In the world of manufacturing and logistics, operators are learning to cope with heavy demands to remain competitive. If a piece of equipment or process­­ can help them to step up their operations, they must be willing to at least look into the benefits it can offer them in the quest to get their product out to consumers as quickly as possible without sacrificing safety or quality.

One approach you might have heard of used in these industries is end-of-line automation, which is what we’re going to discuss below. We’ll look at what end-of-line automation is, what it consists of, when to use it and how it can benefit operators. We start, of course, with the fundamental question:

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what is end-of-line automation?

End-of-line automation describes a type of technology that operates at the end of a production line to ensure the product is packed and prepared for delivery to wholesalers, retailers and market outlets. You may sometimes see the term ‘secondary packaging’ used, which means the original product may be packed in a box, crate or tray.

Often, end-of-the-line automation consists of case packer and palletiser systems. Depending on the customer’s needs, it’s possible to upgrade systems with crate stackers and de-stackers, crate erectors and bale arm folders. As part of the packing and preparation of products for delivery, it’s possible to automate the processes below:

Scanning the package

When implementing end-of-line automation, it’s essential to check packages for foreign materials such as glass, metal, bone or any other forms of contamination. You can do this manually, of course, but operators have been quick to employ X-ray equipment that identifies abnormalities and sends the contaminated items to the discard bins automatically. The production line can continue, safeguarded against product recalls, one of a food manufacturer’s worst nightmares, at the same time.

In this part of the process, a trend has emerged of combining functions such as X-rays, checking to weigh and labelling all in one machine. Compared to several machines, this leaves a smaller footprint and is useful in workplaces in which space is at a premium. Combining functions reduces risk and can improve brand security. These machines may feature comprehensive databases through which the manufacturers enter programs into the production line, such as date coders, and provide a fail-safe system.

Weighing packages

For security, compliance and general business efficiency, the operator must check the weight of packages. Checking product weights accurately can mean the difference between profit and loss. Automated systems have made this process much more accessible. If you carry meat products of different sizes and weights over a single-weigh conveyor, modular grading systems can confirm the correct weight. Again, here there is a trend to integrate processes, and you may find the manufacturer has combined the process with a depositing system. One example of this would be bacon applications in which the manufacturer has automated the salting and the curing of the bacon.

Labelling packages

Labelling examination and pack verification must be accurate. This is critical, and it’s now possible to get high-speed vision inspection devices that assess packages with pinpoint precision.

These methods ensure the proper upper labels and bottom ones have been placed on the package. They check each character of the date code is valid and is possible to read easily. They’ll also double-check the positioning of labels, the expiry dates and batch numbers.

Case packing and palletising

In most situations, once the product has been examined, it must then be collated and packed into cases. Using fully or semi-automated robotic packaging systems, it’s possible to pile, sort, load, elevate and seal products. Flexibility in this operation is indispensable because of the wide range of packs and cases employed.

As well as loading individual packs automatically, some systems can handle a mixed variety of packs, either stood up or laid down in orientation. When selecting a machine, consider the speed and ease with which you can change different packs and formats. Minimising downtime is important to ensure that end-of-line processes don’t transform into a bottleneck.

Advanced robotic palletising systems can palletise several production lines at the same time, even in the same production space. This can boost outputs and cut costs massively. Boxes, trays, bags, bottles or kegs can all be placed on a pallet.

end-of-line automation efficiency

Trends in the packaging industry include a demand for sustainable packaging, lines running higher numbers of SKUs, greater supply chain visibility, navigation of labour shortages, and supply chain shortages. When investing in end-of-line equipment, operators should consider these trends, and also whether the features of the equipment they’re considering will meet these trends and the next generation of packaging trends.

Quick changeovers

Changeovers must be quick and easy to accommodate various packaging formats such as the wrapping material and the handling needs. These swift changeovers are necessary to maintain a high packaging line throughput.

