How to Select the Right Case Packing & Palletizing Equipment
The Primary Challenges Customers Need Equipment to Address
By Nick Szczechowski and Brian Guzek, Regional Sales Managers with Brenton
There are many challenges customers need packaging equipment to address. First and foremost is easy operation. That is because of the labor challenges facing manufacturing, packaging, and many other industrial sectors. These industries are experience higher than normal turnover, which is leading to loss of tribal knowledge when it comes to operating and maintaining machinery.
As a result, the onus has been placed back on original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) to design their equipment to be easy to operate, troubleshoot, and maintain. Things like fast, easy changeovers that are repeatable have become important to customers as they navigate their labor challenges.
When selecting case packing and palletizing equipment, it’s important to consider the primary challenges customers need their end of line operations to address.
How does automation influence equipment design?
In addition to easier operation, automation continues to influence the overall design of today’s packaging lines. Gone are the days where 12 or more employees manned the line and did everything by hand. Today, the entire end-of-line operation can be largely accomplished through automation — and it’s likely those 12 employees have been reduced to just a few skilled operators.
Packaging equipment such as case packers is also engineered to integrate with both upstream and downstream equipment to provide a seamless around-the-clock operation that delivers a much higher rate of output and efficiency than ever before. The result is an end-of-line operation that greatly improves accuracy, is flexible to handle many different SKUs through easy changeovers, optimizes space, and increases production speed.
What do OEM’s need to know about end of line operations?
It’s important for OEM’s to look at the whole picture, and know what is happening to your product before it arrives at the case packer. Here are some questions to ask yourself when getting started:
- What are you looking to achieve out of this line, both short term and long-term planning?
- What is the available floor space for the case packer?
- What is the speed of every piece of equipment behind the case packer?
- What are the bag sizes and case styles to be palletized?
- What is the weight of the bags/cases to be palletized?
- What is the desired fill rate per minute and target product weight?
- Will there be many changeovers or SKUs?
- What is the budget and the timeline for this project?
- What is the environment where the case packer will be located?
What types of information should customers share with suppliers to identify the best robotic case packing solutions?
An open line of communication between your case packing OEM supplier is key to identifying the right robotic solution for your application. A successful project requires a thorough understanding of all the variables that are involved in your packaging line.
Knowing this information upfront will improve communication of the project with the OEM. Also, having answers to these questions in the initial stages is critical because each one influences the other; if one of the answers to a question is unknown, it can sometimes dramatically change the scope of the project.
What are the top considerations when selecting case packing equipment?
Regarding the equipment itself, you want to select case packing equipment that aligns with your production needs, enhances operational efficiency, and delivers a positive return on your investment. Important factors include:
Speed and throughput: Consider the desired production rate and throughput of your packaging line.
Flexibility: Look for equipment that offers flexibility in handling different case sizes, pack configurations, and product types. This will allow you to accommodate changes in your product lineup or packaging requirements.
Reliability and durability: Assess the reliability and durability of the equipment. It should be built to withstand continuous operation and handle the demands of your production environment.
Ease of integration: If you already have existing packaging machinery or automation systems, ensure that the case packing equipment can be easily integrated into your current setup without major modifications or disruptions.
Changeover and adjustability: Consider the ease and speed of changeover between different case sizes or product formats. Quick and tool-less changeovers can significantly reduce downtime and increase productivity.
Operator-friendly interface: Look for a user-friendly interface that allows operators to set up, monitor, and troubleshoot the equipment easily. Intuitive controls and clear feedback mechanisms contribute to efficient operation and minimize errors.
Safety features: Verify that the equipment has appropriate safety features, such as guarding, emergency stop buttons, and interlocks, to protect operators from potential hazards.
Maintenance and serviceability: Consider the ease of maintenance and availability of spare parts for the equipment. Look for features that simplify routine maintenance tasks and ensure efficient servicing when needed.
Footprint and space requirements: Evaluate the space available in your production facility and choose equipment that fits within the available footprint without hindering workflow or causing congestion.
Cost and return on investment: Assess the upfront cost of the equipment and evaluate the potential return on investment over its lifespan. Consider factors such as increased efficiency, reduced labor costs, and minimized product damage or waste.
How is case packing equipment changing?
