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Neatly labeled packaging, easily retrievable storage systems and timely deliveries have been the mission of many a supply chain manager. Packaging and palletizing processes involve performing repetitive motion activities or tasks. Robots that are designed and programmed for such activities can overcome human limitations in terms of speed, accuracy, errors and work duration. Let us find out how?

Levels of robotics in SCM

Robots follow a programmed path at the same speed without deviation, to increase the efficiency of day-to-day tasks like palletizing, loading/unloading, picking and packaging for as long as needed, without intelligence.

As examples, let us understand the steps/instructions carried out by robots in the packaging and palletizing processes.

Robotic Packaging

A packaging container (clamshell) is a one-piece container consisting of two hinged  halves where the item is inserted

Workflow steps:

1. Erect empty cartons or cases (say cardboard) from flat sheets

2. Place the items from assembly area to the packaging conveyor

3. Pick the item from the conveyor

4. Pick an insert (partition piece) and packaging container from the stocked area

5. Place the item and the insert into the container

6. Move the container through the container welder

7. Pick and place the now sealed container into the case

8. Close the case and tape it

9. Send taped case to the palletizing stations

Robotic Palletization

A pallet is a horizontal platform with a bottom deck with provision for lifting and movement.

A palletizing process involves picking packed cartons of different sizes and stacking them in a pallet.

Workflow steps:

1. Robot’s controller receives instruction to stack a pallet with 5 layers of cartons on out feeder1

2. Robot requests, step by step, for the pallet, products (packed in cartons) and packing slips

3. The palletization robot:

a. Positions the pallet on out feeder1

b. Picks up the carton

c. Affixes the packing slip

d. Places the carton on the pallet

e. Repeats the process till 5 layers of cartons are stacked on the pallet

4. Actuates the out feeder1, moving the pallet to the dispatch/storage area

5. Robot informs control centre that the job is over and awaits the next instruction


Why robots are ideal candidates for SCM operations like packaging and palletizing?

1) Flexibility

The biggest advantage of robotics is the flexibility. Robots instantly adapt to changes in the packing or palletizing parameters thus satisfying the customized needs of the buyer.

 2) Accuracy

They are extremely effective in operations with precision and accuracy and their empowerment is due to:

a. Precise tooling design

b. Fitment of slim arms

c. Wider reach and

d. Capability of performing sturdy, repetitive actions

3) Consistency

As robotic movements are programmed and regulated hence their outcomes are always standardized and maintained like the quality of packaging and the cycle time.

4) Lower costs

Robotic packaging and palletization leads to savings in storage space and transportation costs

5) High productivity levels.

Robots work faster than humans, 24 X 7, without sickness or slackness and along with their consistent and error-free on-job performance.

Amazon’s Kiva robots, 45,000 of them across its 20 fulfillment centres, automate the warehouse operations. The robots – 16 inches tall and almost 145kg – can run at 5mph and haul packages weighing up to 317kg.

Levels of robotics in SCM-Future

The convergence of AI and IoT with robotics will bring about a transformational change into the supply chain activities in the future. With delivery drones, autonomous trucks & cargo ships set to dominate the chain, the delivery models will be radically improved, particularly of retail, in the supply chain.

Future level-Advanced

Robots equipped with programmed vision systems enable locate and identify specific shapes and objects on a moving conveyor, the robot arms grippers to pick the dedicated items for packing or assembly.

1. Single cameras regulate location

2. Laser triangulation method adds depth perception

Future level-Connected Intelligence

The IoT revolution is evolving, helping logistics companies to adopt technologies to solve their problems and achieve their business goals.

Transportation visibility and connectivity. Sensors will track the freight’s condition, the truck’s location and the package’s security with the option of changing time and address of delivery. Optimize routes and shipments in real-time. Deliver using unmanned drones.

Warehouse management systems. Pallet wireless readers share data on freight volume and dimension with the WMS for further processing. Smart devices measure dimensions and count. Warehouse sensors scan the temperature and humidity to ensure the optimal storage condition.

Gartner predicts that connected (IoT) things will reach as much as 25 billion by 2020.

A peek into the future SCM model –An example of a company moving its goods from warehouse in continent A to various warehouses in continent B

Continent A

At the company warehouse, robots load containers into remote-controlled, GPS and sensor-equipped autonomous trucks. After digital checks, the truck drives to the designated loading port.

At the port, programmed gantry cranes analyze and sort each container, mapping its destination and loads them onto the autonomous ship

From origin port continent A to destination port continent B

The autonomous container ship is equipped with sensors, cameras and drones and with tags attached to each container. It is monitored from a remote command and control centre.

Continent B

At the destination port, the ship communicates with an automated mooring system and positions itself alongside the terminal.

Programmed gantry cranes identify the warehouse location of the containers and load them into the respective autonomous trucks for dispatch to various warehouses.

At the warehouse unloading dock area, robots open the containers, identify the pallet codes, lift and move them to the designated storage spaces.

Customer order execution from warehouse W1

(Customer’s request- Consignment to be placed on the doormat of his locked house !)

The robot uses the customer order details to identify and pick the ordered product carton from the pallet, affixes an RFID enabled tag and moves it to the loading dock.

Next, a drone lands at the loading dock area, reads the encrypted RFID information on the carton tag, feeds the address coordinates into its GPS and takes off.

At the destination address, the drone descends and softly places the packet on the customer’s door mat and informs the depot command centre that the delivery is completed.

The success of robots in performing more tasks in future depends on the dexterity of robotic arms (skill in performing all tasks that a human hand can do) It is still an ongoing field of intense research and study. Dexterity of robotic arms calls for articulate design and more importantly, the intricate testing of their performance.

The seamless integration of robots/AI/IoT helps drive and achieve the SCM models and objectives, precisely and efficiently. With the dynamic supply chain needs due to changing demands of retailers, distributors, and customers, future robotics will change the rules of supply chain management.

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Applications of robotic automation are already in place in every industry. The time is “Now”! Get started right away with our customized product and service-based solutions.

Embrace the future. Contact us to save your time and money to deliver a quality product.


Akhil A

COO | Robot-assisted test automation on real HMI Devices | IVI | Smart Device | Touchscreens | Keypad | Avionics panel |Mobile

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