Four Things to Know Before Buying a Robotic Palletizer

Sep 03, 2008 9:20 PM  By

Robotic palletizers are becoming increasingly popular in medium- to smaller-sized distribution centers as they look to reduce labor costs, increase throughput, and improve reliability, safety and ergonomics.

These automated machines can significantly reduce the amount of time it takes pack product for freight shipment. Advanced palletizers can stack items of differing shapes, sizes and weights as well as a human could. Afterward, the items and pallet are shrink-wrapped to form a solid block, which can then be loaded for transit.

Palletizers come in a vast array of makes, models, types and sizes. Depending on the application, they can be as small as a single, mounted robotic arm, or a huge, complex machine the size of a house. Today’s palletizers are designed to be modular and scalable, so they can be quickly modified to serve other functions. This helps lengthen the lifecycle of the equipment, which in turn improves return on investment.

Safety and ergonomics is a particularly compelling reason for considering a palletizer, as repetitive strain injury (RSI) now accounts for almost 70% of all workplace injuries. As such, warehouse managers are looking to eliminate or reduce activities that cause these injuries. With a robotic palletizer, the amount of manual lifting is reduced significantly.

If you’re new to palletizing and are considering a robotic palletizer for your DC, here are some things you should consider:

1) Select carefully: Do a thorough analysis of your existing operation and determine which functions are best to automate. Take your time when evaluating which technologies will best serve your needs. Remember that you’ll likely need to invest in an accumulation conveyor to manage the flow of cases into and out of the palletizer, and possibly other pieces of equipment as well. Be sure you have a good handle on the total cost of the project, because it will likely require some degree of redesign for your center.

2) Size matters: If the function you’re looking to automate requires a large palletizer, be sure you have a big enough footprint for safe operation, with room for trucks and forklifts to get around the equipment. Remember that you’ll need to be able to access the palletizer from all sides for maintenance and repairs, so make sure you leave enough clearance near walls and ceilings. Also remember that palletizers can be heavy, so you might be required to have structural modifications done to the floor of your DC, which will add to the cost.

3) Don’t skimp out: Remember that a palletizer is part of an ecosystem of equipment that automates your warehouse, and it relies on these other pieces of equipment to operate properly. If you fail to invest in related equipment that you feel is optional for your palletizer, you won’t get as much out of your investment.

4) Nothing beats a good service contract: Make sure you check out the fine print in your vendor’s maintenance and support program before you buy. Scheduled maintenance is critical to the reliability and proper operation of your system. If you are using a proprietary system, be sure your service provider keeps the parts you need in stock.

As long as proper needs assessment is undertaken, a palletizer is almost always an investment that pays off. And as the technology gets better, and companies continue to seek to automate processes, one can be certain that these robotic workhorses will be turning up in more DCs in the years to come.