There is many ways to skin a cat – and the same goes for palletising. Robots, a layer palletiser, a gantry robot, end of line or multi line – you name it. Most of it we do so what do we think is best?
It depends. Our policy is very simple: if it can be done with a robot, this is probably the solution that the customer will favour. And so do I, from a financial point of view. Why?
We, and the vast majority of our competitors, are engineering companies, which design and produce to order. This means small series, and this means high costs. A robot is a catalogue item, produced in substantially larger series. This means unbeatable costs and high reliability. In addition, companies such our partner ABB offer virtually global support and service.
In addition, Robots can usually handle multiple production lines concurrently. And they are perceived as flexible, which is only true to the extent that the gripper is also flexible, which is often not the case.
For the customer a robot is a versatile and reliable solution at low cost, and for us it means a project at relatively low risk and short throughput – which means productivity and therefore profitability.
The picture is however not all rosy. Robots take space, and as business growth many of our customers find themselves with space constraints. On occasion, they are forced to replace the robots by traditional layer palletisers which can have a much lower footprint.
For certain products, such as open trays, robots are not ideally suited. This is because of the gripper, that needs to evacuate once it has deposited a tray or a multiple thereof. This means we must leave a small gap among the trays, which makes for a less compact and stable pallet. This can of course be overcome by forming the whole layer beforehand and deposit it in one go with the gripper. However we then get a complex and heavy gripper. If in addition to this we need something like clamping to stabilise the pallet while it is being formed, the robot solution becomes complex, cumbersome, and probably expensive. It can be done, and some of our competitors successfully do this, but it is not the path we choose in those circumstances.
Another consideration is capacity. A robot is limited to a number of cycles a minute. Depending on how many packs you can deposit per cycle, this pretty much limits the overall capacity. If we now want some reserve capacity, we frequently reach the limits of what a robot can do, in which case we prefer layer palletisers.
A final consideration – for our company that is – is competition. Making a basic robot solution is relatively easy, and there are many small companies active in this business. With our larger sales network, engineering and service capacity, we can never hope to beat such small companies on costs – and therefore price.
So, what will it be, robots or layer palletisers? We believe there is a very good future for both technologies. In the end of the day, the choice is yours.
Maarten van Leeuwen
Group Managing Director
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