injuries related to pallet work include:

  • Stress to the lower back from lifting heavy loads (wooden pallets can weigh between 40 and 70 pounds).

  • Back injuries from bending to wrap pallets in plastic. 

  • Musculoskeletal disorders related to repetitive reaching during pallet-building.

  • Splinter wounds caused by degraded wooden pallets.

  • Repetitive motion stresses on soft tissues.   

These types of injuries can have serious, lasting physical effects, and cause workers to miss days of work for recovery. In fact, musculoskeletal disorders of the type caused by manual palletizing are responsible for 34 percent of all lost work days at an estimated cost of $20 billion per year in workers’ compensation.  


Pallets aren’t going anywhere. The question, then, is how can we make working with them safer? There’s good news on this front: Relatively simple material handling equipment can significantly reduce the hazards associated with building, breaking down, and wrapping pallets in the shipping/receiving room. 


The same can be said for lifting and transporting pallets, both loaded and not, but these challenges are beyond the scope of the present article; here, we’d like to focus on safer handling of pallets during active palletizing tasks.


Automatic Palletizers


Automated palletizing was developed in the 1970s and used a combination of conveyor belts and industrial sorting equipment to arrange standardized containers into preset patterns. To stack products, each container layer was clamped into place and lifted off the conveyor belt and onto the pallet. In order to alternate the stacking pattern, the entire pallet was rotated before the next layer went into place. The system was a rather impressive demonstration of engineering ability in a world that was still entirely analog. This type of palletizer is called an inline palletizer and a version of it is still used in many supply chains.


Having mechanical palletizers was a great advantage during this time. The only drawback with these palletizers is they needed merchandise to be identical and this was not so flexible.


It was not long before palletizing and robots seemed to come together, and things started changing in global logistics. Fuji Yusoki Kogyo introduced the first robotic palletizer in 1963. This was just two years after the initiation of the first industrial robot.


Robot Palletizers


A decade later, in the 1980s, articulated robot arms similar to those used in automotive manufacturing were introduced in palletizing. They have the advantage of being able to handle packages or products individually, bringing greater flexibility to automated palletizing. A robot arm can be programmed to handle different-sized packages or arrange them in different ways without substantially changing the physical equipment needed to do the job. In fact, robotic palletizers have developed to the point where they can palletize several different types of products on one pallet. An inline palletizer, on the other hand, may need to divert products onto an entirely different line in order to change the layer pattern.


When did pallets mix with technologies? Are they so crucial for logistics?


Robot palletizers had several advantages over their mechanical predecessors:

  • They are easily able to manage a variety of product types.

  • They could perform mixed-case palletizing.

  • They frequently take less space.

  • They are reprogrammable.


These benefits have become increasingly important. It is now common for providers to accept more mixed orders instead of bulk orders of the item as more companies have thrived.


With the growth of robots that are collaborative, the transition from human tasks to robot tasks is becoming more common. Unlike robot palletizers, which were more widely utilized for larger applications, robots that are collaborative are available to even the smallest of companies. Thus, helping improve results related to productivity in warehouses. This can also help lower costs by having robots doing certain tasks that are repetitive and do not always require a human worker.


Collaborative Robots Palletization for Logistics and Supply


It is now important how companies handle their palletization processes. Companies can distinguish themselves by enhancing depalletization and the palletization of merchandise.


Supply and robotic packaging are becoming crucial for companies because of the prevalence of supply chains and eCommerce. Companies will need to have the ability to scale their order fulfillment without introducing flaws in the orders or additional expenses.


The use in logistics is currently increasing and it is advised that collaborative robots or Cobots are somewhat more powerful than other robots as soon as it comes down to the demands of logistics.


Distribution of merchandise can be a factor in a business' scalability. Warehousing has the capacity to offer a competitive edge to those companies that may use it to its full capacity and robotics is becoming a tool for doing this.


Great benefits can be accomplished by incorporating robot palletizing. We do not need to possess warehouses such as Amazon to gain positive results from packaging that is automatic.


Conclusion


Unlike in the 1950s, 60s and 70s, in 2020 there is technology that helps us work efficiently, with greater productivity and at the same time taking care of the health of our employees. There is no reason to continue using human beings for tasks that threaten their health. Collaboration between robots and humans is possible and real in areas that were not previously thought possible. Let's use these resources for the sake of our operators. Let's show them how much we care about them by making these tools available to protect them. Let us help you have better living conditions without being affected by health conditions related to jobs not suitable for the human body. Let's align these tasks so that they can be performed by robots or in collaboration with robots and humans. Protect our employees by reducing workplace injuries while increasing our efficiency, productivity, and profits.


After all, our most important asset must be our people!

The Way to Begin with Palletizing Collaborative Robots

It is quite simple to begin incorporating robots into your current packaging lines and palletizing. As long as you have the right partner such as Vanguard Vision to help walk you through the different robot options and automation systems for your packaging lines. Pallets and robots may signify a competitive advantage to your enterprise. Please, reach out and get your free 30-minute consultation. We would love to put over 17 years of experience to work for you.



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