Automatic mixed pallets
Less rubbish and pallet waste, more time-saving
Manufacturers are trying to seduce customers with more and more choice, a trend which can be seen clearly in the carpets and flooring sector. This has a logistical flip side: dealers are required to keep more products in stock. And they don’t always have enough room or financial clout for this. So manufacturers have to come up with their own solutions, e.g. creating smaller order units and mixing pallets. Automation helps safeguard efficiency.
A flexible dealer service: easy to say
Our client produces laminate floors and their dealers were starting to receive more and more individual package orders rather than pallet orders. The manufacturer initially saw this as an added service, necessary to guarantee the end client’s freedom of choice. But it soon became a big challenge to make the order picking for individual packages ergonomic and efficient.
So the warehouse manager set up a project team to look at the possibilities of automation, together with intrion.
As the number of ideas within the project team grew, the project became bigger and more complex…
Turning loss into profit three times
Basically, the team had to find a solution for three challenges: a high level of waste for packaging materials, time and pallets. Until now, order pickers first had to remove packaging straps and wrapping from full pallets. They then put their order together and had to put new straps and wrapping on the pallet of picked goods again. Furthermore, this was a disposable pallet, custom made to provide optimal support for products over the whole of the base. Re-usable Euro pallets are more profitable, but too small to provide optimal support.
The basic outlines of the solution were soon agreed: 1) we let picking robots mix pallets, 2) we move the strapping and wrapping from production to expedition, and 3) we provide extra protection so that we can use Euro pallets.
But there were a couple more challenges too…
As the project progressed, a few more issues emerged:
- The installation could not interrupt the production and expedition.
- The expedition area had to be kept as free as possible.
- The picked goods are very diverse in terms of dimensions, robustness and weight,
- but picked pallets still had to be stackable, even with an incomplete top layer.
- A protective cardboard profile had to be automatically added to the bottom of pallets which had products sticking out over the edge.
- And not all clients or countries accept Euro pallets, so conversion to another specific pallet size still had to be possible.
Six serial robots
We worked on a solution with the team for two years. The project was structured in three phases, so as not to interrupt production. We built a mezzanine layer in the expedition area so that space was kept free. In total we integrated six serial robots: three for order picking, two for sawing and fitting lids on the pallets, and one for the pallet exchange.
We connected everything to various transport systems for:
- supplying pallets from the automatic high bay warehouse;
- sequencing when providing to the picking robot;
- removing the picked pallets to the high bay warehouse;
- supplying pallets from the warehouse to the packaging area;
- removing pallets from the packaging area to the expedition area, possibly with a stop in the pallet exchange area.
It was a unique and challenging project, but we achieved our main goal successfully: to integrate automatic order picking and packaging (plus protection) of pallets in a single, very efficient concept. To our client’s satisfaction, who can continue to provide optimal service to dealers.