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How will robotic automation or other new technologies benefit pallet and container manufacturers? What are challenges and solutions?


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Top tags: automation  labor  robotics  material handling  capital investment  costs  digitalization  equipment  manufacturing  nailing  technology 

Flexibility & Adaptability in Automation

Posted By Kurt Larsen, Tuesday, September 18, 2018
Updated: Friday, July 27, 2018

Automation can be defined as the technology by which a process or procedure is performed without human assistance. Industrial automation deals primarily with the automation of manufacturing, quality control and material handling processes.

The main hurdle is developing a solution with material handling and nailing with low quality wood that meets the quality, serviceability, and industry uptime standards. People are looking at robotics to solve problems associated with cost, productivity, quality, safety and staffing. The best way to get started with robotics is to start with a module approach. Robots can be repurposed later in life. Look for flexibility and adaptability.

Keep up with automation trends through investing in products or people that provide automation services, through peripherals and other market studies and review your current processes for automation. Get data and perform time studies. It’s important to bring in your key vendors and have holistic conversations about current and future goals to ensure you design with the end goal in mind. Bring key vendors together to develop solutions and have all machines communicating and sharing information.

We are in a new stage of increased awareness and use of automation in the United States. The industry has seen automation in material handling, data accumulation, equipment and other areas. Robots are relatively new to the U.S. industry. Demographics, geography, warehouse space, logistics and economic (access to cheap labor) factors play a role in the timing of automation. 

For NWPCA’s role, I suggest reporting on new automation in white papers, in the magazine, online, etc. NWPCA can advance the discussion with members by bringing in experts and host automation forums during industry shows.

Tags:  automation  labor  material handling  robotics  technology 

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Equipment Efficiencies in Automation

Posted By Marc Perez, Tuesday, September 4, 2018
Updated: Friday, July 27, 2018

I would say people are not strictly looking into robotics, but automation in general. Companies are searching for ways to not be dependent on a specific type of labor, which for decades has been working on pallet nailing equipment.

Companies are searching for ways to increase the efficiency on their manufacturing equipment without adding more labor. By efficiency, it does not strictly mean to increase production with less labor, it is also to eliminate faulty pallets, reduce setup times, reduce downtime or implement better workflow processes. These seem to be the current needs of all industries. The best way to begin is to start by stages, and digitalization is probably the easiest way. NWPCA’s Pallet Design System™ and the pallet data export facility to the nailing equipment is a clear example of it.

Industry needs to have an open mind to new technologies and find the way to apply these new technologies in their own business. Not all pallet nailing equipment can be automated, and not all companies are ready for automation. Learning where and which are the current limitations for our customers and then search for the real possibilities is our obligation as pallet equipment suppliers. 

Tags:  automation  digitalization  equipment  manufacturing  nailing 

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Cost to Automate

Posted By Paul Rhoades, Tuesday, August 21, 2018
Updated: Friday, July 27, 2018

Manufacturers need to fill jobs that are low wage, low skill-set labor, and forecast predictable productivity, decrease manufacturing costs and improve margins. The best way to get started with automation is to evaluate where there is high volume repeat production. We haven’t seen more automation in pallet manufacturing or pallet recycling due to the low value of finished goods versus the capital investment to automate. 

Tags:  automation  capital investment  costs  labor 

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Material Handling in Automation

Posted By Jeff Williams, Tuesday, August 7, 2018
Updated: Friday, July 27, 2018

The majority of robotic solutions today are based around material handling tasks. However, with many of these tasks being repetitive, heavy lifting, automation and/or robot based solutions are a good fit.

With the innate ability to be reprogrammed, robots are fairly easy to repurpose, and therefore lend themselves to flexibility for changing needs in the future. Other requirements might be changing the end effector (the device on the end of the robotic arm), or possibly the stand/mount of the robot.

The association can serve as a central hub for information on the subject, and continue to be a conduit connecting suppliers and end users.

Tags:  automation  labor  material handling  robotics 

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Multiple Challenges & Opportunities

Posted By Kevan Grinwis, Tuesday, July 31, 2018
Updated: Friday, July 27, 2018

Multiple challenges can be overcome with the implementation of automation. Probably, the biggest problem that businesses are looking to solve at the moment is labor. Obviously, by introducing automation to manufacturing processes, the need for labor, especially for redundant labor-intensive tasks, can be significantly reduced. However, the benefits of automation go further than labor. Automation can bring significant improvements to quality, product consistency, and efficiency, not to mention workforce morale and safety which can reduce workplace injuries and insurance costs, as well as improving the overall quality of the workplace experience.

The best way to stay agile in today’s every changing marketplace is to look for adjustability and adaptability when introducing new systems. Robotics, for example, can be easily retooled and modified to serve different purposes when manufacturing needs change. But, these factors are also good to take into consideration when looking at more traditional pallet handling automation like stacking systems. For example, some stackers can easily be changed to accommodate different production needs, like pallet sizes, stack heights, etc.

Many types of automation have been around for years in pallet manufacturing and recycling. But, speaking of robotics specifically, they are certainly a relatively new addition. For example, the use of robotics in tasks like material handling, pallet sorting, and pallet dismantling seems to be taking off as robotics provide significant improvements in safety and change the available workforce by changing the way the operator interacts with the manufacturing process. However, more and more folks are also deciding to go with other automation, like stacking systems, due to their ability to keep up with higher production demands. Regarding the “recent influx” in automation, there are a few possible contributors that come to mind. The labor market, for example, is extremely tight today, whereas, in years past, labor may have been more readily available in some markets. Also, the rise in insurance costs as well as legislation which puts more demand on business owners is a likely contributor. Furthermore, the simple fact that automation is a major capital investment can lead some folks to dismiss the idea. However, more and more pallet manufacturers and recyclers are automating and realizing the savings at an increasing rate. The more we’re able to help people understand what automation can do as well as the quick ROI that they can realize, they soon see that, in the grand scheme of things, they can’t afford not to automate.

The role I see for NWPCA around automation involves three specific areas: communication, networking, and education. In my opinion, all of these are strengths of the association which can be strategically geared toward the issue of automation.

NWPCA can advance the discussion, provide information of use to members. However, to add some more in-depth suggestions, the association could look at collecting data on industry trends specific to automation and report those trends through articles and so on. Also, more articles and stories demonstrating real world applications would allow folks in the industry to conceptualize the short term and long-term benefits of automation in a relevant way.

Tags:  automation  labor  robotics 

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