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The Future of Pallet Production…Today - Robots Effectively Used in European Pallet Companies
Future of Pallet Production: Robotic systems by Jointec offer a revolutionary option for pallet plants in Europe by handling difficult pallet repair processes and producing a wide variety of pallets with minimal personnel costs. Jointec plans to launch this technology in the U.S. market.

By Chaille Brindley
Date Posted: 11/1/2013

                While robots have been used in automobile and other highly complicated manufacturing processes for years, they have not been widely deployed in pallet production. That is until now. Jointec AB has deployed Yaskawa Motman robots in 20 pallet systems across Europe to assist in everything from basic pallet nailing to pallet dismantling and pallet repair as well as other pallet handling actions.

                Having seen this technology up close, it is truly amazing what robots can do. Some recent developments by Jointec AG of Sweden are further making robotic pallet production more realistic. This includes new patented technology called the No Coil Nailing (NCN) system, which allows for automatically blowing multiple types of nails into nail guns, eliminating manual reloading of nails. The nail feeder can deliver up to 80 nails per minute.

                Jointec has also worked with Prepac, a Swedish design and fabrication firm, to develop specialized dismantling stations capable of working with the robots to dismantle almost any pallet component. These units are already in operation at a major rental pallet company in Europe and at Kjell & Co in Sweden.

                The collaboration of Jointec with its years of experience in pallet automation technology, Prepac’s design capabilities and Motoman’s robots makes for a strong team.


Why Robots?

                You may be thinking, “Robots, really. Isn’t that a bit too high tech for pallets?” But consider how robots have been used for years in a wide variety of industries to enhance areas where basic automation just doesn’t cut it. If you are going to use automation vs. human hands, sometimes the best way to do that is with a robot.

                Robots can handle tough three dimensional tasks that basic automation can’t efficiently do, such as dismantling a block pallet or positioning a number of boards in unusual patterns. Robots can be programed to produce or repair a wide variety of pallet types, which can significantly reduce changeover times compared to basic automated systems without robotics. For example, Åsljunga Pallen AB  Örkelljunga , Sweden uses a robotic line to manufacture small lots (less than 2,000 pallets) and produces larger runs on a Corali automated pallet nailing line.

                Stefan Nilsson, chief executive officer of Åsljunga Pallen, said, “We use the robotic line for short runs because the changeover time is much shorter, about 20 minutes or less compared to 30 minutes to 1.5 hours for the Corali line.” Also, robotics saves in staff costs, which can be very expensive in Europe. Nilsson added, “The robotic line saves the staff costs of about four workers.”

                Karl-Johan Berg of Jointec said, “We try to make sure the payback period is about two years or so, when designing a robotic line. This is possible because people are very expensive in Scandinavia.”

                Although people may not be as expensive in the United States as Europe, that is starting to change with the onset of Obamacare and tougher fines for workplace safety violations and other employee-related costs. Unlike human counterparts, robots always show up to work and don’t take breaks. Also, robots tend to have less breakage than more conventional automation, such as a normal nailing line.

                Per Danielsson of Prepac said, “You can do almost anything with a robot, but you have to put them in the right places. Robots need lots of work to do. It is best to utilize them in a task that is always working when a production line is running.”

                Is the job heavy and can it cause repetitive stress injury or physical harm to workers? Then robots can be a good option in those situations.


Robotic Pallet Dismantling and Repair

                Jointec combined with Yaskawa Motoman and Prepac has developed some fairly unique systems that utilize both automation and robotics for pallet repair and dismantling. This system is currently used at Kjell & Co., a pallet recycling operation in Karlstad, Sweden.

                The repair process starts with a typical sortation line where one operator inspects pallets and flips them over and then grades them depending on the condition of the pallet. Stacks of pallets are then transported to the dismantling line where the specific repair required is indicated by the operator on a touch screen control. The pallet goes down the line and is picked up by one of two Motoman robots. Boards are cut and removed as the robot positions the pallet to make contact with pallet dismantling stations developed by Prepac. A patented system senses the right position and the joint is separated by hydraulic knives. This allows for precise removal of various sections of a damaged block pallet. Wedge-shaped knives use brute force contact to separate and remove boards. Broken parts fall on the waste conveyor.

