This is the third in a series of blog posts exploring the many ways in which cobots support adaptation and business continuity in uncertain times. Each post focuses on a popular application for UR cobots –from Quality Inspection to Welding– and shows how cobots enable flexible, future-proofed automation deployments for companies of all sizes.  

Packaging and palletizing involve some of the least ergonomic tasks in the supply chain, accounting for a significant number of repetitive strain and musculoskeletal disorders among workers. Lifting heavy loads and bending to pick up or wrap goods are not just non-ergonomic tasks that carry the risk of injury, they are also repetitive, which can lead to human error as attention spans decline. This combination of factors makes collaborative robots an ideal partner for packaging & palletizing processes.

Watch UR cobots handle packaging and palletizing tasks at multiple locations, including DCL Logistics, Baxter Laboratories, Darex, Nortura, Cascina Italia and RNB Cosméticos.

With cobots delivering rapid ROI, we get a lot of interest from customers looking for ways to handle production spikesCOVID-19 pandemic. Faced with sudden surges of demand for products such as medical components and PPE, several customers have found our cobot packaging and palletizing technology an effective way to scale up their output.

Similarly, COVID-19 restrictions are exacerbating pre-existing labor challenges in manufacturing and other industries. It’s harder than ever to find staff, absenteeism through illness is an ongoing risk and travel restrictions and social distancing may make adding human labor impractical in the short-term. Cobots can step up in these situations, filling in for missing labor and ensuring business continuity despite adverse labor and general operating conditions.

Cobots result in new staff hires

In some situations, implementing cobots on packaging and palletizing jobs can even lead to new staff hires thanks to increased production levels. This was the case for RNB Cosméticos in Spain. The company integrated six Universal Robots UR10s into its packing and packaging plant to perform end-of-line palletizing tasks. Since cobot cells can be set up, RNB Cosméticos was able to ramp up production rapidly and efficiently.

Working with humans on a six-package-per-minute production cycle and adapting to more than 350 different items, the system was so effective that new staff were hired to handle the jump in production. At the same time, existing staff were relieved from non-ergonomic tasks and raised their professional skillset –instead of packaging and palletizing, workers now handle the cobots’ operations. “We are not hiring expert staff to handle a high-tech robot. We are turning our staff into experts with their skills level on the increase,” said Aurelio Tornero, general industrial manager, RNB Cosméticos

cobot programmingStaff at RNB Cosméticos take care of cobot programming tasks themselves, no robot coding experts required.

Cobots handle L’Oréal’s heavy lifting

At L’Oréal India’s Pune plant, end-of-the-line operations were being carried out manually, with operators lifting approximately 8,500 kilograms (18,700 lbs) of product per 8-hour shift. L’Oréal India considered this too great an ergonomic risk for its operators and deployed two UR10s to take over. Cobots enabled the company to completely eliminate human labor on packaging and palletizing and improved overall equipment effectiveness in the plant by 5%, thanks to the time saved in pallet replacement. “Collaborative robots have helped eliminate the ergonomic risk completely. They are user-friendly, maintenance-free and extremely efficient. We are really happy to have Universal Robots’ cobots on our line,” said Ranjit Ekda.

LOréal India eliminated high ergonomic risk tasksL’Oréal India eliminated high ergonomic risk tasks through UR-powered collaborative automation.

Nippon Zettic incorporates best features of people and robots on its line

In Japan, leading toothpaste OEM, NIPPON ZETTOC CO. LTD., introduced UR5 cobots to tackle labor shortages on their packaging and box erecting line. “People can work flexibly, but of course there are negative points such as the fact that they may suddenly take off from work and there are differences in skills,” said Mr. Junichi Kano, manager of NIPPON’S Production Technology Department. “Therefore, our goal is to make a line that incorporates the best features of people and robots.” The company’s inner-box packing line, which used to require two people, now requires one person and four UR5 cobots, enabling continuous production when workers take breaks. The UR5s sped up production too, providing a 30 percent increase in the number of products packaged per hour. The outer-box packing line is now fully automated by a UR5 while staff work on more value-added tasks such as material supply and process inspection.

4 UR5s on its inner-box packaging line

4 UR5s on its inner-box packaging line allows NIPPON to continue production even when workers take breaks.

Palletizing wizard became the favorite

Ease of use is a quality Universal Robots strive for in all our solutions. To simplify programming for palletizing tasks, we’ve included a special palletizing wizard in our Polyscope OS. The wizard enables the user to just teach the corners of a box and add its dimensions, while the robot works out where in the grid the parts should be placed.

Specialist aerospace component manufacturer Tool Gauge used our palletizing wizard to reduce labor costs and free workers from repetitive and time-consuming tasks at its Seattle, U.S., facility. Originally, an easily damaged copper machined part was being produced by a fully-attended journeyman CNC machinist simply to pull parts off a CNC chute, clean, rinse, dry, and box them. Now, a UR3 cobot picks the parts up, places them in a rinse bath, then holds them up in front of a dryer and then drops each part into individual cardboard cells in a grid pattern.

“The palletizing wizard has become our favorite,” explains manufacturing engineer at Tool Gauge, Steve Ouzsts. “It’s just so powerful and easy to do.” General manager at Tool Gauge, Jim Lee, estimates that the company saved $9,000 on reduced labor on the very first order. “We are no longer wasting our machinist’s talents but can have him focus on higher-value projects such as setting up and programming the CNC machines,” he explains.

UR3 at Tool Gauge uses the built-in palletizingThe UR3 at Tool Gauge uses the built-in palletizing wizard to precisely drop parts into the box’s grid pattern

Interested in finding out more about how Universal Robots is helping companies combat COVID-19? Download our ‘Cobots vs Covid‘ White Paper.

Source: The Robot Report