Production line observations, studies and evaluations for any beverage category usually focus on several prime factors: equipment capability, machinery speeds and capacities, productive time maximization, and packaging configurations. All factors are important; however, the one issue that contributes most frequently to constant change syndrome (CCS) is packaging configurations.
Competitive marketing demands for new SKUs and changes in packaging are becoming more frequent and complex placing a burden on existing capabilities and creating the need for line modifications or replacements. Historically, the packaging situation on beverage packaged production lines has presented a real time challenge for engineers and manufacturers by requiring redesign in machinery, equipment and methods to accommodate proposed SKUs or new products. How does this relate to depalletizers and palletizers in the current production environment? From an operations perspective, it is a major challenge because containers (bottles and cans) and cases (packs) with frequently changing sizes, shapes and make-ups must go through both these operations on most beverage lines.
The challenge begins in the warehouse where containers are unloaded by various methods and stored or fed directly to a production line. For example, when the returnable or one-way non-returnable bottle package mix was used more frequently, different manual dumping methods were used to empty containers onto conveyors. In some situations, semi-automatic de-casing equipment was “homemade” or “rigged” to do the job. Such variable container handling methods actually were a form of “depalletizing” containers in a safe, speedy and productive manner, which established the need for a bona fide depalletizing machine.
Also highlighting the importance for depalletizers is that delivery of cans by rail car or box trailer usually is palletized, unloaded with lift trucks and then take to storage. However, with JIT (Just in Time) delivery, palletized containers can be transported directly to the can line depalletizer and layered off to the production whip line. Secondly, in regards to bottles, new technology has provided different floor level model depalletizers that are designed to handle the container removal operation. In either situation, high frequency container changes can and will continue to make depalletizer operations a top priority.
For the future, current line input technology used for bulk container pallets, individual container cases or individual containers will continue to challenge and require manufacturers to provide depalletizer equipment or some unload/feed mechanism that will meet the speed, flexibility and economical demands to accommodate the line’s critical step where containers are discharged onto the line conveyor layout.
Production line discharge is even more critical than the container input at the depalletizing operation because at this point product has been packaged and becomes ready for delivery. Because this output has become highly variable, assessing what a palletizer should be capable of doing is a very important factor. Therefore, serious recognition must be given to the package make-ups being created on the production line.
The 24 containers in each case are no longer a standard used to measure line output. For this reason, a calculated “equivalent cases” figure has been used as a measure because product configurations might be 24 unit cases; 12-unit wrap pack; 4-, 6- or 8-basket packs or cases; 18-unit wrap pack; multi 12-packs taped; or many other make-ups conveyed to the palletizer.
Therefore, palletizer designs, elevated or floor level models, have gone through a technological transition to cope with the constantly changing packaged product configurations. Much improvement has occurred during the transition, and many operational factors have been addressed, yet some factors still remain and including the number of tiers needed for stability, the number of cases (units) a minute, the flexibility of patterns/tier, pallet/machine compatibility, film wrapping necessity and interfacing capabilities with FLT or AGV.
As production line speeds approach practical limits, palletizing cases might be able to match the output without robotic type assistance; however, machinery and equipment development could become more automated as dictated by the packaged product configurations making the role of container input (depalletizer) and case output (palletizer)increasingly important.
Tomorrow, palletizing, with pallets or slip sheets, as known today could become obsolete — cases or units could be airblown into a sensitized “wrap” container and magnetically placed in storage.
All situations present continuous improvement questions for current and future environments. As production lines reach ultimate speeds, attain practical flexibility and are no longer changeover prone, some future design criteria should be reconsidered: how fast can depalletizers/palletizers practically operate, what package/pallet configurations can be handled, can multi-units be processed, what would be a limiting factor for capacity, and what are best logistic locations for both operations.