Depalletizing vs. Palletizing: What's the Difference?

May 8, 2024
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What is palletizing?

Palletizing, also known as pallet loading, refers to the process of stacking cases or items onto pallets for efficient storage or transportation. Palletizing robots are used to automate this process in warehouses and distribution centers. These robots pick up items and place them onto pallets in an organized fashion.

Palletizing robots use end-effectors (grippers) to grab cases or items and place them onto pallets according to a predetermined pattern. The robots can palletize entire layers at once or build pallets one case at a time. 

What is depalletizing?

Depalletizing, also known as depalletizing, refers to the reverse process of removing cases or items from pallets. Depalletizing robots unload pallets by removing items layer by layer until the pallet is empty.

How are both processes similar?

They share the same core idea

At their core, depalletizing and palletizing robots serve the same basic function: Moving products on and off pallets. Both types of robots are designed to efficiently handle the repetitive tasks of unloading and loading pallets, freeing up human workers for more engaging jobs.

Major productivity gains 

Implementing either depalletizing or palletizing robots can significantly boost productivity in a warehouse or distribution center. These robots are able to work continuously without breaks, and at a fast, consistent pace. This results in faster processing of pallets and a higher volume of pallets handled overall.

10/10 for safety

Using robots for depalletizing and palletizing also improves safety for human workers. These repetitive, labor-intensive tasks can lead to injuries when done manually. Robots eliminate that risk, creating a safer work environment. Employees can focus on less physically demanding jobs.

As flexible as they come 

While some robots are designed specifically for depalletizing or palletizing, others offer flexibility to handle both processes. If you’re not sure which type of robot you need, or if your needs may change, a robot that can do both depalletizing and palletizing may be a good choice. Look for a robot that can be quickly and easily reconfigured to switch between the two processes.

Key differences between palletizing and depalletizing

As we said, “similar, but not identical.” Let’s cover the differences between both processes: 

Giving your robot the power of sight

Robot vision can be extremely helpful for depalletizing. It lets your robot see what's on the pallet, even if things are a bit messy. This extra adaptability is often key for depalletizing, while the more predictable nature of palletizing might not even need it.

Choosing the right spot in your facility

Think carefully about where you put your robots. Consider what happens before and after the palletizing or depalletizing steps, and try to place your robot in a location that makes your whole process run smoothly.

The difficult part of depalletizing

Unlike palletizing, depalletizing can have some surprises. You're working with pallets packed by someone else, so there might be items that aren't where they're supposed to be. Your depalletizing robot needs to be able to handle these unexpected situations to work well.

When things shift during transport

Pallets get bumped and shuffled around during shipping. If the load isn't secure, items can easily end up out of place. Your depalletizing robot needs to be able to identify these changes and adjust how it works to keep things running without errors.

Where it fits in your workflow

Palletizing and depalletizing happen at very different points in your production line. 

Palletizing typically takes place after products are packaged and ready for shipping. Depalletizing is often at the very start of the process, potentially followed by steps like sorting and individual item processing.

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How do you decide which robot you need (or should you choose both?)

So, do you need a palletizing robot, a depalletizing robot, or both? The choice ultimately comes down to your specific application and production needs.

Think about these matters first: 

  • Prioritize getting to know your product type and handling requirements. The shape, size, and fragility of your products will determine how they need to be handled and stacked.

    Bulky, irregularly-shaped products may require a multi-axis robot with grippers for stacking, while smaller uniform products could work with a simpler cartesian or SCARA robot and slat conveyors.
  • Assess your required throughput. Are you looking to handle a high volume of pallets per hour or is a slower, more flexible system sufficient? Palletizing and depalletizing robots are available for high-speed, high-volume applications as well as small-batch production.

    Faster robots will allow you to process more pallets in less time but may require product guides and slat conveyors to properly handle the products at speed. 
  • Give plenty of thought to space and mobility requirements. The space in your facility and the required range of motion for the robot are also important to consider. Palletizing robots typically need more vertical range of motion to stack pallets, while depalletizing robots require less.

    Some robots are fixed in one location, while others are mounted on tracks or gantries to cover a wider area. 

Tips for implementing depalletizing & palletizing robots

Here are some tips to help you make sure your robot is a smooth operator (now that is an earworm of a song):

  • Do you need a robot that can handle multiple pallet sizes and weights? Or do you have a standardized pallet that rarely changes? Are you looking to depalletize and palletize the same products, or will the robots need to handle a variety?

    Make sure to choose robots that are appropriately sized and have the right capabilities for your specific application.
  • Depalletizing and palletizing robots require adequate floor space for maneuvering pallets and stacks of products. They also need space for pallet racks, conveyors, and staging areas. Carefully measure your available floor space and map out where all the equipment will be placed before installation begins.
  • While the robots will be doing the heavy lifting, your staff still needs to properly operate them. Provide thorough training on how to use the robots safely and efficiently. Cover how to load and unload pallets, start and stop the robots, handle error messages or issues, and perform basic maintenance. Continually reinforce best practices to ensure optimal productivity and safety.
  • If possible, implement the robots in a pilot stage before rolling them out facility-wide. Choose a small area of your warehouse to set up the initial system so you can work out any kinks. Your staff will gain valuable experience operating the equipment, and you’ll have the opportunity to make adjustments before investing in robots for your entire operation.
  • Don’t rest on your laurels. Once your depalletizing and palletizing robots are up and running, look for opportunities to further optimize the system. Can product flow be improved? Are there any remaining manual tasks that could be automated?

    Regularly monitor key metrics like units moved per hour, downtime, and errors to see where productivity gains can still be achieved. 

Summing up 

You've got the lowdown on depalletizing versus palletizing now. 

Whether you're just starting to look into warehouse automation, or you're trying to optimize an existing operation, you've got a handle on the key differences between these two types of systems. 

Now, it’s up to you to assess whether you need a palletizer, depalletizer, or both

Next steps 

Whether you’re looking for a palletizing or depalletizing robot, RO1 from Standard Bots is the ideal choice for shop floors big and small. 

  • Unbeatable value: Get the benefits of advanced robotics with RO1, offering exceptional performance at half the cost. 
  • As strong as they come: RO1 tops in its class, smoothly handling impressive payloads (up to 18 kg) with speed and precision that rivals far more expensive robots.
  • Evolve your operations with intelligent automation: Backed by powerful AI on par with GPT-4, RO1 learns continuously, allowing it to adapt effortlessly alongside your changing production requirements.
  • Collaboration as a core principle: RO1 prioritizes workplace safety with its collaborative design, state-of-the-art vision capabilities, and intelligent sensors for secure human interaction.

Reach out to our team for a complimentary 30-day onsite trial. Benefit from personalized support to ensure your robot implementation is a resounding success.

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