Case packing equipment has evolved to become automated, highly sophisticated robotic systems that are replacing manual operations. Notable areas of advancement include artificial intelligence, connectivity and integration. Advancements contribute to improved productivity, reduced costs, and enhanced sustainability in the manufacturing and packaging industries. Highlights include:
Advanced robotics: Robotics technology is advancing rapidly, enabling the development of more sophisticated and versatile case packing systems. These robots are becoming more intelligent, agile, and capable of handling a wide range of products. They can adapt to different sizes, shapes, and weights of cases, improving overall efficiency and flexibility in packaging operations.
Integration of artificial intelligence (AI): AI is being integrated into case packing automation equipment to enhance its capabilities. AI algorithms can analyze real-time data, optimize packing patterns, and make intelligent decisions to maximize efficiency and minimize errors. Machine learning algorithms can also improve the system’s ability to adapt and learn from experience, leading to continuous improvement in packaging processes.
Vision systems and sensors: Vision systems and sensors play a crucial role in modern case packing automation. High-resolution cameras, 3D imaging, and advanced sensors enable precise detection, positioning, and orientation of products and cases. These systems can quickly adapt to variations in product dimensions and ensure accurate placement and arrangement of cases, reducing the risk of damage and improving overall quality.
Connectivity and data analytics: Case packing automation equipment is becoming more interconnected and integrated with other systems within the manufacturing environment. This connectivity allows for real-time monitoring, remote control, and data exchange, enabling better decision-making and optimization of packaging processes. Data analytics tools can analyze the collected data to identify patterns, optimize performance, and predict maintenance needs, leading to increased uptime and operational efficiency.
Sustainability focus: There is a growing emphasis on sustainability in packaging operations, and case packing automation equipment is evolving to align with these goals. Manufacturers are incorporating eco-friendly materials, optimizing packaging designs to reduce waste, and developing energy-efficient equipment. Furthermore, automated systems can optimize material usage and minimize overpacking, contributing to sustainability efforts.
Flexibility and modular designs: Modern case packing automation equipment is designed to be flexible and easily adaptable to changing production requirements. Modular designs allow for quick reconfiguration and reprogramming to accommodate different products and packaging formats. This flexibility enables manufacturers to handle diverse product ranges and respond efficiently to market demands.
What are the key features to consider when selecting a case packing equipment OEM?
Selecting an OEM supplier to build your case packing machine is one thing, but where that supplier really proves its worth is long after the sale and installation. The right supplier is one who is going to build a system to your exact specifications, perform the necessary proving test runs, and then ensure proper installation.
But a critical aspect that should not be overlooked is the back-end support after installation. This includes service calls, parts availability, onsite technical support, system upgrades and other factors that validate their commitment to you. Supporting our customers in the long haul is an area where Brenton shines.
A good example of our after-sale service is seen in our revamped online parts ordering portal. Starting this year, we will be adding QR codes onto all our machinery, providing a direct link to an exploded diagram displaying all the parts related to the specific subassembly. The main benefits these QR codes provide are time and expediency.
Viewing a diagram with parts allows a maintenance personnel to verify the exact component that’s needed, and they can then make a purchase right from their phone on the shop floor.
This time-saving innovation eliminates manual steps of heading back to the office, researching the part number, calling Brenton to place the order. Not only does this save time, but also reduces the chance of mistakes. This is just one example of how we are making our systems more intuitive for our customers.
What are the most important capabilities to consider when selecting pallet building equipment?
The most important factors to consider when selecting pallet building equipment is ensuring it has the flexibility to grow with you in the future. Products and applications can change, and what you are packaging today may be different three months from now. Your pallet building equipment needs the flexibility to evolve and adapt to ever-changing needs. Here are some other factors to consider:
Flexibility and versatility: Look for equipment that can handle different pallet sizes, types, and configurations. The ability to adjust settings and adapt to various requirements is crucial, especially if you deal with a wide range of products or frequently change pallet specifications.
Automation and efficiency: Efficiency is essential in pallet building operations. Consider equipment that offers automation features such as robotic palletizers or automated stacking systems. These can significantly improve productivity and reduce labor costs.
Speed and throughput: Evaluate the speed and throughput capabilities of the equipment. Depending on your production requirements, you may need equipment that can build pallets quickly to meet demand without causing bottlenecks in your workflow.
Reliability and durability: Pallet building equipment should be robust and able to withstand heavy use in an industrial environment. Look for equipment from reputable manufacturers known for producing reliable and durable machines. This helps minimize downtime and maintenance costs.
