Automated Robot Palletizing LineFebruary 10, 2023
Affordable and flexible robotic palletizing for small and medium-sized manufacturing companies
The three biggest obstacles to the use of more industrial robots in small and medium-sized manufacturing companies are the high initial investment, lesser flexibility compared to human labor, and the lack of people with robot programming skills. In the past year 2022, we completed three robotic palletizing projects. In all of them found creative solutions to these problems.
Palletizing in small and medium enterprises needs a combination of flexibility and an affordable price
Almost every manufacturing company must prepare the packaged products for transport by arranging them on a pallet. A variety of products are palletized, but the most common packages are bags, boxes, stacks, buckets, and bottles. This process does not add value to the final product. However it can be a bottleneck for production because the volumes are usually large and the work is boring and hard. Moreover, companies find it increasingly difficult to find employees for this job.
The good news is that boring, repetitive, and heavy tasks like palletizing are well suited to robotization. The challenge in this type of project is to achieve the combination of a very good price that offers a good return, with the ability to palletize a large number of different items produced in short series without re-adjustments and without programming skills. The problem is that usually, a good price implies a simple solution. While flexibility and ease of use are usually associated with a more complex solution and a correspondingly higher price.
Our solution is a combination of correctly sized and reliable robots, multifunctional Siviko grippers, and easy-to-use palletizing software, through which our customers can operate the robot without specialized programming knowledge. This allows us to achieve a maximum good return on investment. In this way, robotic palletizing becomes cost-effective and affordable even in factories that produce small batches of diverse products. In the next three projects, we will talk about this approach in detail.
Project #1: Palletizing boxes with a robot with a 35 kg load capacity
The task in this project was to palletize over 10 types of boxes of various sizes and weights up to a maximum of 13 kg. In addition, some of the boxes have display openings and are closed with a lid, which makes them very unstable and difficult to palletize. A driving factor in this project was the lack of space in the factory and the limited budget.
The first step in solving this problem was the selection of an industrial robot model FANUC M-20iD/35. It is a compact, fast, and affordable robot, but it is rarely used for palletizing because it has a load capacity of only 35 kg, which must include the weight of the gripper. The integration of a larger and correspondingly more expensive robot is easier because it offers greater payload and greater range and has more room for error. However, for this project, the FANUC M-20iD/35 is a wonderful choice due to its price and size.
The gripper design and the palletizing system’s management are key in accomplishing affordable robotic palletizing
To address the limitations imposed by the robot’s payload capacity, we designed a special Siviko PBXG lightweight gripper. It grips the boxes from the bottom and one side and holds them from the top. This allows the boxes to be transported quickly, despite their instability. In addition, the gripper is designed in such a way that it can work with all ten types of boxes without the need for readjustment.
The management of the robot is maximally simplified and budget-friendly. Robot programs are selected from the robot control panel from a drop-down menu. Thus, the robot can be operated by people without special qualifications. In addition, the user can independently make minor changes to the program by changing a given parameter. For example, he can change the height of the pallet.
As a result of the combination of the three components – a compact and affordable robot, a flexible and stable gripper, and easy control, we have achieved a final result that is an ideal solution for smaller factories. Budget, but very reliable and flexible palletizing.
Project #2 – Automated robotic bag palletizing line
In our second project, we replaced an old conventional palletizer with a fully automated robotic palletizing line. We achieved a better return on the project by programming and equipping the robot to do three different tasks – palletizing, picking and placing an empty pallet, and placing a nylon pad.
The automated system takes care of the whole process after packing. She prepares for palletizing several dozen types of valve bags with a maximum weight of 25 kg, palletizes them, and picks up and places empty pallets and nylon underlay. Additionally, our Siviko Smart Pallet palletizing software allows the end user to create palletizing configurations themselves without any programming skills.
In this project, we have used a FANUC industrial robot, model FANUC M-710iC/70 which features a 6-axis, 70kg payload, and 2050mm reach. In a good robot integration, the infrastructure around the robot taking care of the material and product flow is of key importance. In this project, we designed and manufactured the transport lines, buffers, and additional hardware servicing the product flow. There are mechanisms and transport lines that take up the full bag off the filling machine, press it to make it more rectangular, and transport it to the pick-up place.
The pallets are placed on a roller conveyor with three sections – one on which the palletizing is taking place, one buffer position, and one position from which the full pallets are being picked up and transported to the warehouse. Furthermore, there is a buffer for empty pallets and sensors that detect when new pallets are being loaded and restrict the robot’s movement in this area in order to avoid a collision. There is also a safety fence with locks and sensors that keep the operator safe.
The multifunctional Siviko PBG-4 gripper has a key role in achieving affordable robotic palletizing
A key part of this project was to create the multifunctional Siviko PBG-4 gripper. It has three integrated functions:
- palletize bags at high speed and inertia,
- pick and place empty pallets;
- pick and place plastic sheets on the empty pallet.
This smart gripper enabled us to automate the whole process by using the capacity of the industrial robot instead of installing additional hardware and manipulators. If this is suitable for the required cycle time, this approach is more cost-efficient and requires less maintenance.
The Siviko PBG-4 gripper has integrated sensors that make the system fast and smart. For example, when picking up an empty pallet, the robot knows exactly where the next pallet is located. Then the robot can move fast without risking a collision. Furthermore, the robot knows whether it has picked up a plastic sheet or not and automatically tries again if the pick-up was not successful.
The software application Siviko Smartt Pallet allows the end-user to manage independently the palletizing process
The robot is managed via Siviko Smart Pallet, our smart software application. It allows the end-user to create palletizing configurations without programming skills. They have to enter only the specific configuration:
- Object’s (bag, boxes, etc.) size, weight, and orientation;
- Pallet dimensions;
- Layout program configuration for even and odd rows;
- The number of objects per row and number of rows.
Based on the input information, the software automatically commands the robot’s movements. In addition, it verifies the information entered and does not allow configurations that are physically impossible or dangerous. In this way, users can easily and safely create or edit palletizing programs independently of the system integrator. With this software, robotic palletizing becomes much more flexible and easier to use for the end user.
Again, the right combination of a well-chosen robot, multi-functionality, and flexibility of use allowed us to deliver maximum value within the given budget.
Project #3 – An industrial robot serves two production lines at the same time
In our third palletizing project, we replaced an existing robot with a new FANUC M-410iC/110 palletizing robot. This robot is among the fastest four-axis palletizing robots in the world. We settled on it because its 2,400 mm reach and 110 kg load capacity allowed us to increase the level of production automation. Like the previous project, the robot had to do two additional tasks – pick up and place an empty pallet and place a plastic liner. The big difference between the two projects is that in this project the robot serves two production lines at the same time. The M-410iC/110 is a large robot, but since it serves two production lines, the overall solution is compact and with good returns.
We believe that robotization has just begun in Bulgaria, and the real challenge is to make it accessible even to small and medium-sized manufacturing companies that have more limited budgets and space. Successful and good projects are those where we have provided maximum added value to the client within their budget. Choosing a properly sized robot, using a multi-functional gripper that does not need readjustment, and easy control of the robot’s programs, without special skills, are the basis of this success.
The article has been published in the annual report of PARAi for the Bulgarian success stories in robotics and automation in 2022