by Earl Wohlrab, Intelligrated Systems Inc.
By asking the right questions, companies can design robotic systems that maximize end-of-line efficiency and ROI
Today’s manufacturers have started looking downstream more and more for automation opportunities. And when they do, more are choosing robotic systems. According to PMMI’s 2007 Packaging Machinery Shipments & Outlook Study, shipments of robotic palletizers rose by more than 16 percent in 2006 —and shipments of packaging machinery are projected to increase from $469 to $530 million by 2009.
Designing a robotic palletizing cell has become more complicated as companies invest more in environmentally friendly and sustainable packaging. To reduce dunnage, standard corrugated cardboard cartons are being replaced with thinner-walled pressboard, shrink-wrapped bundles of product on corrugated pads, and even loose product in trays. Add increased demand from club stores and marketing changes to the mix, and manufacturers need to account for an even wider range of packaging sizes, shapes and materials.
Choosing the correct end-of-arm tooling helps ensure that a new robotic palletizing or depalletizing system can effectively handle a company’s full range of packaging types. End-of-arm tooling is a highly project-specific component that represents a large percentage of the overall cost of the system. Tooling types for palletizing include vacuum, side clamp, fork style and layer handling (see “Tooling Overview” section on page 2 for details on each tooling type). Asking the following questions and understanding the specifications of each type is essential to designing a system that will maximize performance, speed, uptime and return on investment.