How cobots can facilitate or automate palletization processes

14/04/2021

Palletizing has come a long way over the past few decades. In the previous years, most company owners had little choice but to rely on manual labor for stacking products on a pallet. The whole process was slow, strewn with errors and consumed loads of man-hours.

Most companies also faced difficulties in finding labor for this monotonous task. Equally difficult for them was to retain the people hired and trained for the job. Mainly because palletizing is a tenuous task due to the product sizes handled. But also because, when done manually, palletizing can be hazardous.

Luckily for such companies, Cobots offer an alternative. Apart from shortening the palletizing time and freeing employees from monotonous and strenuous tasks, Cobots also improve work ergonomics. Yet another thing they do is to reduce the risk of injury to employees.

Easy to program

Most cobots you see out there can be programmed in one of three user-friendly ways. The first of which involves manually guiding the cobot’s arm to the desired waypoint. The cobot will then be automatically programmed for this location, thereby saving you the trouble of writing code.

Other cobots can be programmed with the ‘drag and drop’ method. You just have to ‘grab’ the cobot, ‘drag’ it to the desired location and ‘drop’ it there. Apart from letting you create your desired sequence, this method enables the cobot to memorize the waypoints, route and final stop for future operations.

The third programming solution is the easiest. Titled ‘plug and play’ palletizing solution, it allows the operator to select pallet patterns from an intuitive interface. The operator doesn’t need any prior experience of teach pendant programming to interact with the cobot.

Extremely versatile and customizable

Two types of industries use pallets. The first are those that manufacture a single product style, such as canned goods, bottled beverages, etc. The second type of industries that use pallets create a wide style of products that are different in size, shape and weight.

Both would benefit from the versatility of cobots. That is because neither of the two industries would have the exact same payload requirements forever. They might require the cobot to handle one type of pallets one day and another the next. Only then they could redeploy it for multiple tasks.

That is precisely what Cobots are able to do. Due to their user-friendly interface, operators can easily reprogram them to handle different payload requirements and different-sized packages. You can thus count on cobots to be easy to re-deploy for a wide array of applications.

Speeds up palletizing

There are three reasons why deploying cobots speeds up palletizing. First, they can lift and transport payloads at a much greater rate than humans. Unilever has been taking advantage of this fact at one of its plants where cobots palletize around 1,100 boxes every eight hours.

Another reason why you can trust cobots to expedite your palletizing process is simple: they aren’t plagued by human error. They aren’t wont to forgetting the instructions given by their instructor and can perform the monotonous job of stacking pallets for hours.

What is more, unlike us humans, cobots can perform the most dull, dirty and dangerous jobs without getting hurt in the process. That is due to the fact that they come with approved safety systems that provide them with extended maintenance intervals.

Safer to use than industrial robots

Environments that require some sort of human presence cannot afford to have robotic palletizers. They are extremely heavy, must be kept within proper fences to avoid human injuries and need to be equipped with safety monitoring systems at all times. Or else they might cause human injuries.

Surroundings such as distribution centers cannot make do with industrial robots either. What they need, instead, are lightweight and relatively nimble robots. As the process of putting items in boxes before palletization needs some sort of manipulation flexibility that industrial robots lack.

Collaborative robots, however, offer precisely that. They can work with different weights and sizes, are incredibly lightweight, and ultra-portable as well. And the best thing about cobots? They can work around humans without needing the precautions that must be put in place to work alongside robots.

User-friendly software designed for palletization

Most of the cobots you see out there come with user-friendly software. The built-in program offers many sought after features, including drag and drop pallet array building, switch between multiple ballets, save dozens of pallet programs, and more.

Some of the software even lets you program remotely. That means you don’t even have to be at the site to prepare instructions for the cobot. They do that by allowing you to prepare instructions at home and then uploading them to the software via removable media.

That is not all. Provided you can afford to invest in a high-end cobot, it would justify its asking price by offering additional features, i.e. the time needed for stacking one pallet, the distance the cobot has to cover to move from pallet A to pallet B, and more.

Conclusion

There are five key benefits you can expect to garner from using cobots for palletization. Some of them, like the ease with which you can program and re-program the collaborative robot, are obvious. Others, like how they’d speed up the palletization process, are less so. Yet all these benefits have one thing in common: they will definitely facilitate the palletization processes within your company.