Manufacturing News

Mixed pallets need not be a headache

ONE of the more common headaches in warehouse operations is caused by mixed pallet arrangements.

Known in some quarters as ‘rainbow pallets’, these constitute one layer of a uniform product topped by layer of a different uniform product, topped by yet another type of uniform product to form the appearance of a rainbow.

Hence, for warehouse managers, it has the prospect of creating a situation that requires multiple handling.

Multiple handling drives up the costs of an operation, but more significantly it increases the amount of time taken to process each stock keeping unit.

And with warehouse costs now higher than ever, companies are constructing their racking even higher than ever to maximise the use of warehouse space up to the ceiling, meaning that double handling becomes even more costly and time consuming.

The trick is to utilise modern technology that allows the handling of whole layers of absolutely any palletised product.

Forklift companies have come to the party with higher reach capabilities in their machines. Likewise, aisle trucks are being designed with faster capabilities and ‘pick and place’ control systems that utilise barcodes for quick identification of stock.

It is all down to research and development, according to a materials handling specialist based in Australia.

Industrial Conveying’s MD Don Erskine says Australia faces greater challenges than most countries in handling pallets with mixed freight.

“We have a geographically large continent to cover so any solution that speeds processing and reduces multiple handling is necessary,” Erskine said.

“As most stock units on pallets have a flat base, we have engineered a different type of solution to this common problem.”

The company’s Layer Picker technology facilitates the picking of complete layers from palletised loads by using a ‘layer picker head’ embodying a centrifugal fan that creates a vacuum inside this picker head.

This vacuumed head works in synch with height adjustable and inflatable side skirts that gently seal against the layer completing the vacuum chamber.

Pallets with mixed layers of product can be automatically assembled for dispatch to customer order – with or without pallets in between layers.

De-palletisation and de-scrambling of whole layers into single items facilitates infeed to sortation, order release modules, or for replenishment of live storage systems.

Even those layers with gaps can be lifted with Layer Picker technology using a valve system that automatically closes when the air stream exceeds certain limits to ensure integrity of the layer transfer.

A touch-screen PC interface visualises layer picker functions, verifies new products and layer patterns, and displays alarms. The PC control system tracks batch orders and their status.

Benefits of layer picking are obvious with high efficiency/low manning levels, minimum exposure to OH&S risks due to these low manning levels, fewer mistakes of the kind associated with manual processing, and low maintenance.

Layer picking is suitable for a huge number of applications including:

* Automated de-palletising and high-speed sortation;

* Automated de-palletising and high-speed order release systems;

* Mixed palletising and buffer storage for customer pallets.

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