Makers of goods are constantly looking to achieve greater efficiency along all points of their production, thereby increasing throughput and more efficient manufacturing. Automation can enhance productivity at any point during assembly, though end-of-line packaging too often gets overlooked. This is frequently due to a feeling that once a good has been fabricated, it’s no longer the producer’s responsibility.
This dearth of understanding that too many manufacturers still have can be a boon for forward-thinking industrialists. Wherever they’re made, goods are traded on a globally-connected online marketplace, where customers often expect products to arrive quickly, which inevitably requires automation. Engineering end-of-line packaging to meet customers’ expectations of next-day or even same-day shipping requires a customized automation strategy.
What is End-Of-Line Packaging Automation?
Depending on the industry, end-of-line packaging can include labeling, packing, palletizing, loading and unloading products. All of these processes can be made more efficient with automation. Engineering solutions for end-of-line packaging with automated assembly lines allows manufacturers to ensure their products reach customers – whether retailers, wholesalers or consumers – quickly, undamaged and without contaminants. Using custom automation for end-of-line packaging like palletizing, labeling and sealing boxes provides businesses a way to most efficiently get their products to the people who need them.
What Tasks In Packaging Can Be Automated?
When looking at any type of manufacturing, automation improves productivity. By automating packaging tasks, businesses can save on labor expenses while improving quality assurance, throughput and other areas of production.
Manufacturers can implement custom automation that enables them to:
- Inspect goods for contaminants through machine vision technology that utilizes x-rays within the last stages of production, while also identifying irregular goods not fit for market and automatically discarding them.
- Pack cases and palletize goods so that they can be easily sealed, lifted, placed, sorted and loaded through the use of robots or other automated packaging systems.
- Place labels automatically on products to ensure they look attractive and contain the information that distributors and end-users require, such as batch numbers, expiry dates or when a product was packed.
- Weigh packages while being conveyed, such as with single weigh conveyors, to allow shippers to more precisely determine shipping costs, ensure compliance of goods being shipped and make certain products shipped out are complete.
When it comes to packaging automation, engineering innovative solutions is only limited by a producer’s imagination.
Benefits of End-Of-Line Packaging Automation
Bringing greater accuracy and fewer errors to the packaging process brings enormous benefits when it comes to goods manufacturing. Automation can especially drive efficiency through these final stages of production, which in the end will create loyal customers who will keep returning for more.
End-of-line automation in packaging offers the following benefits.
Helps Producers Meet Demand
The Internet has made nearly every product available anywhere on Earth, regardless of where it’s made. From bulk commodities to specialized luxury items, ecommerce has allowed businesses to sell their products anywhere there’s an Internet connection. Once it’s available online, products can be made instantly available to billions of people.
Yet though the marketplace has expanded, online competition has as well. The speed and efficiency with which a product is delivered has become almost as important as the quality of the product itself. Automation in manufacturing, particularly in end-of-line packaging, allows businesses to serve their customers more effectively by getting the goods they need and want to them more quickly.
Utilizes Labor More Effectively
Not so long ago, workers hand-packed products, putting them into boxes and cases manually. Yet now manufacturers have quite a bit of choice when it comes to end-of-line manufacturing automation. Engineering of automated packaging machinery has increased rapidly over the past decades, and a knowledgeable custom automation consultant for factories can provide valuable advice on where to begin automating.
Labor-saving machinery used for end-of-line packaging includes automated:
- Case erectors to pre-tape bottom of boxes and to prepare them for filling with product.
- Case packaging machinery to put products into boxes.
- Palletizing systems to stack cases that are prepared for shipment.
- Stretch wrappers to eliminate the need for hand-wrapping pallets.
It doesn’t take much when looking where manufacturing automation would be most effective to see where quick returns on investment (ROI) can come. Factories can warrant stretch wrappers with just 10-15 daily loads, while an automated case erector can achieve ROI in under 11 months. With automation for mundane or dangerous tasks, workers’ time can be utilized for more valuable activities while making the workplace safer for them.
Improves Production Efficiency
Efficiency is key in any type of manufacturing. Automation drives efficiency, offering a quicker and more accurate means to accomplish certain necessary tasks. For example, automatic packing of cases allows several packing operations to be conducted in a single phase.
Lack of automation in factories often results in inefficiency as well. A common occurrence in factories involves forklift operators waiting for a pallet to be wrapped so that it can be loaded. Dual turntables ensure that while one load is being wrapped, another is ready for moving.
Forklift operators also sometimes find themselves double-handling loads when moving them for weighing, a problem that can be solved with automation. Engineering a scale into a stretch wrapper solves this problem and makes end-of-line packaging more efficient.
Custom automation can help resolve bottlenecks in the pack out stations, around the taper or at other work stations. Taking a close look at where inefficiencies occur can show where automation is needed to improve production efficiency.
Improves Ergonomics & Makes Production Lines Safer
Worker safety is one of the key reasons why factories should employ automation. Engineering automated systems that can do repetitive activities or work for long periods without stopping keeps human workers from having to strain themselves and risk possible injury. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2018 of the over 900 thousand workplace injuries, about 30 percent were musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs), or ergonomic injuries.
The following work-related MSDs are common among factory or warehouse settings:
- Back injuries from wrapping pallets manufally
- Carpal tunnel syndrome from repetitive movements
- Hernias from lifting heavy loads
- Herniated disc from heavy lifting
- Meniscus tears from forceful twisting of the knee
- Pinched nerves from repetitive tasks
- Raynaud’s syndrome due to work in cold temperatures or stress
- Tarsal tunnel syndrome from sprained ankles
Custom automation also helps eliminate workers compensation claims. Many of these injuries result from overexertion, awkward positions resulting from lifting and even injuries due to lack of safety features on older equipment. These injuries can largely be prevented by utilizing automated packaging machines.