How Automated Pallet Stackers Provide Safety & Efficiency

Blog Material Handling Packaging Automation Palletizing

Pallets are essential to many industries, including retailers, manufacturing, etc., and have to be in prime shape to prevent structural collapse. Goods are stacked on pallets, transported from one facility to the next, or used to store materials off the floor. Estimates are that over 1.8 billion pallets are used each day in the U.S.

Worldwide, the pallet industry tops $86.2 billion, and it keeps growing. Increased lumber prices led to a shortage of pallets during the pandemic, so it’s important to take care of the pallets your company uses every day. Improper stacking techniques increase the risk of a collapsed stack of pallets, which can damage them beyond use. That’s one good reason to look at upgrading your plant with an automated pallet stacker.

Heighten Safety and Efficiency Within Your Plant

An automated pallet stacker is an important upgrade to your plant if you’re looking to heighten safety and increase productivity. Think about how many plants handle empty pallets. A certified forklift driver lifts the pallet and brings it to a storage area where it’s stacked on top of the others. Sound familiar? It’s a dangerous workplace practice if not done with care.

Pallets have to be stacked so that the piles are perfectly square. Ideally, you shouldn’t have stacks that tower to the ceiling, but that takes up a lot of floor space. Most companies push their stacked pallets to impressive heights and use a forklift to reach the top of the stack. 

Even if your workers take time stacking the pallets perfectly to prevent balance issues, what happens when one is needed? Taking the top pallet off a tall pile can be just as risky. One small bump could send them all toppling like dominos. Anyone in that path can be severely injured.

Your forklift driver could accidentally bump a rack while turning a corner or backing up. This is especially common if a driver is relatively new to the job. Once there’s an injury, there’s certain to be an OSHA investigation to make sure your plant is following safety requirements. Plus, that injury can have an employee out for weeks or months, leaving you short-staffed.

The other thing to consider is that getting a perfectly balanced stack of pallets may take hours. It’s not efficient to have a worker focused on stacking pallets for the entire shift. You could be using that worker’s skill elsewhere. Automated stackers fill in and make sure your workers are where you need them.

That’s empty pallets. When they’re full and need to be readied for transportation, it’s equally important that the materials on them are stacked correctly before they’re covered and readied to be loaded into trucks. It’s time to consider the reasons your plant needs to upgrade to automated pallet stackers. When it comes to safety and productivity, they’re a must.

How Do They Work?

To understand how an automated pallet stacker works, you have to realize there are different types of technology available today. Most automated pallet stackers start with a conveyor system. Empty pallets go onto the conveyor to the awaiting pallet stacker. The arms come out, pull the pallet into the holding area and raise it up to be flush with the pallet above it. Another pallet comes down the conveyor and the process repeats itself until that holder is full.

Over the years, automation has led to many new developments and improvements. You’ve probably had experience with robotic vacuum systems helping homeowners keep their floors clean. It may map the area or you may have to help it, but once the mapping navigation is set up, the vacuum runs without much interaction from you.

There are also robotic pallet stackers that use mapping navigation and AI to pick up pallets in one area, stack them on the robotic forklift’s arms, and transfer them to another area. It’s all handled with precision to ensure perfect stacks. Robotic pallet jacks can run all day and night without stopping, which is ideal in a plant that operates 24/7.

The same automation can be used to pull a pallet down and put it through palletizing equipment to stack boxes and other materials onto the pallet. From there, it’s readied for loading docks and shipping.

The Many Benefits of Automated Pallet Stackers

Imagine this scenario where your forklift drivers take lunch breaks and equipment is parked for that duration. Workers have to slow production to prevent bottlenecks. With automated pallet stackers, nothing has to slow. Workers get the breaks they need, and production continues as expected.

Workers are hard to come by in some industries, and it’s even harder to get forklift drivers. Federal law requires all forklift drivers to be over the age of 18 and properly trained and certified. Forklift training includes online learning, videos, lectures, hands-on training, and a test drive under the supervision of a formal instructor. 

Generally, forklift training programs include around 10 hours of hands-on training and 30 hours of videos and online learning, but it’s different based on the company’s use of forklifts. It’s a lot of time to spend training new employees, especially when there is no guarantee they’ll stick around that long.

Finding enough forklift drivers who complete the training and are safe drivers is tough. Even with training, there were about 7,290 forklift-related injuries and 78 deaths during 2020 and the time out of work due to injuries was around three weeks. Bone fractures accounted for 29% of those injuries. Even a well-trained driver can have an accident and lead to injuries, pallet loss, and decreased efficiency while the area is cleaned up.

Plus, it’s hard to find workers who want to manually stack pallets day in and day out. It’s tedious work, and it’s hard on the back. Unless the pay is extremely generous, you’ll struggle to find dedicated employees. An automated pallet stacker spares your workers from muscle and joint pain, which makes everyone happy.

Mitsubishi’s MELSEC iQ-R Series Offers Competitive Automation

When you partner with Mitsubishi, our palletizing equipment uses the award-winning iQ-R programmable controllers. Accuracy and design ensure the easy set-up, debugging, and connectivity at speeds of up to 1 Gbps. It’s fast, it’s accurate, and that helps keep costs down while boosting efficiency.

MELSEC iQ-R was designed after taking insight and comments from customers to create the ideal automation controller. Not only are MELSEC iQ-R modules easy to use, but they’re also designed to improve reliability, reduce costs, and work with your plant’s current equipment. Seven components were carefully considered when designing iQ-R:

  • Compatibility with existing equipment
  • Connectivity at high speeds
  • Sensible, effective engineering
  • Low maintenance
  • Increased productivity
  • A high-quality design
  • Advanced security

Any automated system requires some human interaction for setting up the system, debugging glitches, and tracking production statistics. Why not have a system that makes it easy for your production specialists to maximize production while keeping operating costs to a minimum, all without jeopardizing safety?

Work With a Sales Engineer

Mitsubishi Solutions offers a full range of packaging automation, robotics, and smart machines. Talk to our sales engineers about your company’s goals and we’ll deliver cost-effective, custom solutions that improve your plant’s productivity, efficiency, and safety. Our goal is to help you achieve production goals with optimal accuracy.