Pallets + Robots = a Competitive Advantage?

Palletizing is a trending application for collaborative robots. Could it give a competitive edge to your business? Robotiq looks at the history of pallets and their importance for modern logistics.

Packaging is one of top applications for collaborative robots. Unsurprisingly, pallets are a huge part of this. Many small businesses send and receive goods on pallets. The job of loading and unloading is repetitive, boring and ergonomically risky. Robots are an obvious solution.

Pallets have revolutionized global logistics. Since the 1920’s they have played a significant role in the world economy. They have had huge impacts on product design, from IKEA mugs to children’s books. It’s common for products to be redesigned to fit more units onto one pallet.

Pallets were born around the 1920’s, coinciding with the invention of the forklift truck. This was no coincidence. Forklifts suddenly provided a way to transport heavy loads around the warehouse. Pallets made it quick and easy to lift high volumes of product and stack them on top of each other.

Up until the 1950s, pallets were still loaded manually. When mechanical palletizers finally came on the scene, humans hands were suddenly freed from the repetitive, physical work of loading and unloading.

When industrial robots appeared, it wasn’t long until they were being used for palletizing. The first robotic palletizer was introduced by Fuji Yusoki Kogyo in 1963.  Suddenly, palletization could be as almost as flexible as a human worker.

Robots palletizers had many advantages over their mechanical predecessors:

  • They are inherently reprogrammable.
  • They often take up less space.
  • They can easily handle many different product types.
  • They can do mixed-case palletizing.

(Robotiq.com)

With the rise of collaborative robots, the transition from human hands to robot hands is complete. Unlike previous robot palletizers, which used large industrial robots, collaborative robots are accessible to even the smallest of businesses.

Pallets themselves are now ubiquitous, but it’s now especially important how you handle them. Businesses can differentiate themselves by improving the palletization and depalletization of products from these pallets.

Robotic packaging and distribution is becoming increasingly important thanks to the popularity of ecommerce and distributed supply chains. Small businesses need to be able to scale their order fulfillment quickly without incurring extra expenses or introducing delays in the orders.

(Robotiq.com)

Currently, only 20% of logistics warehouses use automation. However, this looks likely to increase. A recent DHL trend report showed that robot usage in logistics is rising. It suggested that cobots are more effective than non-collaborative robots when it comes to the needs of logistics.

Distribution of products can be a deciding factor in the scalability of a business. Warehousing has the potential to provide a competitive advantage to those businesses that can use it effectively, and robotics is becoming a key tool for doing that.

In an article from Food Logistics, supply chain consultant Tony Vercillo explained why automation can help businesses to thrive in the modern climate:

“The trick to warehousing is eliminating human touches. Every time a human touches a pallet or a case, an expense occurs. Technology should be used to reduce the number of touches and steps within the warehouse process.”

Collaborative robot palletizing can bring these advantages within the reach of small businesses. We don’t all need to have fully-automated warehouses like Amazon does to benefit from automated packaging.

>> Read more by Alex Owen-Hill, Robotiq, April 18, 2017

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