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Designing a Cobot Palletizer

Genevieve Gauvin Business Development Director / Jul 2nd, 2020

Palletizers are quickly becoming an essential part of any manufacturing floor that produces packaged-goods. With today’s technologies, payback typically ranges from 1 to 1.5 years and requires a total investment below $120K USD. But deploying a traditional palletizing solution often requires months of lead time and fairly advanced expertise in motion technology and industrial automation programming.

Not anymore.

Cobot palletizers, with their modular design and easy-to-program interface, are the perfect solution for low volume and high mix production, with design and commissioning undertaken directly by the end user.

Considering automating your palletizing operation? Below is a guide with the six design considerations to build and program your complete cobot palletizer solution with Vention.

Six design considerations for collaborative robot palletizers

1. Designing the pallet locator base

Pallet locators are intended to maintain a repeatable pallet position versus the robot base. Often designed as an L (single pallet) or T (double pallet) they ensure that each new pallet can be referenced at the exact same position as the previous one. Pallet locators can typically accommodate one or two pallets, based on the intended palletizing strategy. In most cases, the pallet locator will de-facto act as the base on which a vertical actuator or lifting column will be mounted. If your palletizer is designed to accommodate two pallets, ensure that the locators keep the pallets at least 500mm apart and not more than 700mm. Maintaining these dimensions will minimise the risk of the robot arm colliding with the palletized boxes, while maximizing reach of the robot.

Designing the pallet locator base

2. Selecting a lift column or vertical actuator

Cobot palletizers can have a fixed or telescoping height. Fixed height palletizers are typically used for simple, low-cost designs where the pallet height is shorter. Telescoping palletizers enable greater pallet height and greater robot arm reach. Three types of actuators can be used for a telescopic palletizer: lift column, timing-belt actuator or ball-screw actuator. Lift columns are ideal when the footprint needs to be minimal and the required stroke is 900mm or less, while timing belt actuators or ball-screw actuators are best suited when you need a custom solution with a bigger stroke. All telescoping actuators come with out-of-the-box software for intuitive configuration and operation of the robot palletizer. Software is installed directly on the robot arm and does not require any prior industrial automation expertise.

Selecting a lift column or vertical actuator

3. Choosing an end-of-arm tool

To maximize the box lifting capacity, the weight of the end-of-arm-tool must be minimized. There are a number of vacuum grippers available for palletizing applications, from a custom solution to an out-of-the-box product. Custom grippers can be easily designed to perfectly pick one or multiple boxes simultaneously. The initial setup and configuration with the robot might be slightly more complex (i.e., center of gravity and TCP configurations after assembling the custom gripper), but final results will be robust. In contrast, out-of-the-box products are generally geared to accommodate a defined range of box sizes and therefore, a new end-of-arm tool might be needed if box sizes are expected to change significantly over time. That said, out-of-the-box products are easy to install and program.

Learn more about chosing a gripper.

Choosing an end-of-arm tool

4. Adding an infeed conveyor

An infeed conveyor will ensure that the boxes to be palletized are presented in a repeatable fashion at the palletizer pickup point. The optimal conveyor height for palletizing is usually around 700mm (between the ground and the pickup position), while the distance between the robot and the pickup position is around 900mm horizontally . Based on the operations upstream of the palletizer, a choice between a gravity conveyor, automated roller conveyor or belt conveyor will be needed. Some palletizers might also have two infeed conveyors. Configuration of “priority sensor” will guide the movement of the palletizer. Once again, such configuration is now simple enough that it can be undertaken directly by the end user.

Learn how to get started with conveyors.

5. Integrating safety and other accessories

The collaborative nature of cobots, grippers and supporting accessories needs to be considered when conducting the safety assessment of your application. Users will often choose to add a strong cable management solution (to keep the work area clean and trip-hazard free), stack-light (to communicate the status of the palletizer to surrounding personnel) and product/pallet sensors (to stop the program if a pallet is misplaced or removed). To integrate these products into your cobot palletizer design, feel free to consult our integration guide.

Add accesories

6. Using the right software solution

Programming a palletizer can be a daunting task when using a traditional industrial automation environment. Out-of-the-box software solutions have greatly simplified the configuration and operation of the palletizer. With an intuitive user interface the chosen software solution will ensure that the robot arm, telescopic actuators and end of arm tool, all work in perfect synchronization so no integration is required by the end-user.

Using the right software solution

Ready to consider a cobot palletizer for your manufacturing floor? Feel free to contact us to discuss your use case, potential payback and ROI. Our application engineering team can be contacted here. here.

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