Adaptability

How adaptable is the equipment? Manufacturers are running higher numbers of SKUs on their end-of-line equipment, so machines must be able to handle products and packaging of different sizes, weights, materials, strength tolerances and more. The wide number of variable factors in products means machines must be versatile enough to cope with different products but maintain the same level of production and do so without compromising the integrity of the product.

Modularity and mobility

End-of-line equipment should be sufficiently modular and mobile to integrate into existing lines without any hitches. They should be able to accommodate any space constraints and be compatible with production schedules.

Intuitive interfaces

Is the interface intuitive? Labour shortages are creating problems for many companies in the packaging industry. Ideally, as a manufacturer, you should look for machinery that, because of the intuitive interface, employees can operate without having extensive knowledge of the equipment. When skilled or unskilled labour can easily adjust machines, you can run operations at a high level and maintain them.

Digital Intelligence

If you enable digital monitoring software on your end-of-line equipment, you can identify any efficiencies or inefficiencies of the equipment. Then you can adjust the equipment according to your needs. Preventive monitoring can help you to coordinate down the production line, decrease downtime and minimise unexpected maintenance costs.

Integration and connectivity

Several production lines are fed to the end of the line, so packaging machines must be able to perform at the optimum speeds; however, this is especially essential for end-of-the-line machines, which are dealing with all the different product sizes. When you have high output goals, the line must run at maximum speed. Integration must be ultra-smooth so the line performs to the best of its capabilities. End-of-line machines feature built-in machine sensors that can integrate into an enterprise resource planning (ERP) system and collect further data.

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end-of-line automation: packing

Sensor technology and advances in data analytics are enabling more integration of robotics and extension of it into manufacturing. Robots are becoming more and more intelligent and versatile. Robotic case packers can perform more delicate tasks such as placing a variety of packs of crisps or sweets into cartons or retail-ready packaging, a task the sensors have made possible.

Case packing is one of the main uses of an automated technology. When packaging with corrugated paperboard, there are several main technologies you could use. Below we discuss them in more detail:

Semi-automatic automation

If the line speed is less than 10 a minute, it’s much harder to justify high-level full automation. In this case, manual automation could be more appropriate; by applying semi-automatic case forming technology, however, you could cut your labour and improve the ergonomics in your workplace.

Top load case packing

When the line speed is operating at up to 30 cases per minute, top load case packing offers better versatility for packaging products, rigid or flexible, into regular slotted containers (RSCs), display trays or die-cut one-piece wraparound formats. Most top load solutions run with intermittent motion.

Although modular with separate cells for case/tray elevation, production collation, loading and case sealing, the high costs of properties for production have led to the use of single cell solutions. In these solutions, a single machine frame will take care of several of these functions. This takes place in much less space than with modular systems.

Production collation and loading are the most customised areas when it comes to automation. Multi-axis gantry or robotic loading tends to be the technology of choice for loading most products.

Side load case packing

Side loading case packing solutions operate at high speeds and can pack up to 70 cases per minute in continuous motion. A lot of these applications employ the one-piece, die-cut wraparound case style with hot glue sealing. The higher the speed, the more complex the handling requirements become to prepare the product for loading.

The majority of customised engineering focuses on infeed and conditioning. In some areas of the side load market, mechanical line shaft and cam designs are still popular, but more and more operators are converting their designs to electric motion control. The days when the most precise and repeatable approach to motion control, servo technology, was only available at a premium are long gone. Today, this technology is cost-effective as well as the best solution.

Drop packing

Today, drop packing is somewhat old hat; for decades, however, it was the preferred technology when it came to packing rigid plastic, glass or composite containers into RSCs or trays.

Although some manufacturers are still using drop packing technology for drinks, a more controlled approach to product loading has overtaken the use of gravity. Traditionally, drop packers are large and mechanically driven, and they call for a lot more maintenance than more modern alternatives.

That being said, and also traditionally, they’ve offered manufacturers the benefit of being less expensive than comparable, modern, top load solutions.

