When considering a palletizing solution powered by UR cobots on your production line, calculating the return on investment is crucial to determine whether to make an investment or not. For those of you considering palletizing with collaborative robots from Universal Robots, we’ve collected all the key information you need to make the calculation. You’ll be surprised how quickly a palletizing robot will make your investment worthwhile.

In this article you’ll find a full description of all costs related to investing in an UR palletizing robot and our forecasted ROI for a normal scenario.

Get a simulation and validate your project

It is important to determine whether a collaborative robot will work for your specific palletizing scenario. It can be straight forward, but sometimes it can be trickier due to the mix of palletizing variables such as product weight, cycle time, pallet height, pallet pattern and the number of different products for one production line.

Luckily there’s a solution on the market. Simulations have proven to be very effective to determine whether a collaborative robot will work for you. Most frequently used simulations tools support UR-robot models. However, that may require training and the tools can be costly. But not necessarily.

Our UR+ partner Rocketfarm can provide you with a simulation of your palletizing scenario. They offer videos of simulation based on your input, and have integrated the UR simulator with software from another UR+ partner, RoboDK, showing real life behavior of your robot. They currently offer this service for free until the end of June 2020  as part of the release of their Advanced Palletizing Application kit, that just launched on our new UR+ Application Kit platform.

Watch how Norwegian meat producer Nortura deployed a UR10 robot with a ceiling-mounted vision system to power a high-performance palletizing system in one-fifth of the space typically required.

How to calculate your ROI

Price of components:

A robotic palletizer consists of a few basic components. Robot, gripper, palletizing software, sensor(s) and a base frame. In its simplest form, excluding the robot, you will find quality component kits for about EUR 10,000–12,000 (USD 11,000–13,000).

The price range of robots vary depending on the need, but you are most likely to look at the list price of a UR10 CB3 series up to UR16e which are the UR cobots best suited for palletizing due to their reach and payload.

Calculating your true ROI on palletizing cobot application Calculating your true ROI is not just a matter of labor savings, a lot of other aspects should be figured into the deployment as well.

Engineering Cost

While prices for components can be easy to compare, engineering costs can be trickier to compare at first glance as this may require more insight into the process. The engineering cost can be broken into three main categories:

  • Installation cost will vary from project to project, but with a certified palletizing kit from UR+, components and setup have been tested and approved by Universal Robots to avoid surprises. An experienced automation engineer should be able to install a palletizing kit within one day. 
  • Safety assessment: Even if the UR robot is certified to work next to personnel, any complete industrial system needs a safety assessment according to applicable standards, certifications and regulations. Most manufacturers will be able to handle this internally, otherwise the UR ecosystem of integrators usually provides this service either separately or as part of a complete offer.
  • Programming and RE-PROGRAMMING: Easy to ignore when choosing a palletizing robot, but this is where you’ll see a big difference. All UR robots come with a palletizing program included. While this may be sufficient for many palletizing scenarios, there are many reasons why you should consider dedicated palletizing software.
    If you have more than one product per production line and/or frequently update with new products, if your requested palletizing pattern is of the tricky kind or if the cycle time requires the robot to pick several boxes per move, these are just some scenarios that dedicated palletizing software such as Rocketfarm’s Pally handles automatically.

If you like, you can try the web-based Pallet Builder that is used to program a UR palletizing robot with Pally. If you manage to build your pallet, – congrats, you have also programmed the robot to palletize it!

 Training:

  • Cost related to training of operators correlates with the ease of use. In general, an operator should be able to start and stop the palletizer in normal operation, but also enable the robot and make it continue from where it left off after an unexpected stop, such as emergency stop, power outage etc. With an easy-to-use system, budget half a day of training with the operators.

 Reorganizing the production floor.

  • Introducing a robot palletizer may require a new layout of the production floor. A collaborative robot has a huge advantage due to the fact that the footprint of the robot is significantly lower than any standard robot. Our experience is that a palletizer based on a UR robot rarely needs any significant modifications to a production line.

 Downtime during installation:

  • Shutting down a production line may be costly and require a lot of planning. However when installing an UR palletizing robot, downtime can easily be avoided with some basic planning as both operators and installation work can be done simultaneously at the end of the production line due to the collaborative nature of the robot.

 Number of shifts

  • How many shifts will the robot work? Will it work 24/7 or 9 to 5? Usually, a collaborative palletizer will still need an operator nearby to change pallets and supervise the operations etc, hence replacing “the last operator” is more expensive than replacing “the second last one” as all operations surrounding the palletizer needs to be fully automatized as well.

 Longevity of robot

  • A robot is a mechanical machine with moving parts. It will wear with time based on how you use it. While the promise from UR is at least 35,000 hours, which is approximately four years of 24/7 work, using dedicated palletizing software enables smoother robot movements with less tear and an extended lifespan of the robot. A robot that is treated with care can easily live longer.

 Cost of operation

  • It is recommended that a UR robot gets an annual service, and the foam of a vacuum gripper may be exchanged once in a while. This may be done by in-house personnel, but may also be outsourced into a service agreement with the vendor.
  • With respect to energy cost, a UR10 consumes about 0,35kW while running a program. Over the lifespan of 35,000 hours, this amounts to 12,250kW/h. In the US, the average price per kw/h is close to 13 cents, which results in about USD 1,600 (EUR 1,430).

 Alternative hiring cost

  • Robots are extremely loyal to their employer. An increasing challenge among manufacturers is retaining personnel for repetitive tasks such as palletizing. This may not affect you right now, but over the next 8-10 years, you may face that the alternative cost of not investing in a UR palletizing cobot includes several hiring rounds for the same position.

 Alternative personnel cost

  • Salary level, sick leave, insurances, ++, it all needs to be a part of the ROI calculations.

Implementation of a cobot palletizing applicationWith a reach of 1300mm (51.2”) and a payload of 10kg (22lbs) the UR10 cobot is a popular choice in palletizing applications

Determine your expected ROI

As you see, there are many variables to take into account. If you are capable of doing the engineering work in house, the out of pocket cost of getting started can be as low as 10 – 12k in component investments + robot purchasing or leasing cost that most likely will be lower than using an operator for the job.

As a rule of thumb, a UR palletizing cobot offers a payback time of somewhere between 1-2 years based on the cost of the complete solution. This leaves many hours, days, months and years for a UR palletizing cobot to create value for your company. It doesn’t matter if you have a straightforward production line, or a highly complicated one. We’re sure that you’ll find a solution that fits your needs with an UR cobot and application kits from UR+.

Source: The Robot Report