No Space Too Tight for Automated Palletizing

With little space to work with at the end of the line and with each brewery layout being unique, compact drop-in end-of-line automated palletizers have proved to be the best solution for craft brewing.

End-of-Line Automation

After being the rising star in the beverage industry the overall craft beer bucket has been leaking over the past five years. Breweries dependent on taprooms and brewpubs have been particularly hard hit, while operations that have transitioned to regional and national distribution continue to grow. In the initial stages sales at these higher levels were rarely foreseen. Automation used by industries across the spectrum now apply to these increasing levels of craft brewing.


All too often “end of line” automation was never considered. But as the segment continues to evolve and grow, many brewers are achieving volumes never thought possible. What began as a hand stack palletizing operation now requires higher speed solutions. When there is very little space to work with at the end of the line and with each brewery layout being unique, compact drop-in end-of-line automated palletizers have proved to be the best solution for craft brewing.

A Quick Overview of Palletizers

Palletizers come in three basic flavors. A conventional palletizer builds loads using row-forming mechanics to create layers. Robotic palletizers build a load by picking and placing each product to create layers. Row-forming machines can achieve 3-4 layers per minute and robotics typically achieve 2-3 layers per minute. Very high speed palletizers are engineered specifically for high volume beverage operations and don’t apply to the craft industry.

Though “conventional”, row-forming palletizers have evolved many innovations in recent years such as modular engineering and integrated concurrent stretch wrapping. Modularity allows standard components to be assembled in a configuration such that the machine accommodates the required infeed, empty pallets, and load exit positions. Modular components are designed specifically to fit in unique spaces and restricted floor space as well as offer greater value over custom engineering. Integrated stretch wrapping saves the cost and space of a separate machine. Integrated concurrent stretch wrapping increases the overall speed as layers are created and the load is wrapped simultaneously in a single machine center.

Conventional and robotic solutions are chosen depending on the application. As a general guide, row-forming machines are appropriate for palletizing case and tray product while robotic solutions are best used for bag product. While the cost is roughly equivalent, craft brewing operations have had greater success with conventional technology. Robotic solutions typically require more space, rely on lifting from the top of the product using vacuum as opposed to conventional's bottom support, and can be difficult to program. Conventional palletizers handle product from either an upper-level infeed conveyor or a floor level conveyor. Robotics typically operate at the floor level. Hybrid models using both technologies are available when necessary to overcome a specific shortcoming. COBOT PalletizerPalletizers range from manual pallet placement and pallet jack load removal to fully automatic operation. The majority of craft beverage palletizers have integrated wrapping. Integrated concurrent wrapping is not available with robotics.

New on the scene are COBOTs (collaborative robot) for palletizing. COBOTs are light duty robots designed for fast deployment. Consider your application in pounds per minute. A standard COBOT application is viable up to 17.5 pounds per pick at a rate of less than 7 cycles per minute. COBOTS are not recommended for the product weight, durability, and speeds appropriate for craft beverages. Integrated wrapping is not available.

Safety First!!

Machine safety is a major consideration. Automated palletizing has traditionally been fraught with injury and even loss of life. Modern row-forming palletizers employ controlled access protocols which require the palletizer confirm a safe-state condition for an access door to unlock. Redundant monitored safety latches mitigate gravity hazards on all hoist locations and all high voltage power is dropped outside of the panel making the palletizer ‘cold’ when any access door is open or locked out. We recommend the category 3, PL-d per EN ISO 13849-1 safety standard.

What Next?

Automated palletizing should be considered whether a brewery is growing to a point where end of line palletizing can be justified or when an established brewery is commissioning a new can line in the wake of last year’s pivot to off-premise retail.

A typical solution, Pelican Brewing in Oregon has installed two floor level infeed conventional palletizers with integrated stretch wrapping. The small footprint has allowed otherwise occupied real estate to be allocated to their production value stream in other ways. Layout challenges at the facility have been resolved. Located just below the tap room in their Tillamook production facility, the palletizers just run. The ease of use and maintainability allow efforts and resources to be concentrated elsewhere where attention is really needed. Product changeover is done quickly by navigating just a few touch screens. The palletizing system reports to work every shift and eliminates worker’s comp exposure.

~Paden Tufts

As Senior Sales Engineer for TopTier, Paden Tufts has specialized in craft beverage palletizing working primarily with breweries, wineries and distilleries since 2009. He understands the unique challenges that over 50 owners have faced and provides straightforward cost-effective solutions to help them avoid costly mistakes and thrive. “The craft brewing industry uniquely collaborates with both each other and suppliers resulting in the best possible outcomes. Craft projects are the highlights of my job.”


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