Bottom load case packing

This type of packing is popular in the dairy and publishing industries. It requires the preparation and collation of the whole caseload in advance while the case is registered and staged above the product. Often, this type of packing is limited to just 15 cases per minute. A lot of the traditional applications for this method have been converted to more modern ones.

Robotic case packing is a step towards sustainability. Their higher precision facilitates uniform handling of less durable packaging materials and not breaking them. This saves time and money.

Collaborative robots (cobots) are straightforward to train and used to carry out tedious, dirty or risky tasks, making them a game changer for many manufacturers and organisations even though the robots have still to make a significant impact on the case packaging. In an industry in which labour shortages have become a real problem for small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) and production demands are rising, combining robotics with manual operations is helping businesses achieve more with less and reducing idling time.

These robots also cut the cost of a workstation at which unique packaging is necessary. While workers can take care of more varied or more complex tasks, robots can deal with the more repetitive or boring ones.

end-of-line automation: palletising

Robots raise and stack cases, or stack goods onto a pallet in preparation for transport. The main types of palletising robots are:

  • Cartesian: These robots possess joints across three axes to conduct linear motions (forwards, backwards, up, down and side to side). The prismatic nature of the joints makes movement linear.
  • SCARA (Selective Compliance Robot Assembly Arm): These robots are a little bit like Cartesian robots because they move in three axes; however, they also rotate. They’re faster than Cartesian robots and more versatile, but they’re less precise.
  • Articulated arm robotic palletisers: The robotic arm moves like a human arm. In a standard articulated arm, there are six axes, and each joint serves as an axis. The greater the robot’s range of movement, the more joints it has. The articulated arm is a common device for end-of-line palletising because of its versatility and reprogrammable design.

The main advantage of using robotic end-of-line palletising is the accuracy with which you can mount the goods onto the stack. This creates a tight-fitting stack that experiences minimal movement during shipping.

The more precise positioning makes for a more secure pallet load and also reduces the number of bags, packages, stacks and more that experience damage. Material losses during inventory storage, on the shipping docks and during transit are fewer. As a result, you can get more merchandise on its way to retailers or consumers.

Other benefits of using robots to palletise goods include boosting productivity without needing to hire more people, spending money on training or taking on more labour liability. The robot will deliver well-stacked pallets quickly and free up employees for other tasks.

which industries use end-of-line automation?

One of the main industries to use end-of-line automation is the fast-moving consumer goods industry (FMCG). This can mean packaged food and drinks, toiletries, cosmetics and other goods that retailers can sell quickly at a low cost. Food and drinks manufacturers have it especially hard because of their production expenses and because of the expenses necessary to comply with food safety regulations. This is persuading them to turn more and more to automation as a solution.

Robots handle everything on the line: nuts, loaves of bread, soups, beef, pork, cheeses and more. These robots have to be able to operate in hygienic environments and undergo regular washdowns and sanitisation procedures. The challenge they face is to pick and pack at high speeds, moving individual items from one conveyor belt to another and organising them for a correct insertion into the outer packaging.

The robots in the industry deal with items that pop up in random orientations, which calls for a vision system that can survey the conveyor and locate the items correctly. These vision systems depend upon strategically placed cameras to supply a constant data feed the automation software decodes and implements to command robot action.

At the end of the line, robot effectors (the tools at the end of the robot arm in place of the hand) must adapt to the challenges that glass, paper and other packaging materials present. Bags, for instance, move around easily, which makes them difficult to handle at the pack-and-palletise stage, whereas boxes are easy for the robot to grasp. Well-implemented automation boosts productivity over the more labour-intensive operations called for by human workers.

In a production facility or distribution warehouse, palletising poses additional challenges. A lot of items require stretch wrap, but even though the flimsy wrap makes them difficult to pick up, the robots manage it by using vacuum attachments. Rice, grain and other heavy bagged items need a gripper that grabs the outside of the bag using tines (forks) and holds the top of the bag in place with a cylinder to stack the bag on top of the pallet. Automation programs stabilise palletised bags by programming the robots to build a pyramid of packages, spread out on the lower layers and then placed closer together nearer the top of the stack.

