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How Lean Robotics Solutions Are Transforming Food and Beverage Manufacturing

Nicolas Lauzier
by Nicolas Lauzier. Last updated on May 06, 2024 11:00 AM
Posted on May 06, 2024 11:00 AM. 7 min read time

napco palletizing

In the ever-evolving food and beverage production landscape, manufacturing continues its decades-long struggle with job vacancies, supply chain instability, and changing consumer behaviors. The aftermath of the global pandemic has further exacerbated these challenges, leading to low job retention and fill rates in the manufacturing sector.

A recent statistic from CNBC reveals that more than 50 million people quit their jobs in 2022. The article goes on to highlight that “most people quit to take new jobs, not to leave the workforce altogether (CNBC). The volume of available job opportunities and competitive wages contributed to the trend.  

Here is the manufacturing dilemma: products need to be stacked on pallets, but people do not want to do it. People are moving away from manual, repetitive, and dangerous tasks. The US Chamber of Commerce notes that in the durable goods manufacturing sector, 45% of open positions remain unfilled in the United States alone. Universal Robots estimates that 250,000 people stack pallets worldwide. Assuming that 50% of available jobs are filled, half a million people should manually palletize products. However, manufacturing is working with half the necessary workforce for this task.

With the workforce seeking more rewarding roles, businesses are increasingly adopting automation. In industries like food and beverage manufacturing, automation (especially in tasks like palletizing) is essential. Lean Robotics offers a smart approach, integrating lean manufacturing principles into automated solutions. By leveraging Lean Robotics, businesses can develop automated palletizers that meet present and future needs. This solution tackles job retention challenges in addition to empowering companies to stay in control, prioritize customer requirements, and streamline their expansion.


Maintain Process Control

Operation managers want to overcome the labor shortage challenge and create adaptable processes that allow for flexibility. A Case Study conducted by Robotiq highlights Cascade Coffee, a contract roasting and packaging company that struggled to find operators for manual pallet stacking. They had a turnover rate of over 60%. The constant need for training consumed leadership time and led to machine downtime. Automation, in this case, eliminated these challenges, allowing the company to operate seamlessly without being dependent on human attendance.

A Lean Robotics palletizing systems match the usability of collaborative robot (cobot) software with the hardware configurability of a customized system. The beauty of a Lean Robotics palletizing system lies in its user-friendly design, ensuring that anyone within the manufacturing team can operate it. This type of system eliminates the need for highly-specialized skills or extensive training. This accessibility empowers every team member to quickly familiarize themselves with the system, regardless of their role or prior experience. The integration of hardware and software contributes to its ease of use, allowing the manufacturing team to focus on their core responsibilities without the complexities of operating intricate machinery. For more information about the types of palletizing solutions that are available in the market, download our Buyer’s Guide.

napco palletizing solution

 

Putting Customer Requirements in the Driver’s Seat

An automated palletizing solution should seamlessly adapt to changing demands at the end of the production line. Different solutions are available, from custom engineered robots to in-a-box cobot solutions. The most adaptable options are in the middle of this range, providing a foundation of engineered components optimized for quick implementation. These are Lean Robotics solutions. 

Lean Robotic solutions offer user-friendly configurability. This allows the operator to make adjustments in software settings and hardware themselves. This eliminates extended downtime, complex reprogramming, and the need for costly external expertise. Similarly, Lean Robotic solutions allow the operator to change box size and pallet patterns as needed. 

Lean Robotics solutions provide intuitive software and modular hardware, enabling the team to implement reconfigurations autonomously. The adaptability of these solutions is apparent in their ability to accommodate diverse case sizes, weights, and pallet heights. 

However, Lean Robotics is more than mere dimensions and measurements. Lean Robotics has the adaptability to adjust to various situations, such as changes in the physical environment, the addition of pallet interlayer sheets, the need to accommodate multiple conveyors, and more. This adaptability empowers factories to respond promptly to evolving market demands, allowing for real-time adjustments without the drawbacks of extended downtime, intricate reprogramming, or the necessity for expensive external expertise.

Robotiq palletizing solution

 

Streamlining Expansion

Effective scaling, whether in response to sudden spikes in demand or organic growth, is crucial to any investment. This is the benefit of a Lean Robotics developed solution: the modular design and comprehensive range of solutions simplify the process when duplicating or adding new units. Lean Robotic solutions speak the same language, so users only need to learn the software once. Subsequent expansions and additional units leverage this same software, making growing a lot easier.

A Lean Robotics Palletizer is built and operates on lean manufacturing principles. Contrary to the other methods for which the supplier or technology dictates the layout or material flow, this approach supports the factory floor's continuous improvement efforts. These palletizing solutions are built on collaborative robots. They leverage their built-in functions, intrinsic simplicity, and the possibility to integrate them seamlessly into existing layouts, keeping the operators in mind.

Contrary to other types of solutions that sacrifice performance, this solution category offers reliability, and interoperability for quick deployment, advanced control software, flexible tooling, and a user-friendly setup interface.

To read more about other solution types, download our Buyer’s Guide.

Lean Robotics Palletizers:

  • Optimizes the material flow of the cell
  • Enables updates and improvements 
  • Allows for the addition of new products over time.

It uses modularization of standard elements (like end-of-arm tooling, stands, slip sheet rack, etc.) to allow for efficient deployment, while keeping enough flexibility to deal with the inevitable particularities of the factory and product.


The integration of hardware and software components not only streamlines operations but also contributes to the financial viability of the automation initiative. An automated palletizer yields a typical payback period of one year, making the investment in automation economically viable. Case Studies of companies benefiting from the Robotiq Palletizing Solution can be found on the Robotiq Website.

Napco palletizing solution Robotiq

 

Conclusion

The manufacturing sector is constantly changing, particularly in food and beverage production. The aftermath of the global pandemic has exacerbated challenges associated with finding manual workers. The reluctance of the workforce to engage in manual, repetitive tasks has led to a significant labor shortage. This is especially acute in palletizing tasks, where some businesses experience a turnover rate upwards of 60%. Food and beverage manufacturing is turning to automated palletizing solutions because constant turnover is not sustainable.

Automation in the food industry not only addresses the challenges of job retention but also empowers companies to stay in control, prioritize customer requirements, and streamline expansion. By adopting Lean Robotics solutions, businesses can use anyone within the manufacturing team to operate the palletizer. They become flexible enough to respond to customer changes and can expand as their business grows.

Make a move

Don’t know where to start? We created a comprehensive Buyer’s Guide to help you get started. We draw upon our years of experience to create a step-by-step process and the tools you need.

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Ready to start? Talk with one of our palletizing experts.

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Nicolas Lauzier
Written by Nicolas Lauzier
Senior Product Manager R&D
Connect with the writer:
http://www.robotiq.com

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