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Flexible Manufacturing
Operational Excellence
automation blog

Mastering packaging and intralogistics challenges in eCommerce

Julkaistu 2022-02-24 13:40:00 UTC: Flexible Manufacturing

Robot-assisted packaging enables fast and cost-efficient scalability upward and downward to handle swings in demands from the supply chain.

by John van Hooijdonk, Industry Marketing Manager FMCG at OMRON Europe

eCommerce is booming, and this is not only due to the Covid pandemic and its effects such as lockdowns or closed shops. In 2020, global web sales increased by more than 24 percent to around 4.3 trillion US dollars. These figures are not only pleasing to online retailers, they also come with growing challenges for service providers executing activities as packaging, co-packing, warehousing and intralogistics.
Service providers in these sectors need to find ways and technologies that allow them to optimize their operations, free up employees and increase efficiency. Robot-assisted packaging and other innovative approaches provide important support to achieve these goals.
Packaging has become one of the highest priorities for many e-commerce providers. Manual packaging processes and manual fulfillment are no longer sufficient. Instead, faster and automated packaging workflows are needed.

Quick and flexible approach for eCommerce

Slow turnaround times are no longer acceptable, putting e-tailers in a bind. Distribution and order fulfillment center’s alike have to cope with an ever increasing product mix (high-mix, low-volume); traceability plays an increasingly important role; health and safety for personnel as well as precision and speed are more important than ever. At the same time, there are more and more SKUs, there is often little space available, there is a lack of skilled labor in production and warehousing, and they have to meet the demand for more flexibility despite increasing volumes.
Automated systems are needed that enable cost-efficient scaling from manual to fully automated operations. Increasing packaging automation streamlines handling processes; either taking over the entire factory floor or complementing traditional methods. Both enable faster handling and faster shipping.

Flexible scalability

When selecting a suitable solution, the requirements of the manufacturer as well as those of the warehouse and logistics partners are in the foreground. Power and performance must be considered as well as scalability – the systems, machines and technologies must be adaptable to changing needs, quality and optimal use of the available space in the factory and warehouse.
An autonomous and reconfigurable packaging line consisting of stationary and mobile elements, robotics and sensor technology will best meet the modern requirements of the industry. The solution should ideally be easy to expand, but also to downsize if needed to handle fluctuating supply chain demands and a high-mix, low-volume production model.

Robotic automation and inspection systems for eCommerce packaging

Automating as much of the manual packaging process as possible is vital. Automated packaging processes with robotics to free workers from having to perform more repetitive, complex, or hazardous tasks. Incorporating labeling, marking, coding machinery and inspection systems can help eliminate errors to meet increasingly stringent environmental and labeling regulations.
This can be applied in applications such as:
  • Inspection of incoming goods on characteristics such as label, container size and integrity, or a check on the agreed residual shelf-life and the delivery temperature.
  • 3D bin picking where the challenge is match or exceed human capabilities in picking parts that are randomly placed in a container.
  • Person-to-Goods (PTG) order picking methods to assist the warehouse operator, reducing the time needed for the gathering process and entering SKUs manually in a bin.
  • Automated Pick & Place to handle different products, formats, sizes, tape length, protection material volume and more, improving efficiency and flexibility.
  • Palletizing greatly benefits from automation as it is highly repetitive, and poses a great risk of injury to human workers.
  • Transport of pallets with AMRs (Autonomous Mobile Robots) replacing forklifts to improve safety.
Automation of these tasks brings an array of benefits:
  • Reduced production and labor costs
  • Elimination of errors
  • Optimal productivity, accuracy, and efficiency
  • Reduced risk of contamination
  • Reduced risk of personal injury to staff
  • Increased versatility, flexibility, and reliability

How to become “eCommerce ready“

The huge potential of eCommerce offers numerous opportunities for established companies as well as small start-ups to push their business success. Both consumers and companies are ordering more and more products online. More than ever, packaging companies are under pressure to keep up with the increasing demand in an innovative and efficient way. Modern and integrated automation, robotics and sensor technology helps packaging and co-packing companies to streamline their operations, free up staff, strengthen safety and increase efficiency.
Scalable solutions help manage the fluctuating demands of the supply chain, lower overall costs and reduce floor space. To secure competitive advantage now, manual packaging operations must be automated and innovative solutions found as quickly as possible, because this is the only way companies in the industry are truly positioning themselves to be "eCommerce ready".

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