Then at the other end of the spectrum, there are materials such as cans or jars. These need error handling to prevent malfunctions if a product tips over or jams.

In breweries, stacking applications play a major role. Heavy crates are unsafe for humans to load but are ideal for robots that have a vacuum gripper. Palletising robots reward breweries with the power, strength, speed and vision to reduce their cycle times.

Another industry that has long made good use of automation in the production line has been the automotive industry. In the 1980s, the industry embraced it heavily. Since that time, businesses have used robots in the packaging and palletisation of a range of products, including the following:

  • electrical items;
  • hardware;
  • household products;
  • industrial goods;
  • paper products;
  • pet care products;
  • pharmaceuticals;
  • and tech products.

when to consider end-of-line automation

Manufacturers are constantly searching for new ways to make their end-of-line production more productive, which is where automation comes into the picture. If you want to make this process easier, end-of-line automation is for you.

There are several circumstances in which you might wish to consider end-of-line automation:

  • the need to comply with strict health and safety requirements;
  • an increase in labour costs;
  • a shortage of labour;
  • compliance with laws on legal numbers of working hours;
  • a need for greater line efficiency;
  • the need for a faster production line speed.

Any company that manufactures a product, especially several products or products placed on shipping pallets, should consider end-of-line automation. The use of robots offers you the flexibility to produce multiple production lines at the same time, cut costs, and increase safety and output. You can do all of this while using less space in your manufacturing facility.

Robots can also support you with operational challenges. One of these, for instance, could be if you’re dealing with frequent changes to your products, driven by the market. If you’ve not got time to step up for changeovers, you’ll be thankful you invested in some robots.

eleven good reasons to choose the end-of-line automation

End-of-line automation is a marvellous thing when applied correctly. Why should you incorporate it into your manufacturing processes? Here are eleven good reasons:

1. Meeting the rising demand for food

Levels of internet usage and online shopping are high. The world has become a global marketplace, and there’s demand for products all over the world. The need doesn’t just extend to commodities, but also luxury products.

As the global population looks set to increase, the demand for food will also increase. To meet this demand, the production of food must be efficient. End-of-line automation is essential to meet all the standard requirements and deliver products efficiently. This can prevent a world shortage of food and other commodities.

2. Solving the labour shortage

As workers reach retirement age, businesses require an inflow of new employees. The problem is, that heavy work isn’t in demand; however, end-of-line automation can solve it, streamlining labour and allowing employees to specialise in other areas. Businesses can assign their employees to work on more focused, more productive duties.

For instance, workers may be hardworking at the end of the line packing manually, but they could be doing something much more beneficial for the business. End-of-line automation is a chance for you to make better use of your human resources and save money, whereas hand packing could damage your chances of competing with other manufacturers and increasing your profit margin. Using case packing machinery or palletising systems will enable you to put your human resources to further good use.

3. Better food safety

Society and consumers are becoming more and more critical. Ideally, food should be as fresh as possible, traceable and, naturally, completely safe. The integration of robots that end-of-line automation entails can improve food safety. There is less interference from humans in the production process, which reduces the potential for errors.

4. Quicker production time

Implementing the right solution can generate a significant increase in production speed and efficiency. Automated machines can pack goods and products more safely, accurately and quickly than a human being, for instance. In the case of automatic case packing, you can combine several packing operations into a single phrase. This frees up not just one employee, but several.

Ultimately, end-of-line automation speeds up processes and allows businesses to transfer their employees to tasks that require human interaction or that benefit from it.

5. More comfortable ergonomics

In manufacturing and packing, where employees perform repetitive activities over long shifts, it’s common for employees to have work-related musculoskeletal disorders. Repetitive processes gain from consistency and uniformity, and this makes automatic case packing systems a good fit. In stages of the process that involve repetitive actions, it makes sense to replace humans with machines to lower the risk of harm and, at the same time, increase productivity.

