Lightweighting has taken its hold in primary and secondary packages, but the eco-friendly packages are causing machinery downstream to adapt its handling to the often more delicate options. In addition, new value packages, including options varying from four-packs to 36-packs, have caught on with consumers and also are causing issues for machinery. For manufacturers of palletizing equipment, these innovations have spurred new developments in their machine offerings.
Palletizing manufacturers have felt varying effects of the green movement, says Ted Yeigh, sales manager for Columbia Machine, Vancouver, Wash.
“On the sustainability front, that comes a couple of different ways. Obviously efficient machinery is advantageous â€” that’s pretty obvious â€” but other things that factor into the sustainability would be features on machines that allow them to use less packaging, and that’s not as obvious,” Yeigh says. “There’s simple things like greater use of variable frequency drives to provide softer, gentler product touches or product handling, but you still have to get speed out of these machines so the machines have to move quickly, but you can’t harm the product.”
In response, manufacturers have created high-speed machines with gentler handling mechanisms, Yeigh says. Columbia’s latest palletizing advancements include the SP4000 palletizer with bi-parting stripper apron and the FL2000 floor level palletizer. The SP4000 is a small footprint, high-level, high-capacity palletizer capable of forming complex patterns, the company says. The model’s bi-parting stripper apron combines with case stops in the row to form an area that allows the model to create gaps front-to-back and side-to-side in a layer. An articulating row pusher bar and centering layer guides with Smart Squeeze technology help to ensure proper placement.
Columbia’s FL2000 model features on-machine input-output electrical components and interlocked doors with panels to allow for easy viewing and access to interior components for maintenance. The FL2000 and SP4000 models include Category 3 Electrical Circuits to ensure a safe working environment, Yeigh says. Sensing a future move in the industry, Columbia made the dual circuit safety components standard on all machinery. Anticipation of trends is a high priority for Columbia, Yeigh says.
“Columbia really works hard when we’re developing new machines or new features on existing machines by looking at what’s being done today, but you really have to do it with the understanding that even the manufacturers don’t know what they’re going to be making in the next year or two years from now,” he says. “We really work hard to put a ton of flexibility into the machines up front and also make them very modular so retrofits and enhancements can be added in the future. [Retrofits are] another thing that we’re being asked for on a regular basis.”
Incorporating new solutions or enhancing customers’ existing product lines is a trend seen by Intelligrated, Mason, Ohio, says Pat O’Connor, product manager for palletizing systems at the company. Intelligrated has the ability to convert a customer’s existing in-line machinery into its Alvey 950 series, O’Connor says. The Alvey 950 series includes hybrid machines that use a combination of robotic and conventional palletizer technology. Customers have the choice of one or two robotic arms that replace the divider and bump turners of a conventional high-speed machine, O’Connor says.
“By combining robots with traditional layer deposit technology with high-speed machines, we feel we’re offering both the gentle handling and the infinite case positioning that’s possible with robotics combined with the high-speed layer deposit capability of our conventional palletizer,” O’Connor says. “These machines can run 10 to 20 layers per minute of deposit speed so they’re extremely fast.”
Intelligrated also has noted an emergence of new packaging sizes, such as eight-, 30- and 36-packs. Its Alvey 940 series of very high-speed palletizers offer the pattern and size flexibility that address the trend and are suited particularly for small packages, such as eight-packs, O’Connor says. The machines have optional automatic changeover features and are known for their long-term reliability, he says.
The company also has developed a web-based Customer Service Dashboard system. Dashboard provides Intelligrated clients with access to real-time incident notifications, project-specific system documentation, searchable incident histories and full reporting export capability of their machinery, the company says. Dashboard also includes Knowledgebase, an information database designed to supply clients with quick access to general information about their material handling system as well as troubleshooting tips, part numbers and safety information.
Cermex Inc., Norcross, Ga., also offers robotic systems to provide smoother handling of product layers during palletization, says Geoffroy Bretzner, key account manager for Cermex. Robotic solutions can include the use of one or two robots to prepare the product layers and another robot to palletize the formed layers, he says.
In addition to robotic integration, Cermex sees the industry demanding automation of format changeovers to increase productivity and optimize operator ergonomics, Bretzner says. Cermex also offers conventional mechanical palletizing solutions with up to four lane infeeds with fast lane dividers. It also offers solutions that combine case packing and palletizing.
