In the past, manual stacking was the standard for workers who needed to organize products and pallet loads. However, technology has come a long way. Now, robotic palletizers are the most efficient way for industrial businesses to stack and organize their products. So, what is a palletizer? How does it work, and how can it benefit your business?
What Is a Palletizer?
The primary purpose of a palletizer is to stack and orient individual products into one easily manageable load on the layer-forming platform. It provides a fast, efficient method of handling and storing product shipments in the desired location.
The palletizer is an invaluable piece of equipment for multiple industries and has effectively replaced the tedious, time-consuming process of manually placing boxes onto a pallet.
Generally, palletizer responsibilities offer additional functions, including labeling, metal detection, weighing, wrapping, counting, sorting, etc. In some cases, the palletizer can perform these functions by itself; in others, it may integrate other types of machinery.
How Do Palletizers Work?
Both conventional and robotic palletizers utilize the idea of a unit load to maximize uptime and efficiency for companies. Essentially, it’s the practice of combining several individual products or materials into one assembly to allow for more economical handling. Think about it: Isn’t moving large quantities in a single load faster and more efficient than moving individual pieces one by one?
The name “palletizer” refers to the actual function of the machine, which stacks products into a single load on a pallet. For countless industries and companies, using pallets is commonplace and streamlines the constant process of storing and packing products.
Most pallets are wooden, but some are steel, plastic, or paper. They are flat and consist of crosshatched pallet patterns with notches that allow hand pallet trucks or forklifts to easily lift and move them, providing superior load stability even while supporting heavy products or materials.
A Brief History of the Palletizer
First, there was manual stacking with a hand truck, which required time-consuming and tedious labor. Then, during World War II, the logistical invention of pallets allowed for the fast transport of heavy loads, revolutionizing the industrial equipment industry.
In 1948, the Lamson Corp. designed and built the first mechanical palletizer, known as a row-forming palletizer. This palletizer type utilizes a specific technique that arranges the materials or products in neat rows until the pallet load is complete.
Next came the in-line palletizer in the 1970s, which improved the row-forming palletizer in terms of speed and motion. The in-line palletizer machine uses a smooth, continuous motion flow divider to stack and organize products into the desired area and correct position instead of stacking products intermittently in rows.
Technology advanced even further in the 1980s with robotic palletizers. This type of automatic palletizer consists of a robotic arm tool that can pick and position products on a pallet. A robotic palletizer also has an end-of-arm tool featuring a suction, mechanical, or magnetic end effector that can easily grip products.
Types of Palletizers
Generally speaking, there are two main types of palletizers: conventional palletizers and robotic palletizers. Read on as we explain the key differences between the two and discuss the most common subcategories of each.
Conventional palletizers consist of low-level (floor-level) and high-level types. The palletizer skills of each type vary and have specific applications that significantly benefit many different industries and businesses.
A floor-level palletizer features an infeed level of between 30 and 36 inches. During operation, the product will move through the infeed conveyor, which guides and re-orients it and then neatly dispenses it onto the row-forming area until the entire row is full. Then, the row continues onto the layer-forming platform.
The machine repeats the motion until there is a complete layer, which it then guides onto the stripper plate to create full pallets. Ultimately, floor-level machines offer highly efficient palletizer capabilities, and are commonplace in warehouses, factories, and countless other industries.
Another type of conventional palletizer is high-level, which features an infeed height between 84 and 124 inches, sometimes even higher. High-level equipment of this type performs similar palletizer jobs to low-level machines. However, it has stronger, better capabilities for raising and lowering stacks of products than its low-level siblings.
In addition, a high-level palletizer allows for much higher throughput (40 to 50 items per minute), resulting in a more efficient usage of floor space than a low-level palletizer.
Unlike a conventional or manual palletizer, a robotic palletizer utilizes semi-automatic or fully automatic means to stack products. Most have robotic arms that can quickly move, guide, orient, and sort products from a layer table or conveyor and then place them on a pallet.
The most common setup consists of a robotic palletizer that sits between a pallet dispenser and a conveyor belt, which carries product based on the required throughput. The hydraulic arm then picks up the product, lifts it, and places it neatly onto a pallet.
Every type of robotic, semi-automatic, and fully automatic palletizer features varying functions and mobility, providing unmatched versatility suited for many different applications.
A robotic gantry palletizer features a beam and an end effector device that can move along an axis on the X-Y plane. Most are large and expensive, but their technology provides the skills needed to move heavy or awkward loads during the palletizing process.