Safety features: Ensure that the equipment prioritizes safety. Look for features like safety guards, emergency stop buttons, and sensors that can detect and prevent accidents. Worker safety should be a top priority when selecting any machinery.
Ease of use and maintenance: Equipment that is easy to operate and maintain can save time and effort. Consider equipment with user-friendly interfaces, clear instructions, and accessible parts for maintenance and repairs. Additionally, look for equipment that is compatible with your existing infrastructure and can be integrated into your workflow seamlessly.
Scalability and future expansion: If you anticipate business growth or changes in your pallet requirements, choose equipment that offers scalability. This allows you to expand your operations or adapt to new pallet sizes without the need for significant equipment changes or replacements.
Cost and return on investment: Evaluate the overall cost of the equipment, including purchase price, installation, training, maintenance, and operational expenses. Consider the return on investment (ROI) you can expect based on the equipment’s efficiency gains, labor savings, and increased productivity.
Service and support: Ensure that the equipment manufacturer provides reliable customer support, including technical assistance, spare parts availability, and maintenance services. Good after-sales support can help address issues promptly and keep your equipment running smoothly.
How are advances in robotics changing pallet building options?
Using robotics for palletizing eliminates the need for manual operations, which greatly improves worker safety. The act of building a pallet by hand involves constant bending, twisting, reaching, and picking up cases, and injuries will inevitably occur. These safety risks contribute to a loss of production, as well as expensive worker’s compensation claims. Robotics removes this factor entirely from the equation.
Robotic automation helps mitigate worker safety concerns and ergonomics issues associated with manual pallet building. By taking over physically demanding or hazardous tasks, robots can protect workers from potential injuries. This leads to a safer working environment and reduces the risk of workplace accidents. Other areas where robotics is changing the way pallets are built include.
Accuracy: Robots can efficiently handle repetitive tasks such as picking and placing pallet components, precisely positioning them, and securing them with fasteners or adhesives. This automation improves production speed, accuracy, and consistency, leading to higher productivity and reduced labor costs.
Customization and flexibility: Robots enable greater customization and flexibility in pallet building. They can be programmed to adapt to various pallet sizes, designs, and configurations, allowing manufacturers to produce pallets tailored to specific customer requirements.
Efficient material handling: Robotics enable efficient material handling throughout the pallet building workflow. Robots can autonomously transport pallet components, manage inventory, and optimize material usage. By streamlining material flow and minimizing manual handling, robots enhance operational efficiency and reduce material waste.
Scalability: Robotic systems can be easily scaled up or down to match production demands. Manufacturers can deploy additional robots or reconfigure existing ones to increase throughput during peak periods. This scalability allows for better resource utilization, improved production planning, and greater responsiveness to market fluctuations.
Is robotics the best solution for every palletizing application?
Most palletizing applications can see great benefits from the addition of robotics. If speed and output can be gained through robotics, then this solution will always be recommended first. One of the biggest advantages of robotics is the flexibility they bring to palletizing. Being able to pick and place different case sizes and multiple SKUs gives them the flexibility to handle a wide variety of applications with a single robot. Additionally, different end of arm tooling such as clamps, vacuum cups, fingers and other designs give robots further ability to pick and place a diverse range of cases and product sizes.
What are the key benefits palletizing equipment provides for manufacturers and distributors?
Bottom line is that robotic palletizing eliminates the need for operators to manually place cases on pallets. Depending upon the weights of the cases and/or bags, it is a difficult job to ask any operator. Robotic palletizing greatly increases a company’s packaging speed, while also providing newfound flexibility in being able to create customer-specific pack patterns. It also helps from a labor standpoint. Trying to hire and retain staff to manually build pallets all day is extremely difficult. Robots do not call in sick; they reliably operate around the clock. A well-designed robotic palletizer can be operated by just one person and offers great opportunities to maximize efficiencies to an end-of-line system.
Robotics are not just built for one product; companies can use their robots in a variety of applications. It’s never stuck in one process. The robot’s path can be changed, as well as the tooling to identify a new product or process.
About the Authors
Nick Szczechowski (Nick.szczechowski@
promachbuilt.com) and Brian Guzek (Brian.Guzek@promachbuilt.com) are regional sales managers with Brenton, a ProMach brand. Brenton is a global leader in designing and manufacturing integrated end of line case packaging systems and machines, specializing in case packing and palletizing using both robotics and other automation. Learn more at www.brentonengineering.com.