Robotic Palletizer Boosts Efficiency in Packaging Line

March 8, 2024 - Author: Kurtis Bell - Vice President of Operations

Project Features:
Robotic Palletizer, Industrial Robot Safety, Kawasaki-Certified Engineers, Integrated Network of Physical and Programmable Safety Mechanisms

Custom robot for collator line automation

The Challenge

A leading corrugated box manufacturer wanted to automate a labor-heavy position at the end of a collator line.

The position required the worker to palletize stacks of flat-pack boxes. Because of the physical demands of the position, workers had to rotate through this position in 1.5-hour shifts. With severe labor shortages, the company had difficulty finding enough workers willing to take this role. They also wanted to improve plant efficiency by freeing up labor for other tasks.

The company’s priority for any automated solution was ensuring the safety of the workers on the floor. Thus, the manufacturer sought a turnkey solution from experienced engineers capable of designing and implementing robust safety measures integrated with the robotic automation, as well as designing the task automation.

For the robot to fully automate the end of the palletizing line, it had to handle seven different box sizes. Depending on the box type, the stacking required varying configurations, including considerations for stack height, interlacing placement, and box orientation.

The Solution

Kawasaki-certified ACS engineers designed a solution comprised of an end-of-the-line conveyor, a custom robot and end effector, and a programmed controller pendant.

The ACS engineers customized the clamp on the end effector as some of its original parts stuck to the cardboard, interfering with efficient stacking. To protect product integrity, the engineers programmed the depth and pressure of the clamp to each product’s dimension. The automated clamp must provide enough pressure to lift and move each stack, but not so much pressure that it creates dents in the flat packs.

The robot is also tasked with placing a slip sheet between each stack layer on the pallet. Since the sheet is too thin for the clamp to control, the ACS mechanical engineers constructed programmable suction cups and attached them to the bottom of the end effector clamp.

To ensure worker safety, the ACS team designed a combination of physical and programmable safety mechanisms. The robot operates within an area fenced in on three sides. The fence is equipped with proximity switches and door locks at its access points, ensuring that the robot operates only when all gates are securely closed, and unauthorized access is prevented.

The fourth side of the robot’s work area is blocked by a light curtain that automatically shuts everything down if crossed. ACS engineers further constrained the custom robot by programming it with an internal geofence that enforces spatial limits on where it can go.

ACS programmed the robot’s functionality to be accessible entirely within the controller pendant without needing a separate PLC system. The worker uses the controller’s user-friendly interface to select one product profile from the seven profiles programmed into it.

The Outcome

During the commissioning process, the ACS robot exceeded the test criteria by successfully picking and placing three stacks within a minute. All seven products were stacked successfully, validating the robot’s capability and versatility.

Our client was able to reduce the labor needs on this collator line from three workers to two. The robotic palletizer replaced the role that previously required a large group of rotating workers across two shifts. Thus, automating this role significantly improved the company’s workforce efficiency and flexibility.

Moreover, the ACS team programmed the robot with a future-proof design that allows for easy integration of new products that fit the palletizer line. The line workers can add the dimensions and stacking configuration specifications to the robot controller to create a new product profile. Within half an hour, the robot will be able to palletize new product bundles according to the new profile.

With all operational and safety controls managed directly through the robot controller, workers only need to learn one system to operate and oversee the robot safely.

The immediate success of the robot prompted our client to purchase a second robotic palletizer for use on another line.

By deploying its Kawasaki robotics expertise and a commitment to industrial robot safety, ACS delivered a turnkey solution that not only automated the manufacturer’s palletizing line but also helped the company optimize its workforce efficiency, flexibility, and safety.

Key Features

  • Custom robot programmed to palletize seven different product flat packs
  • Integrated network of physical and programmable safety mechanisms protecting workers
  • Future-proof design allows for quick integration of new products to the robot’s capabilities

ACS Services

  • Full turnkey solution of robotic palletizer, from design to commissioning
  • Customized Kawasaki robot and effector with 24Vdc power panel integration with robot controller
  • Custom design and built end-of-line conveyor and robot pedestal
  • Programmed and integrated task and safety management through single controller