Robotic High-Mix Pallet Assembly for Productivity Gains
The use of robotic automation is capable of more than doubling production capacity per person.
February 22, 2019
In recent months, have you asked: “How can I increase throughput?” “How can I gain the flexibility needed to produce a wider variety of products?” “How can I produce consistent quality products – all week long?” “How can I keep changeover from hindering production?” “How can I reduce injury claims and provide a better working environment?” “How can I redeploy skilled workers to higher value tasks within the organization?”
If your answer is, “yes,” then robotic automation may be a good fit for your company.
The Case: for Robotic Wooden Pallet Assembly
To thrive in business today, companies must respond to increasing customer demands. Like many applications, this holds true for the difficult and dangerous work of pallet building. With nearly two billion wooden pallets in circulation in the United States, with the majority of them being replaced each year to maintain the nation’s supply chain, the need for a reliable and efficient method for the construction of wooden pallets is imperative.
“As trends for stronger, more durable and sustainable pallets grow, the need to accommodate high-mix/low-volume production is essential for manufacturers wanting to stay competitive,” said Doug Wenninger, President and CEO of Alliance Automation, LLC (Van Wert, Ohio). “In fact, a growing number of manufacturers are discovering that the implementation of robotic automation for the assembly of wooden pallets is helping to create a highly-flexible environment where custom, higher-margin products can be made.” Alliance Automation, a Yaskawa Motoman qualified integration partner, specializes in robotic pallet assembly, dismantling and sortation.
The Benefits: of Robotic Wooden Pallet Assembly
While suitable for long production runs, dedicated pallet assembly machines can be costly and require significant time to complete changeover. With a robotic pallet assembly system, typical changeover time is five minutes or less, providing a more consistent production method for high-mix manufacturing.
Robotic automation also provides manufacturers with the flexibility needed to build custom, stringer and block pallets on the same system, supporting pallet sizes from 20 inches (50.8 cm) up to 120 inches (304.8 cm). Ideal for shorter production runs of 25 to 1,500 units, robotic pallet assembly can produce up to 50 block pallets an hour or approximately 60 stringer pallets an hour. To reach an acceptable return on investment, you should consider running the automation at least two shifts.
Used in manufacturing for over 40 years, Yaskawa Motoman robots are fast, strong and precise, offering impressive speed, payload capacity and repeatability. Capable and reliable, the consistent use of material handling robots for wooden pallet assembly alleviates worker fatigue, reducing injury and eliminating costly rework. This, in turn, boosts production efficiency and increases product quality.
Freeing workers from the dull, dangerous and dirty job of pallet building on the factory floor empowers decision makers to redeploy them to higher-value, more interesting tasks within the company, helping companies realize growth while maintaining employee headcount. In fact, the use of robotic automation is capable of more than doubling production capacity per person.
As with any piece of capital equipment, adhering to a regular maintenance schedule can ensure maximum robot performance for years, optimizing return on investment (ROI). Yaskawa Motoman robots are designed to run production for as long as 15 years, long after initial investment is returned, resulting in future profit.
The ROI: of Robotic Wooden Pallet Assembly
Robot systems are most profitable for facilities that produce a high mix of pallet types at a high volume, or over multiple shifts. Systems can assemble about one pallet per minute (480 per shift). Fixed machinery still makes the most sense when producing high volumes of the same pallet type and size. The biggest ROI benefits come from the robotic system’s ability to produce a variety of pallet types with minimal down time due to changeover.
When pricing out a robotic system, a key element for companies to think about is the potential financial gain the robotic solution can provide over the course of a targeted payback period. With consistent productivity, the majority of companies can reach payback for a capital investment within 18 months, and most likely, with consistent productivity and the manufacturing of higher-margin products, the payback will be sooner than decision makers expect.