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Palletizing, placing cases, pails or bags onto shipping pallets is a prime candidate for automation. It’s a simple task that anyone with a strong back can perform. The problem is that people with strong backs, willing to do that kind of work, are somewhat difficult to find and keep. It also puts a lot of wear and tear on those strong backs which can result in excess worker’s compensation claims.
A traditional palletizer, such as this one by Columbia tend to be big, bulky and complex, requiring lots of maintenance. They tend to be purpose built and may require modification to handle a different type of product.
Multi-axis robots, such as this Fanuc robot from Frain, are the modern palletizing solution. Robots have so many advantages for palletizing, there is seldom a reason to even think about any alternative. These robots are built by the tens of thousands every year and may be available off the shelf. The only customization needed is programming and the end of arm tooling.
Programming used to be complex but has become simpler every year. It is now within the skillset of the typical maintenance department. Some robots can even be “taught” what to do by an operator manually moving the robot through the task, recording the movement.
End of arm tooling are key to any successful robot. These used to be custom built, could cost as much as the basic robot and took time to deliver. Now many standard designs covering most applications are available off the shelf from a number of suppliers. Typical palletizing applications use suction cups for cases, forks for bags or mechanical grippers for heavy or odd shaped products. Some applications have multiple effectors so that a fork can be used to handle bags. Then, after placing a layer, the robot picks and places a slip-sheet using suction cups before using the forks again to place the next layer of bags
In some instances, a single robot may be mounted between 2 packaging lines alternately palletizing 2 different products onto their pallets.
Collaborative robots may be able to eliminate the need to guarding. This opens the possibility of portable palletizers. These are mounted on either a wheeled or forkable base for easy movement to wherever they are needed.
Best of all, if the robot palletizer becomes surplus, it can readily be reconfigured to a thousand and one other, non-palletizing, tasks.
Some products like bottles and cans come to the line stacked on pallets in layers. They are typically separated by cardboard or plastic slipsheets. Stacks can be up to 8 feet tall. Somehow they need to be transferred from pallets to a single line for feeding the filler. There are two types of depalletizer called high level and low level. High level machines depalletize the cans at the height of the top tier, approximately 7-8 feet. Low level machines lower the layer of cans to the line running height, typically 36-42” above floor.
In both types the full pallet is fed into the machine by a forklift or conveyor. Strapping or stretch wrap is removed by an operator or automatically. High level depalletizers raise the pallet until the top layer of cans aligns with an unscrambling and accumulation table. A pick and place arm or robot removes the top slip sheet and places it in a pile.
A pusher arm pushes the entire layer of cans off the pallet and onto the unscrambler. The unscrambler takes the cans away, single files them and discharges them to a gravity track or conveyor to bring them to line level. After the pusher arm retracts, the pallet is raised until the next layer of cans aligns with the unscrambler and the process repeats. The low level depalletizer maintains the pallet at its original height with the depalletizer moving up and down.
After placing the pallet, the depalletizer is aligned with the top pallet layer. A pick and place or robot removes the top slip sheet and stacks it. A layer of cans is pushed onto a shelf or tray and the depalletizer is lowered until the tray aligns with the line level unscrambler/accumulation conveyor. Cans are pushed into the unscrambler where they are conveyed and coaxed into a single file for feeding to the filler.
The depalletizer is raised to the level of the next layer of cans and the process is repeated. High level depalletizers tend to be faster than low level machines. But this speed comes at the cost of additional catwalks, elevated conveyors and conveyors or tracks to lower the cans or bottles. Low level systems put everything at floor level for ease of maintenance and operation.
When you are buying or renting a new packaging line, you need a high level technical skill-stack. With over 50 designers, engineers, and technicians it’s what you get at Frain. Frain knows what you need and gives you what you want. Whether you need a single machine or a complete, integrated, line, Frain makes it work for you. Rent for the short term, buy or lease for the long term. It’s your choice.
Discuss your application directly with our qualified engineers.
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