End of Line Palletizing – Central vs. Local Robotic Palletizing
Mitch Stevens | 26 October 2022
For manufacturing companies facing challenges of labor availability, increased order volume and ergonomic issues, an automated palletizing system is an effective method for quickly improving outbound operations. When considering an automated palletizing solution for multiple production lines, there are generally two options: centralized palletizing or local palletizing.
A centralized palletizing solution involves conveying all product from each production line to a single central location, likely near where outbound shipping is completed. Once at this location, the product from the various production lines is palletized. This type of solution usually includes a significant amount of conveyor, scanning, sorting and a large robotic palletizing cell (sometimes including several robots).
The other option is local, or line-side, palletizing. This type of solution palletizes the product right at the end of a single production line, or sometimes two lines if the second line is nearby. This type of solution generally includes a minimal amount of conveyor and a small, simple robotic palletizing cell. However, one of these palletizing systems is required for each production line.
Choosing the Ideal Palletizing System
Centralized palletizing is typically used in facilities that require higher production speeds and pallet throughput. In these systems, a fairly complex system of conveyor merges all of the product onto single conveyor line. Once at the palletizing area, these products are then scanned and sorted based on SKU. The products are then accumulated in rows or layers and a large industrial robot picks the product, in row or layer quantities, and places them onto the pallet. Pallets are then conveyed or shuttled from the robotic cell to a central stretch wrapper, where the load is wrapped, labeled, and then ready for shipping. Centralized palletizing systems are generally very custom and are tailored to a specific facility’s product, process, and plant layout.
A centralized palletizing system makes sense when:
- Fast Throughput Rates: Production and completed pallet throughput rates are faster.
- Central Location: A path for conveyance from each production line to a central location is available. The ability to have ceiling-hung overhead conveyor is especially advantageous.
- Need Room: The manufacturing floor does not have room for local line-side palletizing.
- Vehicle Access Unavailable: Forklift or AV (autonomous vehicle) traffic near the production line is not wanted or access to the production area is not available.
- Unstable Loads: All palletized loads need to be stretch wrapped. Palletized loads can be automatically transported to an inline stretch wrapper. This is also beneficial if unwrapped loads are too unstable to be transported via forklift.
- Available Space: Floor space is available for a large palletizing system. Note that this space can be anywhere in the facility but is best located near downstream shipping or storage processes.
- Maintenance: Facility maintenance and engineering staff can operate and maintain an advanced conveyance and palletizing system. Note that when there’s an issue with a centralized palletizing solution, it could mean that palletizing for all production lines has stopped. It’s good idea to have a staff that can troubleshoot issues quickly so that production is not stopped for long.
- Budget: A budget for a large, complex, and custom system is available.
Local palletizing is completed right at the end of the production line. Product conveys from the last step of the production process directly into the robotic palletizing cell and is placed onto a pallet. These systems generally use a single robot to place product onto one or two pallet locations. Often times, these end-of-line palletizing systems can be pre-engineered, cost-effective solutions. If the product is small/light and production rates are slow enough; a collaborative robot can be used. Collaborative robotic palletizing systems can be very appealing when cost and footprint are top priorities.
A local palletizing system makes sense when:
- Slow Throughput Rates: Production rates and completed pallet throughput rates are slower. Think about how often a full pallet will be completed and if the production environment will allow for the necessary forklift or AV traffic required to transport pallets.
- Available Floor Space: Floor space at the end of each production line is available.
- Vehicle Access: Forklift or AV traffic and access to each production line is available. Note that recent advancements in AVs have allowed for easier and more cost-effective ways to automatically transport pallets from local palletizing systems to offline shipping or storage locations within the plant.
- Stable Loads: Completed pallet loads are stable enough to be transported via forklift or AV.
- Available Path: A path for product conveyance from each production line is not available.
- No Floor Space: Floor space for a large centralized system is not available.
- Need for Automation: An automated solution is needed quickly. Often times a pre-engineered system can be “dropped in”.
- Maintenance: Facility maintenance and engineering staff can operate and maintain a small robotic system.
- Budget: A budget does is not available for a large centralized system. It should be noted that local palletizing systems are easier to install in phases which allows for them to be implemented as budget allows.
Choosing the Ideal Automation Partner
Between space, budget and business goals, there are many factors that play into determining which robotic palletizing solution is best for your facility. Whether it be a centralized palletizing system or a local palletizing system, our team at Bastian Solutions will work with you to tailor it to production needs. Reach out to one of our solutions experts to talk about your palletizing and outbound operations.
Mitch is a field application engineer for Bastian Solutions' robotics division. He has Bachelor of Science degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Illinois. As an application engineer, he helps Bastian Solutions’ customers find the right robotic solution for a variety of applications, some of which include palletizing, machine tending, packaging and assembly.
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