As consumers demand faster shipping and packaging processes become more complex, automation allows for higher-volume and flexible packaging lines. Automation across production and packaging lines can reduce labor costs, cut waste, increase productivity, and improve safety. What was once only possible through careful manual labor can now be done faster and more delicately with robotics and vision across nearly every product packaging stage, including final visual inspection, primary unit packaging, secondary packaging, tertiary packaging, and palletizing.
Sanitation is critical in the food and beverage industry. Packaging raw, cooked, or frozen foods or beverages at high volumes increases the risk of contamination; and traceability is essential. Automating food handling, primary packaging, bottling, and tray loading can save time and improve food safety. And vision-guided robotics can improve lot tracing and tracking.
As e-commerce continues to flourish, increasing demand for different pack counts of consumer packaged goods (CPG), seasonal peaks and valleys, and elaborate packaging present new challenges. Companies should incorporate a holistic automaton strategy before implementing any investment. While automation can solve the speed and efficiency challenges of relying on manual labor, companies should have clear goals including flexibility requirements, and facility floor space requirements before deciding which parts or which lines to automate.
Once you decide what you want to automate, know there is a learning curve. Robotic packaging lines can be flexible, but planners and controllers must be ready to reprogram the lines. Companies need to train workers to fill more complex and oversight roles. It is best to have an experienced automation integrator work with you as you develop your automation strategy and include the appropriate ease of use for your workforce.
Automating product handling can improve efficiency and reduce labor costs. With advances in vision-guided robotics, packing lines swiftly and deftly pick up products and place them in different orientations, at a packing station, in a bin, or on a pallet. Planners can program the robots to adjust to many sizes or shapes.
Secondary packaging is another opportunity for automation because packing products for transit manually requires more space and care to reduce product damage. Secondary packaging presents the brand to retailers or end consumers, making appearance and quality crucial. This process can be configured and customized for the best results.
Automating packaging of bulk cases for domestic or international travel means companies can package and ship large volumes faster. Pallets and totes can be large and heavy, so keeping employees safely away from this area is a significant benefit. Automated palletizing machines or robotic palletizing systems can be more reliable and flexible than manual methods because you can easily reprogram them to product changeovers.