Materials Handling

The palletising and depalletising market is being shaped by the growth of microbreweries and emergence of new categories, as well as maturing adoption of automation in food and beverage manufacturing.

People shop differently now. Media reports quoting a Nielsen syndicated study in April showed that 37% of South Africans are shopping more online due to the lockdown and the coronavirus pandemic. Top of their list is packaged and fresh goods rather than fashion, travel, and entertainment.

Impacts are pulsing through the supply chain.

Places such as schools, many restaurants, canteens, and similar, typically order catering size packs. But, due to lockdown, people no longer visit those places. Instead, people have become accustomed to eating at home and people don’t typically buy large, catering size packs for our homes. The upshot is that retailers may be selling a similar volume of foodstuff as before lockdown began but now in many more, smaller packs. This has increased demand for smaller pack sizes that requires bigger production volumes.

Similarly, most craft brewers used to sell beer in kegs. However, since restaurants, bars, pubs are closed they must find alternative packaging such as cans to shift their volumes to consumers. That creates pull for more compact, smaller scale depalletisers.

Amidst this upheaval that manufacturers and producers of all sizes face, consumer tastes now also change more frequently, creating additional pull for more frequent changes in the manufacturing process. Shorter runs now last a year or two, which means that packages and products are updated more frequently to meet these evolving consumer demands. That’s why there’s a drive toward more flexible palletisers. Among the impacts for manufacturers is that they increasingly need palletisers and depalletisers that can be more easily reconfigured for different load patterns.

Robotics systems are inherently flexible and that is just one of the reasons for their rising popularity. They are better equipped to be reconfigured to handle different package types and they can also be configured to support two lines, dependent on line speeds.

Robotic palletising was traditionally centralised in larger single cells but that is now also transforming so that we’re seeing more decentralised designs at the end of lines. It supports the need for a wider range of flexibility in how manufacturing systems are designed, and it also reduces conveyor costs and maintenance overheads.

Adding a layer to the subtle complexity of this market, manufacturers have begun to value the total lifecycle costs of the equipment they use in their lines. One of the ways they exhibit this is by wanting more serviceable features. Many companies have experienced the challenges of using lower quality and less capable machines and the result is that they are less confident in automation.

Another result of poor quality and less capable machines is that companies do not get the returns that they expected.

However, the overall effect of these trends is to shape a palletising and depalletising market leaning toward more flexible, easily configurable, high quality, and more serviceable machines that can economically produce volumes of smaller packs.