ABHR speaks with Braden Goddin from Aurora Process Solutions to find out how small businesses can use palletising robots to save time and money.
Palletising bulk materials traditionally involves lifting heavy bags and manually placing them into a pallet in a variety of stack patterns.
One of the main downsides of this task are the chance of repetitive strain injuries. Repeating motions day in day out with heavy objects can cause tendon, muscular and skeletal injuries over time.
In addition, there is a certain degree of human error that can occur when palletising. If a bag isn’t placed properly, it can mean other bags won’t fit properly, taking up more floorspace or require restacking, wasting precious time.
Goddin says one of the latest issues facing this type of job is the shrinking labour pool.
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“Young people are gravitating toward polytechnics and universities. They are far less likely now than they were 20 years ago to graduate high school and begin working in a factory or a warehouse. This is amplified in rural areas where the young move to cities earlier in their careers, reducing even part time participation in industry,” he says.
Automation is the answer Aurora provides to solve these problems. The company specialises in helping businesses start automating their processes.
Goddin says a lot of industrial producers are late adopters of the technology, particularly in the seed, grain and stockfeed sectors. However, when companies start thinking about automating, they often overlook the benefits it has for palletising especially.
“Generally, when a business wants to automate, it is thinking about the manufacturing stage of things, not the end of the line packaging stage. It makes sense, especially because it is a higher priority for businesses to manufacture materials with a higher consistency,” he says.
“But conventional production lines are only as efficient as the weakest link. If you have a bottleneck at your palletising stage, you’re not getting your product out of the door. At that stage in the process, you’re also dealing with freight and logistics, which are time bound.
“In this situation, you can’t afford a staff member injuring themselves or being absent. And if you’re in a seasonal industry, finding labour at the moment is becoming harder and harder – meaning you might not be able to fill a schedule.”
COVID-19 has helped highlight the importance of business continuity, as national restrictions prevented some of Aurora’s customers from operating a maximum capacity, often at times of incredible demand.
One benefit that came as a surprise to some of Aurora’s customers was how much time it saves. Instead of having to spend time coordinating and monitoring manual labour units, business owners can instead focus on more beneficial tasks.
Goddin says small businesses are time-poor at the best of times, so every hour saved is less stress and more time to focus on growth.
“We saw an interesting case where this happened to a client of ours in the seed industry. After installing a robotic palletiser, the rest of the staff were able to knock off work a lot earlier in the day, meaning they were not as tired the next morning,” he says.
“Not only that, but the staff were working shorter hours and getting through more work.
“Everybody benefits from automation. The business owner can focus more on what’s important, workers are no longer handling dangerous jobs and can add value in other roles, and customers get better quality, more uniform products.”
There are still some barriers to automating a process, which Aurora helps to overcome. The company provides a full end-to-end service, which starts with a discussion to get a clear understanding on what should be automated and whether the numbers stack up.
Aurora has a number of case study sites that it can use to show off how the technology works. It also allows new customers to talk with current clients, who can answer questions and offer advice.
Goddin says there is still a misconception that robots require a significant amount of technical expertise to use properly.
“That’s no longer the case,” he says. “The tech these days can be plug and play, a lot simpler than other items of machinery on site.”
“There is low power draw on a lot of the automated palletisers these days. So long as you have regular scheduled servicing, the cost of ownership of these machines is low.”
After installing the robots, Aurora will provide a scheduled service and support program for maintenance where required. The company is also available to optimise and modify the equipment as products change and your business grows.
Along with the systems it provides, Aurora can include a virtual reality module suited for industrial applications that provides operators on the ground with clear instructions on how to service and optimise units, or train staff. This is an increasingly popular choice for SME’s in rural or remote locations.