Five challenges in High-Mix, Low-Volume (HMLV) packaging and palletizing processes
Published on December 21, 2021 in Flexible Manufacturing
by John van Hooijdonk, Industry Marketing Manager FMCG at OMRON Europe
The new product has just left the factory, in a shelf-ready package in the specified mixed ratio to meet customer needs. The packaging has actually been handled by another company: a co-packer. Co-packing can be found in all Fast-Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG) markets, but especially in the higher-priced product segments such as personal care or confectionery, to name a few examples. It is a fast-growing activity to satisfy the consumer demand for more variety.
Many decision-makers may decide to outsource the re-packaging of their products to special service providers. So what needs to be considered in connection with co-packing processes and the increased demand for variant-rich products in small individual quantities – High-Mix, Low-Volume (HMLV)?
Robot-assisted automation solutions offer support
Smart robot-based automation solutions, such as robotic picking, packing, palletizing, machine tending, and optimized automated intralogistics, can help overcome the need for manual labor in HMLV production. With robot-based automation co-packing service providers gain flexibility, productivity and reliability. This helps them meet the challenges of ever-shorter product life cycles, changing package designs, different package sizes and product variants. The following typical five deployment challenges and solution options show what this can look like.
Challenge 1: Mixing products in secondary packaging
Mixing different single products in a display carton presents challenges. Manual processes offer flexibility, but may affect quality. In addition, it may be hard to find and retain employees for these tasks. Incoming goods need to be processed quickly, but the packaging material must also be available. To cope with this, pick-and-place technology for secondary packaging processes is the ideal solution.
The solution? A single, fully integrated packaging system with coordinated production lines and optimized flow rates. Thanks to a graphics user interface, no programming skills are required. With the help of a recipe manager, the line can be configured for several products and switched between them at the touch of a button. Results: greater flexibility, less idle times, a reduction in workload for employees, and lower costs and complexity in the (re)packaging line.
Challenge 2: Material replenishment on the line
Optimal replenishment on the line is key to improving overall equipment effectiveness (OEE), avoiding waiting times at machines. But that's not all: the manual activities involved in performing these tasks are often not ergonomic and can pose safety problems. Therefore it makes sense to improve line-side replenishment (LSR). Last but not least: automating the supply of consumables minimizes intermediate storage of consumables and waste.
Cobots, perhaps combined with mobile robots, can remedy this situation by assisting with material feeding. The cobot picks up packaging materials from one position and places them directly onto the conveyor belt or into the packaging machine. Consumables no longer need to be unloaded manually.
Challenge 3: Intralogistics and intermediate storage
As a rule, basic processes, such as the production flow in a factory, are already highly automated. Secondary processes, however, such as the supply of consumables or the disposal of waste, are often not yet automated. A manual activity, which hinders efficiency and can lead to errors. Temporary storage or occupied production space involve significant and often hidden costs. Innovative robotic solutions can help here to optimize the throughput and availability of required goods.
The advantages of automated material transport are obvious: automatic replenishment ensures reduced inventories, space optimization, and just-in-time procurement. Added to this is the traceability and control of stock, while the movement of small-batch inventory (WIP) is automated.
Challenge 4: Unpacking and distributing goods
Distribution centers (DC) or repacking sites have to deal with other challenges, including depalletizing and unpacking cartons, transporting goods to be repacked, but also disposing of waste. Fully or semi-automated handling and robotic transport can save a lot of effort here. For example, robots can be used to unload pallets. Incoming goods are inspected. The cartons are then loaded either onto a conveyor belt or onto autonomous mobile robots (AMR), which then transport them further.
At the same time, cobots can open boxes thanks to automated cutting processes. Cartons can be fed in a predetermined size sequence or mixed order. This makes packaging lines more flexible and efficient, while traceability and safety are improved.
Challenge 5: End-of-line palletizing
Palletizing is repetitive and exposes workers to muscle aches and injuries. Workers can make mistakes such as mixing with wrong products or missing boxes inside the pallet.
Innovative EOL palletizing solutions provide support here. Automated palletizing with collaborative robots helps users quickly set up their palletizing specifications. Compared to industrial robots, solutions with cobots require 50 percent less floor space. Operators can safely work side-by-side with the robot, enabling continuous operation.
Modern automation and robotics solutions help make co-packing and packaging operations fit for the factory of the future by enabling a perfect balance between productivity and ease of use. Solutions are available that are scalable both upward and downward to handle swinging demands from supply chain, reduce total cost by reducing topics as floorspace required or intermediate stock.