Westfalia Technologies Inc., York, Pa., exhibited an example of a fully integrated supply chain featuring a high-speed robotic palletizer from Kuka Systems in April at NA 2010 in Cleveland. Kuka’s high-speed robotic palletizers can be integrated into warehouse design for high-speed layer picking and palletizing, mixed layer picking and palletizing, layer forming, and depalletizing. The robotic solution also can interface with Westfalia’s Savanna.Net warehouse management system, the company says.
In addition, Westfalia Deam Systems, which represents the merging of Deam Ltd., Toronto, and Westfalia Technologies, recently released a case palletizing system. The new system can palletize two full pallets per minute, with each pallet holding 54 cases, the company says. In addition, the palletizer includes an empty pallet handling section with empty pallet pusher to transfer pallets into the stack loading zone. The system is constructed of stainless steel that is capable of withstanding wash-down environments required in the beverage and dairy industries, Westfalia Deam says.
In response to companies that require mixed-product pallets, Dematic, Grand Rapids, Mich., developed Automated Mixed Case Palletizing (AMCAP) solutions. AMCAP automatically builds mixed product pallets using a sophisticated gripper that can handle more than 10,000 different items, such as beverages, cans and boxes, the company says. The system uses software to calculate the ideal stacking sequence. Cases also can be positioned onto a pallet to match delivery route sequence and can be placed to match a retail outlet’s planogram, says Ken Ruehrdanz, market manager for distribution and warehousing at Dematic.
“With AMCAP there are significant savings in productivity, reduction in product damage and greatly increased pallet cube,” Ruehrdanz says. “For example, an average order pallet that is manually order picked has a cube utilization of approximately 75 percent. With AMCAP, typical pallet cube utilizations are greater than 95 percent. Ultimately, this allows greater cube utilization of the trailer, offering transportation savings.”
The AMCAP system features integrated stretch wrapping of the pallet that wraps each layer, the company says. In addition to the automated AMCAP, Dematic offers manual solutions with voice directed palletizing, Ruehrdanz says.
Palletizing customers also are looking for machinery that does more, says Terry Zarnowski, sales and marketing director for Schneider Packaging Equipment Co. Inc., Brewerton, N.Y.
“In the old days, you would have no problem stacking layers of water, you could stack them all day long and the bottle and the liquid inside the bottle was fine, but that is really getting to be where that’s no longer the case,” says Terry Zarnowski, sales and marketing director for Schneider. “What happens is as you build the pallet, it becomes unstable so what our Stack and Wrap solution does is allows you to wrap the pallet, keeping it stabilized while you’re wrapping it, and of course we can integrate additional features, such as slip sheets and trays if needed to also help stabilize product.”
Schneider collaborated with stretch wrapping manufacturer Lantech, Louisville, Ky., to create the Stack and Wrap Palletizing/Stretch Wrapping Cell. The cell combines two or more lines into a centralized automated palletizing and stretch wrapping station that builds the unit load on the stretch wrapper. The machine features a FANUC robotic arm between two Lantech Q-600 stretch wrappers. In addition to saving floor space, the machine also has the benefit of stabilizing loads, faster changeover, simplified operation and maintenance, Zarnowski says.
The automation also helps the company do more with less people, says William Caudill, marketing manager for the innovation team at Lantech.
“We are trying to automate as much as possible to get operators out of the area, to get people out of the area, because that’s cost,” Caudill says. “You’ll hear manufacturers, not just bottlers, but everybody talk about touches â€” they’ll count the number of times they have to touch a machine, whether it’s to clear a jam in the palletizer, change a roll of film or fix a film break, and they calculate that into their efficiency numbers and they want to bring that down as much as possible.”
The Stack and Wrap palletizing cell is highly configurable and has the ability to simultaneously palletize different lines with multiple sizes and types of products, the company says. Lantech offers stretch wrap with its No Film Break system that helps stabilize mixed loads with various sizes and rough edges, Caudill says.
In addition, the companies say more innovation is on the way. Columbia and Intelligrated hinted that they both will unveil palletizing advancements at Pack Expo, Oct. 31-Nov. 3 at McCormick Place in Chicago. BI