Andrew Donald Design Engineering (ADDE) has developed the first end-of-line automated palletising system for Australian standard pallets, incorporateing a Universal Robots UR10 collaborative robot to create a collaborative and flexible palletiser.

With most packing operations still finishing with an operator loading a carton onto a pallet manually, ADDE saw an industry need to find a solution that could automate one of the most physically demanding – and liable to cause back injuries – tasks on the production line. ADDE’s response was to create the Zero Footprint Palletiser (ZFP), which takes no more space than a pallet on the floor and an operator, and allows manufacturers to generate greater efficiency and safety across operations, while also enabling employees to work closely in collaboration with the palletiser.

To create the ZFP, ADDE started with a UR10 robot, which can work without safety caging or barriers (subject to a risk assessment), and then added the hardware and software needed to achieve an affordable, minimal footprint and easy-to-deploy solution that can reach an Australian standard pallet.

“The intuitive nature of the UR10 provided a great starting point for us to build a flexible, easily programmable solution that takes up minimal factory floor space,” said Barry Hendy, Managing Director at ADDE. “The ZFP enables workers to continue to perform production line tasks in collaboration with the robot, while relieving factory staff from the risks of the repetitive task of stacking pallets.”

Manually handled palletising can lead to a number of occupational health and safety (OH&S) issues for both manufacturers and their employees. In fact, body stressing, manual handling and musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) are the most common cause for workers compensation claims in Australia. Many claims are due to muscular stress created by common packing tasks such as lifting, carrying or putting down crates/boxes.

However, beyond the health issues related to manual handling, there are also a number of financial costs involved. In fact, according to a 2016 research report from the Institute of Safety, Compensation and Recovery, MSDs accounted for 59.5% of the $61.8bn that work-related injuries cost the Australian economy in 2012-2013.

Commenting on the introduction of the ZFP, Shermine Gotfredsen, General Manager, Universal Robots, Southeast Asia & Oceania, Universal Robots said: “With the ZFP, the OH&S issues associated with manual handling can be avoided as workers can be freed up to work on less laborious tasks. However the collaborative nature of Universal Robots’ UR10 robotic arm also means that staff are enabled to work in conjunction with robots along the production line, unlike with traditional industrial machines where safety barriers often prevent employees from working close to machinery.”

Case study: Baxter Laboratories

The first customer to take advantage of ADDE’s innovative ZFP solution is Baxter Laboratories. Baxter Laboratories is a Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA)-licensed manufacturer based in Boronia, Victoria.

ADDE created a collaborative case packing and palletising system for Baxter Laboratories, which uses a UR5 robotic arm to assist packing 12 Aerogard insect repellent spray bottles into a semi-automatic carton assembler. An ADDE’s ZFP, which integrates a UR10 robotic arm, then packs the boxes onto a pallet, ready to be distributed.

The ZFP can place up to six cases per minute onto a pallet and carry boxes weighing up to 8kg. No safety guarding is required to use the system, though this should be subject to a risk assessment first. The ZFP can also be configured for single pallets for a minimum footprint or in a double pallet configuration for automatic pallet changing.

According to Ian Tilley, Operations Manager at Baxter Laboratories, the company employed three staff members working along the production line prior to implementing ADDE’s solutions. Two workers were responsible for packing the manufacturer’s Aerogard insect repellent sprays, while a third person placed the boxes onto a pallet by hand.

“The whole process has become safer and more efficient,” said Tilley. “We now have one employee who erects the box, waits for it to be filled by the UR5, then pushes the box to the tape sealer before it is then passed along to the ZFP, which picks up the finished box and places it onto a pallet for distribution. The other employees formerly performing the palletising and packing have been redirected to safer, more value adding tasks that are less monotonous.

“One of our most monotonous and difficult jobs is actually stacking pallets so we looked at the market and couldn’t find anything in the traditional space without big robots and big cages – we needed something safe and space-efficient. Having the minimal factory floor footprint that we required, we selected and thoroughly risk-assessed the ZFP before deciding it could be safely operated without guarding.”

Baxter Laboratories has plans to implement four more ADDE-designed palletisers, which are already on order and soon to be installed.