The need for higher quality, faster and more serviceable machines is ever-lasting within beverage warehouses. Serving as the backbone to packaging operations, today’s palletizers and depalletizers incorporate flexibility, speed, high performance and safety to ramp up operations.

“The growing adoption of retail-ready and shelf-ready packaging designs at major retailers such as Walmart and Kroger are making brand owners re-evaluate their palletizing and depalletizing systems,” says Aaron Donlon, product manager at Delkor Systems, St. Paul, Minn. “These case designs are often more compact meaning tooling arms and pack patterns must adjust and plants must run at faster rates.”

Matt Wicks, vice president of product development for Mason, Ohio-based Honeywell Intelligrated, notes how niche beverages (ready-to-drink teas and coffees, energy drinks, etc.) also are causing brand owners to re-evaluate their palletizing and depalletizing systems.

“As these niche companies grow, they are seeing a need to move away from manual palletizing and leverage automated machinery, in turn increasing the demand for robotic and conventional machinery,” Wicks explains. “Often these companies have unique packaging requirements which will impact the machinery used for the palletizing and depalletizing operations.”

Both Delkor’s Donlon and Honeywell Intelligrated’s Wicks continue to see customers with challenging types of packages, for instance crates and small and light cases, as well as challenges with managing the ever-changing palletizing pattern requirements to create stable pallet loads.

Therefore, companies should adjust their product offerings to meet these new trends. “Our core conventional palletizers have been able to handle challenging product types for quite some time. Also, our engineering staff is highly competent to modify our machines to address some of the most demanding product types, so we excel in this space,” Wicks says.

“We have also upgraded our 890i/891i palletizers to be even more accommodating for demanding product challenges and improved many core aspects of the machine. Our 890i/891i conventional machines include maintenance-focused enhancements like semitransparent covers for excellent visibility during operation, easily removable covers and guards for quick access to components that may require adjustment or replacement through the system lifecycle,” he says.

Honeywell Intelligrated’s updated machinery design also prioritizes safety: from automatic air dumps to avoid trapped energy, to automatic hoist blocks for maintenance safety, customers are prioritizing safety at an increasing rate, Wicks explains. Additional safety features include arc flash accommodations, interlocked access gates, taller safety fences and light curtain systems, he adds.

Delkor Systems also has adjusted its product offerings to meet the needs of its customers. The company works closely with major retailers to understand their packaging requirements to serve as a single-source solution provider for brand owners seeking to implement complete secondary package solutions — from packaging designs that meet retailer requirements to robotic palletizers that perfectly integrate with Delkor’s packaging lines, Donlon says.

“We developed a new palletizing system that can better meet the new challenges our customers are facing such as the ability to adjust to varying case sizes, pallet counts and higher palletizing speeds.


Niche market necessities

When beverage manufacturers are deciding whether to bring automation components like palletizers and depalletizers into their warehouses, there are several factors that need to be taken into consideration. “It’s important to consider short- and long-term system needs such as palletizing speeds and secondary packaging formats, like if you’re looking to implement a retail-ready package design,” Donlon says.

“With shelf-ready packaging, the most overlooked detail is how the new package design will increase line rates two-to-three times on average,” he continues. “Older palletizing systems may not be able to keep up to those production speeds or have tooling that can pick-up smaller, more compact case sizes like many retail-ready package designs.”

Honeywell Intelligrated’s Wicks notes that companies should consider the machine’s production capacity, packaging handling flexibility and serviceability. “Cost is always a consideration, but many end users have felt the pain of using a lower cost, lower quality machine and ending up with a loss of confidence in the automation and/or not seeing planned return on investment,” he says.

“Other hidden costs associated with robotic palletizers are the need to reprogram patterns after the initial installation,” Wicks adds. “To address this, we’ve introduced our IntelliGen software, which allows operators to create new patterns easily and quickly to avoid these hidden after-sale costs.”

Another dynamic to consider when purchasing palletizing equipment is its flexibility, experts note.

“Robotic palletizing systems and hybrid palletizers have the most inherent flexibility of all palletizing systems,” Wicks explains. “Software capability should be considered as many solutions require offline programming or files that must be uploaded to equipment for operation updates. The IntelliGen software allows operators to select pre-defined patterns and update machine operation when case sizes change without having the burden of cumbersome off-line programming software.”

Delkor’s Donlon advises adding load stabilization features, such as tie sheets, to make the palletizing system even more flexible. “Often palletizing and depalletizing systems have the longest life cycle at an operation. Over the course of the system’s lifetime, organizations will often find that they need their palletizers and depalletizers to handle different and new secondary packaging formats,” he says.

Honeywell Intelligrated’s Wicks notes how packaging trends characterize the market. “Smaller, lightweight, display-ready cases, open-top cases, labels out orientation and other trends are forcing the palletizing equipment to be more flexible in accommodating these features.

“For example, reduced packaging means that products don’t have as much protection and therefore requires gentler handling. This influences the technology choice to turn and position cases, as minimizing the force applied to products — and maintaining packaging integrity — requires a greater level of precision,” Wicks says.


What’s the ROI?

The return-on-investment (ROI) is another significant factor to consider in the palletizing market. “The return on palletizing solutions comes in the form of labor savings and increased throughput,” Wicks explains. “When considering ROI, full machine lifecycle costs should be taken into consideration as there are many costs associated with the ongoing maintenance and use of the machinery and a low initial price may not yield proper return, given quality and serviceability factors,” he says.

Delkor’s Donlon explains that the typical ROI for its customers is 2 years max, which is typically achieved through labor savings. “However, if a company is short on available staff to run the line or lack capability to service a customer, then the improved operating efficiency that could be achieved can reduce the time to ROI,” he says.

In the beverage market, brand owners and manufacturers have to adapt to ever-changing consumer inclinations. “Packaging types and sizes continue to change based on consumer preferences.” Honeywell Intelligrated’s Wicks says. “For example, smaller portions may be driven by a more health-conscious market looking to limit consumption. Smaller packs and more complex load configurations are pushing the limits of palletizers, driving the required technology and capability.” BI