Robotic Packaging and Palletizing Blog

Reducing Labor Costs and Increasing Palletizing Efficiency for a Petroleum Refinery

download a pdf document of this storyA petroleum refinery had numerous troubles with their palletizing operation. Their employees were loading the heavy packages, which could weigh up to 45 pounds, by hand. The weight made the process difficult due to the potential for injury. The company also needed to increase production.

Their palletizing system needed to be capable of handling two very different products simultaneously: cases and 20-liter plastic pails. Whereas cases are typically pick-and-placed by vacuum because their surfaces are flat, the pails had multiple fixtures on the lid which would disrupt the vacuum. This meant that another method would have to be used, such as mechanical jaws.


20-liter pail

sample case

sample case

Also, the cases came in varying sizes. While only one case size ran at a time, the company could not afford any downtime between different products. A changeover had to happen quickly, meaning that the robot’s gripper needed to handle different case sizes on demand while still being capable of moving the pails. This need for flexibility would require a sophisticated end of arm tooling design to overcome.

The petroleum refinery saw firsthand the expertise displayed by Flexicell in our booth at Pack Expo. It also provided a chance for them to learn about our prior experience and innovative approach to the similar problems our customers face.

System Requirements:

  • 2-in-2-out palletizer with one robot
  • Handle products weighing up to 45 lbs
  • Palletize 4-6 cases/minute and 8 pails/minute
  • Adjust to case sizes varying up to 2.25” in length, 2.62” in width, and 7.88” in height
  • Reduce labor and increase worker safety

A Robotic Palletizer as a Solution

Palletizing Cell

Palletizing Cell

A robotic palletizer was manufactured, configured, and installed by Flexicell. This palletizing system consists of a fully-featured robotic cell. Using robots for case packing and palletizing results in a flexible, cost-saving system. In addition to programming and setting up the robot, Flexicell integrates all necessary equipment with our robotic cells.

The cases and pails are brought to the cell by Hytrol conveyors. These conveyors are automatic and require no adjustments for different case sizes. As the cases and pails reach the cell, they are accumulated and aligned for the robot to pick up.


End of Arm Tooling Handling Pails

A Fanuc M410iB/160 Palletizing Robot is used to palletize both lines. The robot is equipped with an end of arm tooling (EOAT) that has both vacuum grippers to handle the cases and mechanical jaws to grip the pails. This versatile EOAT is capable of adjusting its independent vacuum zones to the correct case size. When there is a changeover, the operator only has to select the case size with the user-friendly human machine interface (HMI).

After the pallets are fully loaded, they are automatically transported out of the cell by heavy drag-chain conveyors. A new pallet is now needed in the loading area. A pallet magazine with attached conveyor holds up to 20 pallets in two stacks. The robot uses mechanical fingers to take a pallet from the closest stack, then places it into the loading area.


Robotic Palletizer Layout

The company’s prior method for stretch-wrapping was to move the full pallet via forklift to where it could be wrapped. Flexicell saw an opportunity to improve the system by integrating an automatic stretch wrapper. This would further reduce manual handling of loaded pallets. The customer did purchase one based on this advice, and Flexicell integrated this equipment by enabling pallet loads to be conveyed directly to the stretch wrapper. This resulted in a seamless palletizing process, automated from start to finish.

Like all systems, safety fencing was installed and rigorously tested. By using light curtains, safety door switches, and dual safety check software the system can detect if people are entering the cell and halt the robot’s movement.

The end result is a safe palletizer that dynamically adjusts itself to the product’s type in a simple, efficient manner. Plus, the system has exceeded the company’s initial expectations in performance and reliability.

Palletizing Cell

Palletizing Cases and Pails in one Robotic Cell

The project manager had this to say: “Flexicell is the best [vendor] I have personally dealt with. [They] are good at customer service, and of course, great at what [they] specialize in: the designing of robot applications. I would recommend [them] to anyone.”

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