Palletizer Technology Over Time
The first conventional palletizer was developed in the late 1940s as an alternative to manual loading heavy products onto shipping pallets. Conventional palletizers experienced rapid improvement over the next several decades, with both row-forming and inline palletizing developing between 1950 and 1970.
By the development of inline palletizing in the 1970s, the demands for palletizer performance had greatly increased with growing performance demands. Automatic palletizing systems not only had to pack products in an organized and consistent manner, but they also had to do so at rapid speeds.
While conventional palletizers remained useful for high-speed and repetitive loading operations, robotic palletizing systems developed in the 1980s and 1990s offer more specialized capabilities; where loading delicate or flexible product (such as bags) was once difficult to perform with conventional palletizers, robotic palletizing systems could now do the job with relative precision.
Today, packaging facilities utilize either conventional or robotic palletizing systems depending on their specific needs. One type is not necessarily better than the other; different solutions are better suited for different products.
Comparing Conventional and Robotic Palletizing
Conventional and robotic palletizing systems have unique advantages and disadvantages. This section covers some of the most important of these factors, which are crucial to consider when choosing between types.
Increasing speed and reliability has always been the goal in palletizer technology. As palletizers become better equipped at handling more variable tasks, both conventional and robotic palletizing systems are now capable of handling most load building requirements.
Conventional palletizers generally hold a speed advantage over robotic palletizing systems. Where robotic palletizing systems excel in flexible and precise movements, conventional palletizers excel in repeatedly executing palletizing with rapid efficiency.
As a result, while conventional palletizers are challenged by delicate or bagged product than robotic palletizing systems, high-volume packaging facilities with consistent palletizing patterns will ultimately benefit from the increased speed of conventional palletizers.
While robotic palletizing systems are adept at stacking individual units in various ways, they can present drawbacks when handling variations between cases. If, for example, complex patterns are necessary for multiple cases, the packaging process will need to account for these changes in some way.
Bags, pails, and other “difficult” shapes present specific challenges for different palletizers. Conventional palletizers perform best with consistently shaped and sized packages, an assumption which allows them to perform with maximum speed and efficiency.
However, flexible or nonrigid packages are often difficult for conventional palletizers to handle without utilizing some form of additional reinforcement. Robotic palletizing systems, by contrast, can carefully and individually handle almost any type of package.
As a result, robotic palletizing systems are best suited for difficult-to-handle packaging types, while higher speed conventional palletizers are ideal for packaging types with uniform shapes.
Floor space is a valuable commodity in packaging facilities. As such, palletizers of any type should provide the best possible ratio of space to performance.
Conventional palletizers are typically smaller than their robotic counterparts. Robotic palletizers achieve functionality by using a 240 degree arc of the robotic arm. Such functionality includes placing the pallet, picking the product, and placing the pallet on the discharge conveyor. Conventional palletizers achieve all these functions in contained unit which requires less overall floor space.
A conventional palletizer is capable of concurrent stretch wrapping which takes place within the contained unit thereby eliminating the significant space required for a separate stretch wrapper. An integrated pallet dispenser and a sheet dispenser also require less floor space.
Conventional palletizers can achieve the highest possible safety rating using controlled entry access protection. Robotic palletizers use a variety of safety cage enclosures which are not necessarily integrated with the operation of the robot.
Both conventional and robotic palletizers are compatible with upper level and lower floor level infeed. Conventional palletizers achieve the highest possible speed with upper level infeed. Robotic palletizers are typically installed at the lower level and require an additional conveyor to deliver the product from an upper level to the floor level.
Hybrid Robotic Palletizers
An alternative solution is a hybrid robotic palletizer. A robotic armature is integrated into a controlled entry conventional frame. This configuration achieves the space saving, safety, and concurrent stretch wrapping features of a conventional palletizer for handling bags and delicate product.