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The Pursuit of Effective, Productive and Safer Solutions in Palletising Operations
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July 28, 2022 Blog

Authored By: James McKew – Regional President APAC, at Universal Robots

The dramatic shrinkage of product life cycles is having a significant effect on industrial packaging businesses. It has become increasingly rare to witness long-term products sitting in a portfolio that remains unchanged for years. Instead, companies are changing their strategies to generate most of their revenue from new products. As manufacturers keep pace with the ever-evolving trends and consumers’ demands, product life cycles have shortened. This means that production speed, agility and productivity have never been more important.

In addition, socioeconomic changes and inflationary pressure are resulting in the rising cost of product packaging, impacting businesses across all industries. Besides, higher freight rates, port congestion and a shortage of labour further add to the many challenges already faced by the palletising operations.

With the growing demand for more efficient solutions, automation has become synonymous with advanced manufacturing. Now, modern manufacturers are shifting away from the conventional and manual palletising methods, turning to collaborative robots or “cobots” instead. Cobots are driving workplace efficiency, reducing costs and most importantly, ensuring human employees are working in a safe environment.

Ensuring Safer Working Conditions

For centuries, manufacturers have relied on manual labour for palletising operations. These manual and repetitive processes of palletising, stacking, lifting, packing and securing large quantities of items are fraught with danger. According to the Australian Institute for Health and Safety, lifting, carrying and putting down items are ranked the top three causes of musculoskeletal injuries in the workplace. The inherent risk of workplace injuries to human employees is high.

Palletising cobots are protecting employees from injuries. Designed to work alongside human workers (upon risk assessment), cobots are capable of boosting the stacking and packing capacity without pushing human workers to the point of exhaustion.

Boosting Morale and Job Satisfaction

It can be physically and mentally demanding for human employees to work for long stretches of hours while maintaining the right level of safety, productivity and accuracy. These reduce employees’ morale and job satisfaction, resulting in the frequent turnover of workers and further leading to a reduction in the quality and consistency of products.

Singapore-based Clearpack, a leading provider of packaging automation solutions, has created a compact palletising solution with a cobot from Universal Robots. The solution has helped multiple Clearpack customers remove the need for human workers to spend hours working on tedious jobs, further relieving them to work on more enriching tasks.

Enhancing Efficiency

A study has shown that robots are capable of increasing productivity by 30% and may require little to zero downtime in a 24-hour period. Unlike human workers, cobots can work 24/7 without breaks while maintaining efficiency and productivity.

“With the growing demand for more efficient solutions, automation has become synonymous with advanced manufacturing. Now, modern manufacturers are shifting away from the conventional and manual palletising methods, turning to collaborative robots or “cobots” instead.”

However, this does not imply that the entirety of skilled workforces should be replaced by robots or cobots. Many operations and products require human creativity and cognitive ability, skills that cobots do not have. The ultimate aim of automation is not to remove humans from the workplace but to open up more opportunities for employees to fulfil roles that could optimise their strengths. Humans and cobots are perfect in man-machine collaboration.

Lower Operational Costs

Several countries in the Asia Pacific are grappling with a labour shortage, posing a real threat to the viability of the manufacturing industries. Some companies are witnessing their current workforce reaching retirement age without younger employees to take over their roles.

Cobots are solving these problems. A palletising cobot allows manufacturers to automate one of the most important jobs in their business. Cobots are a cost-effective solution, offering a return on investment as short as 12 months in a typical deployment. Additionally, thanks to the reduced operational costs that led to greater profits, manufacturers are given the options to increase workers’ salaries, upgrade equipment or introduce benefits to the company.

Lower Warehouse Footprint

The traditional industrial robots may not be an option for small- and mid-sized enterprises. For smaller working environments, cobots will be a great fit. Unlike the large and bulky machines that often need to be surrounded by safety cages, cobots are safe to work near humans without safety fences (subject to risk assessment). This includes cobots that are built for high payloads such as the UR20 cobot. Compared to industrial robots, the combination of the lightweight and small footprint of UR20 opens opportunities for manufacturers to automate tasks in existing set-ups where floor space is often limited.

“A palletising cobot allows manufacturers to automate one of the most important jobs in their business. Cobots are a cost-effective solution, offering a return on investment as short as 12 months in a typical deployment.”

While manufacturers reckon that automation and machines will bring greater profits to businesses, cobots are not just about maximising profitability. The changing customer preferences for new innovations and regulatory requirements have prompted manufacturers to ensure that such demands are met. Cobots have become a cost-effective and flexible tool while manufacturers keep up with the rapid pace of change across the industrial sectors.

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