6. Greater safety

Robots can ensure more adherence to occupational safety standards. Thanks to industrial robots, there’s less need for workers to lift and stack heavy packages. This reduces the number of work injuries and ergonomic issues.

7 . Focus on customers

Since you’re focusing on the customer and their requirements, you’re going to be working with an increasing variety of packaging. These days, there’s a specific product type for almost every customer. End-of-line automation affords you a dynamic production process. You can respond to smaller batches and many variations with fast changes, and do so efficiently.

8. More space

Incorporating automated workstations into your premises, whether a warehouse or manufacturing premises, will give you more freedom to design than when you rely on human workers to do jobs. Workers and tools take up a lot of room in warehouses and production plants. Removing them from the equation and replacing them with automated equipment will create space for you to design your business premises in line with your needs.

9. Eliminates demoralising jobs

The use of automated machines will improve how you as a company approach employment. Often, the jobs that machines replace don’t inspire self-confidence or pride in the workers. It’s likely these jobs involve moving items from one place to another or taping packages repeatedly. Getting rid of them will improve your end-of-line packaging and workforce.

10. Less maintenance

End-of-line robots for packaging and palletising generally require less maintenance. You’ll need to grease them roughly every three months to six years and change the battery annually. This varies between brands, of course, and can be a warranty item. The number of components on robots is significantly less, on average, though.

11. Quicker changeover

Robots, with automatic tool changers, can minimise product changeover or eliminate it. This is the process in which the operator changes the configuration of the equipment settings from one product to another.

end-of-line automation with Joloda Hydraroll's automated loading systems

We can support your end-of-line automation with our solutions, which help you automate the transfer of pallets and other cargo from your facility to your business or logistics operator’s trailer for delivery to customers, retailers or other agents. Using Automated Loading Systems, you can speed up the loading and unloading of trailers, and do so safely and without damaging your cargo. All it takes is the push of a button to get things moving in or out of the trailer.

Moving Floor6 (1) Moving Floor6 (1)

Moving floor conveyor system

This flexible, heavy-duty conveyor belt system makes it possible to load and unload palletised goods and non-palletised ones such as whisky barrels and tyres effortlessly into your trailer and out of it. In mere minutes, you can complete the task. To transfer your goods onto the conveyor belt, you can connect this system to a production line conveyor, or use an autonomous guided vehicle (AGV) or forklift truck.

The complete end-of-line automation of the system means workers don’t have to load or unload the trailer. The automation also lowers the costs connected to the loading and unloading, such as the employees, the trailers and the forklift trucks.

Slipchain WHO (2) Slipchain WHO (2)

Slipchain

The slipchain is another heavy-duty solution and will enable you to load or unload as many as 26 pallets in just a few minutes, whereas conventional systems would take around half an hour to handle this volume. Just like the moving conveyor floor, the system, which combines a rise-and-fall pneumatic chain with a rollertrack, is extremely safe when performing high-volume loading or unloading, and it also reduces the operational costs of these operations. Rather than force a forklift to enter the trailer with the goods, you can connect the slipchain to a production line conveyor, or load them onto it with an AGV or forklift truck.

It's a versatile system and is easy to integrate into trailers or manufacturing facilities. Thanks to its modular design, you’ll only have to make minimal changes to them to achieve this.

Trailerskate Trailerskate

Trailerskate

The trailerskate works wonders for businesses in the fast-moving consumer goods (FMGC) and packaging industries and helps them to boost speed and output and to operate more safely.  It’s a simple system that comprises four tracks on the floor. A Riserplate system creates the lift and long skates perform all the loading and unloading.

As is the case with the other systems, you can load and unload trailers in minutes, and do so extremely safely, even in cases of high-volume loading and unloading. The system, like the other systems, will also reduce the operating costs relating to the loading, as forklift trucks and employees aren’t necessary to perform the loading.

End-of-line automation has significant benefits for businesses, helping them to prepare their goods for transportation to consumers or retailers much more quickly. If you’d like to find out more about our automated loading and unloading solutions, get in touch with our team. We’ll be happy to advise you on the right system for your business.

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