How cobots could free workers from harmful palletizing
Since the start of the industrial revolution, huge numbers of items have been stacked, loaded, and secured onto pallets with the intention of properly storing or transporting them. Palletizing is a process that increases the amount of merchandise in a cargo while maintaining stability enough to prevent harm. Any company that manufactures items in large quantities for commercial use must have it.
Without efficient palletizing, businesses would find it difficult to get their products into customers' hands. Currently, there are about 2 billion pallets in use, and nearly 500 million are created annually.
These pallets cannot, however, be stacked by themselves.
THE RISKS OF PALETIZING
Palletizing entails numerous risks, as Irving Paz Chagoya, Global Industry Segment Leader for Palletizing and Packaging at Universal Robots, is well aware of: Palletization has historically been a manual process, and in many situations, it still is. According to our estimates, 250,000 people globally are employed in this field. These personnel must repeatedly complete the same demanding operation when manual palletizing. For hours on end, workers bend, lift, and twist, which can harm their muscles and bones over time.
Three primary ergonomics risk factors for hand palletizing are identified by Setia Hermawati, Senior Research Fellow at the University of Nottingham and an expert in ergonomics with a focus on manufacturing:
Workers that perform manual palletizing must manually handle objects and apply forces during tasks including lifting, lowering, pushing, pulling and transporting. It has been demonstrated that the repetitive usage of forces during manual material handling is linked to a buildup of work-related muscle problems, including back discomfort and injuries, as well as neck and upper limb injuries. These illnesses may severely impair a person's capacity to conduct daily tasks and have negative effects on their ability to work. When the things are too heavy, too big, hard to grab, and placed in a way that necessitates torso bending or twisting, the danger of manual handling is increased.
Palletizing and depalletizing involve performing the same actions repeatedly during a work shift. Repetitive tasks lead to excessive strain and fatigue on the cardiovascular system due to the demands on the working muscles, as the muscles may not have enough time to recover.
Workers frequently twist when handling the products and bend forward to access or position items over the lower layers on the pallet during the palletizing and de-palletizing processes. Manual handling that requires torso twisting, as well as forward and sideways bending, places the joints outside of their natural, comfortable positions and very close to the limit of their range of motion, which is directly linked to musculoskeletal ailments. Additionally, manual palletizing personnel spend a lot of time standing in between the conveyor and the pallet. Prolonged standing, or remaining still for an extended period of time, has been linked to a number of potentially harmful health outcomes, including lower back and leg pain, cardiovascular issues, etc.
Irving Paz Chagoya, continues, "Before automating its palletizing, one company we worked with estimated that each worker was lifting 8,000 kg of product over the course of an eight-hour shift, posing a risk to body and posture."
Palletizing can be automated to relieve workers of the associated health concerns, lessen tedium, and enhance general wellbeing. This enables employees to safeguard their health while concentrating on other jobs better suited to their skill set, such аs quality control.
OPPORTUNITY FOR SMALL AND MEDIUM-SIZED ENTERPRISES
Although the repetitive and often hazardous nature of palletising means that it is proving well suited to automation, with the process evolving gradually.
Previously, automated palletising was limited to large enterprises that had both the floor space and the means to install and operate the bulky machinery required to perform the task.
However, this is no longer the case. The increasing use of cartonboard for packaging and storing goods, advances in collaborative robotics (cobots) capable of increasing payloads, and the decreasing cost of automation have opened up the market for collaborative palletizing.
SOLVING THE LABOR CRISIS
A labor issue in many worldwide marketplaces poses a threat to the operations of manufacturing and industrial businesses, which are in desperate need of talent. Small and medium-sized firms have an even greater problem. When it comes to luring and keeping employees of all levels, they typically have less wiggle room than larger rivals.
SOLVING THE MARKET CRISIS
In many global markets, the labour crisis is threatening to undermine the performance of manufacturing and industrial enterprises that need skilled workers. The challenge is compounded for small and medium-sized enterprises. They typically have less room to manoeuvre than their larger competitors when it comes to attracting and retaining workers of all skill levels.
In addition, musculoskeletal disabilities caused by manual tasks associated with production (such as palletizing) often lead to the early exclusion of older workers from this type of work. Therefore, automation will bring with it a number of benefits: increased productivity, reduced costs that manufacturers have to cover to get their goods to market. And labour shortages will only increase. At the same time, automation offers a great solution.
DESTROYING THE MYTHS
However, companies have been slow to automate in spite of these employee challenges. Businesses dread investing in automation because of the perceived cost and because they don't want to be portrayed as eliminating human jobs, which is frequently the result of a lack of information.
This does not have to be the situation. Regarding costs, research has indicated that cobots can produce a return on investment in about a year. In fact, a single robotic arm is capable of working continuously for at least 35,000 hours, or around four years. A robot can easily survive longer if it is cared for, just like any other tool.
As for dispelling the fears of job losses, cobots are designed to work alongside humans, not replace them. With minimal training, existing workforces can design, implement and monitor automated palletizing solutions. This frees them up to take other less risky and monotonous tasks – or take on more complex roles, opening up doors for career progression. As we know from McKinsey, workers with a greater sense of purpose enjoy their work more and are likely to stick around for longer.
THE NEXT FIVE YEARS
Future-proof collaborative palletizing technologies can be used in a variety of sectors, including the food & beverage, electronics, and pharmaceutical industries. Because of this adaptability and developments in cobot technology, it's expected that workplace injuries caused by hand palletization will decrease over time.
Long-term, the evolving workplace will make it simpler for employees to continue working if they choose to, and factory owners should experience increases in both productivity and profits.
In conclusion, palletizing can be a tedious and dangerous operation. a chore that machines are excellent at. Businesses of all sizes would do their human employees a favor if they helped them focus on more interesting and higher-paying tasks instead of palletizing.
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