Friday, May 6, 2011

End of Line Packaging Trends

It seems these days, no matter what part of the packaging process one is talking about, automation is the word. This is also true for end-of-line (EOL) packaging. Increasingly, manufacturers and contract packagers look for flexibility in the equipment they specify for their packaging lines. The impetus for this is two-fold. First, manufactures are looking to do more with less — more productivity and more uptime, with fewer personnel, less floor space and less capital equipment. Robotic case packers and palletizers offer a higher rate of speed than most traditional EOL systems, and fewer personnel are required to operate the equipment. A carefully designed robotic system will also greatly reduce the amount of floor space required for the system, especially in multi-SKU lines where conveyors require a substantial portion of the needed floor space.

Second, retailers who are in the process of streamlining their own operations have started to require manufactures to deliver mixed pallets — pallet loads that consist of multiple products in various case sizes. Robotic case packers and palletizers handle changes in package size and weight more efficiently, and robotic EOAT can be designed to handle multiple product types. Even EOAT dedicated to a single product can increase flexibility as changeovers require no tools and can be accomplished in under two minutes. Automatic EOAT changeover systems, such as the one available from ESS Technologies, make fast changeover even easier, and completely hands-free. Responding to pre-programmed instructions, the robot detaches one EOAT to a special docking station that holds all the EOAT for the system. Once docked, the robot automatically releases the current EOAT and positions itself over the desired EOAT. The robot then connects itself to the selected EOAT and returns to the ready position. Today’s robotic controllers allow multiple “recipes” to be stored, making the switch from one product to another a simple “one-button” process.

Robotic case packers and palletizers offer a more flexible and reliable solution for packaging products from single or multiple packaging lines. The low maintenance costs and ease of operation give robotic systems a very fast return on investment (ROI), and their flexibility and high reliability make them useful for many years as they tackle the packaging challenges that non-robotic systems cannot address.