The Cartesian palletizer features end-of-arm tooling skills that allow it to move along the X, Y, and Z axes in three different directions of space. Most are slow but relatively inexpensive and feature a robotic arm, telescopic mast, and beams. This type of robotic palletizer is ideal for stacking a pallet with products of uniform shape, size, and weight, like canned goods.
A Selective Compliant Articulated Robot Arm (SCARA) palletizer allows for flexible movement to the left, right, forward, and back but has limited up-and-down movement. SCARA palletizers have a robotic arm that can fold and extend for smooth, continuous operation. Most can handle palletizer jobs of approximately 20 products per minute.
Articulated palletizers are quite similar to the SCARA palletizers. However, the end effector device on these palletizers offers a wider range of mobility. An articulated palletizer has a robotic arm that affixes to a flexible joint, allowing for swivel movement.
Generally, articulated machines are ideal for faster palletizer jobs than SCARAs. Most can handle about 25 items per minute on the packaging line, from boxes, canned goods, building materials, food, beverages, or virtually any type of product.
Although we said that most palletizers are either conventional or robotic, technically, there is a third category: hybrids. A hybrid palletizer offers superior flexibility, speed, and dependability, making it a popular choice for the manufacturing industry. These palletizers use row-forming techniques followed by a robot arm that can take an entire layer and place it neatly onto a pallet for fast, efficient operation.
Benefits of Palletizing
Palletizing leverages the concept of a unit load to provide numerous benefits for a diverse range of businesses and companies. Read on as we explain all the advantages a palletizer can provide in the modern-day industry of the 21st century.
Reduces Labor Costs
One of the best benefits of using a palletizer is the drastic reduction in labor costs that it provides businesses. Essentially, the machine does all the tedious, back-breaking work, saving human employees from performing tasks like manual stacking or product transport with a pallet jack.
Automatic palletizing doesn’t require any human intervention, and allows for smooth refilling of the pallet magazine without requiring the machine to stop operating. Even semi-automatic palletizers only require a human hand to press a few buttons or adjust settings. In addition, this allows companies to redelegate their employees to complete more important and valuable tasks that necessitate a human touch.
Allows for Greater Load Consistency
It’s a fact: humans are prone to making mistakes. When these mistakes occur in the workplace, they cost businesses time and money or result in the common problem of inconsistent or incorrectly assembled loads.
Ask any manufacturing company: An unstable pallet or poor load stability can lead to product damage or even serious injuries. As such, that’s the great advantage of using a machine: they don’t make mistakes. With the proper maintenance, a palletizer will perform its job correctly and consistently, improving the uniformity of product assembly, pallet placement, and storage. It also reduces the time companies must spend inspecting loads for inconsistencies or mistakes, improving quality control.
Creates Unitized Loads
Another excellent benefit of palletizing products is their ability to unitize loads. A unitized load is more stable during transit and less likely to shift, utilizes space more efficiently, and reduces the chance of product damage.
For example, the food and beverage industry requires daily transportation of sensitive products prone to damage. Any load that shifts around during transport costs money in damaged products, such as bruised fruit or leaking bottles.
A machine can easily wrap food items using a slip sheet dispenser and place them onto a pallet. Then, once they arrive at their destination, a human worker can use a pallet jack to unload and deliver the product quickly and efficiently.
Saves Floor Space and Truck Space
For companies that transport large-scale loads of products, the act of stacking cases and optimizing every available inch of truck space is critical. With a palletizer, companies can maximize the amount of product during shipping, condensing multiple items into one single unit. Even one extra layer or pallet during transit can translate to extra profit and lower operating costs.
Improves Safety Standards
Lifting, packing, and organizing products require repetitive motion. For humans, this can cause unusual stress on the limbs and joints that often results in injuries. Using a palletizer instead of human employees to perform this manual labor decreases the chance of injuries.
As you likely know, worker injuries are costly. The expense of compensation, medical bills, lost labor, and hiring and training new workers grows quickly. However, by palletizing, the chance of injury becomes much lower as long as workers follow general safety regulations during daily operations.
Trust TDI Packsys for All Your Palletizing Needs
Palletizers provide invaluable labor and help companies reduce costs, prevent injuries, maximize output, and boost productivity. In addition, both conventional and robotic palletizers offer unique benefits for countless industries and businesses, allowing for fast, easy packing, storage, and transport.
Hopefully, we successfully answered the question, “What is a palletizer?” At TDI Packsys, we’ve been the gold standard in automated inspection and packaging equipment for years, including industrial palletizers. We serve a diverse range of companies, organizations, and industries, providing state-of-the-art equipment that allows our nation to run smoothly and provides the public with the goods and services they need for everyday life.