                The robot allows one station to perform a wide variety of pallet dismantling activities. This can save space compared to multiple machines required to remove different pieces of a block pallet. To see a video of the process, visit www.jointec.se.

                The pallets are then flipped over by the robot to allow for easier secondary inspection and repair further down the line. A patented system pushes the separated broken stringer onto the waste conveyor while inserting a new one. Then an operator will inspect the dismantled pallet, remove any protruding nails, and replace any stringers or blocks that need to be replaced. The pallet then moves down the line and is loaded into a tilting repair station for replacing top deckboards.

                A Motoman robot replaces deck boards and nails them one at a time. The robot ensures precise nailing and board placement so that repaired pallet quality remains high compared to manual nailing. The re-nailing station uses Jointec’s NCN system that feeds loose nails from an external feeder into specially modified nail guns. Compared to collated nail guns, this approach saves production time because you don’t have to stop the robot to load new nails. Collated nails are more expensive than bulk nails.

                The robot takes the pallet and puts it on the conveyor when all new boards are nailed. One of the neatest ideas that any pallet company can use is the addition of a pallet press at the end of the repair line. Using a hydraulic press and a steel bar, the press ensures that joints are tight and no large nails are protruding. The press vertically presses the pallet nail points to improve quality. 

                The last Motoman robot on the line chamfers all four sides if required and cuts the corners as is common in Europallets. Using a robot with a small milling machine, a wide variety of cuts can be made.

                Finally, the pallet is branded at a station that can brand all three blocks at once. It can then rotate the pallet to brand the other side. Finished pallets are loaded into a stacker and stacks are then removed for transport by a forklift.

                The entire line uses three people and one forklift driver. It can repair 500,000 -700,000 pallets per year. Goran Kjell, chief executive officer of Kjell & Co. in Karlstad, Sweden, said that Jointec developed the robotic machinery for pallet repair and first launched it at his plant 6-7 years ago. Before the robots, everything was done manually. The big benefit of robotics is that this high tech approach separates Kjell & Co. from the competition. Goran Kjell said, “We work with a lot of big companies; using robotics is a sales advantage for us, and it has helped us secure long-term relationships with major accounts.”

                The robotics also ensures that the workers who are on the line are not worn out as fast. Robotics has stabilized the workforce at Kjell & Co. and ensured consistent quality production.


Simple Robot Nailer

                Jointec offers robotic solutions for both pallet manufacturing and repair. Some systems are very simple with just one robot. Others utilize multiple robots to allow for complete production with minimal human interaction.

                The Simple Robot Nailer builds complete pallets of all types using fixed but easily changeable jigs. The operator loads jigs which rotate so that the robot can nail the pallets and then stack them. Options include inkjet printing and corner chamfering. Another option is Jointec’s NCN system allowing the use of loose nails.

                Berg said, “The Simple Robot Nailer is a good fit for the North American market where labor is getting more expensive and the robot can do a wide variety of specialty pallet designs with minimal changeover time.”


More Advanced Nailing Systems

                Hakanssons Emballage AB in Laholm, Sweden is a fairly small new pallet manufacturer that produces only specialty pallets. It uses a dual robot system for producing large, odd-sized pallets. This system has been in operation since 2009 and produces 100,000 pallets annually for a single shift. It uses collated nails, which does require stoppage to replace nails.

                Kent Hakansson, owner of Hakanssons Emballage, said, “We added robotics because we wanted to grow our nailing capacity without adding staff. And we are very happy with our Motoman robots because they are very flexible in what they can do and the changeover time is 20 minutes or less.”

                In autumn 2011, Hakanssons installed new robots from Motoman with peripherals. In full operation, the unit can produce about 300,000 pallets annually with a single shift. The entire process is monitored and managed by only two operators, including flow of materials and finished products. This system links to a fully automatic machine from Corali producing more than three finished pallets per minute. This line is used for larger orders.

                The new system is equipped with the NCN feeding system. Hakansson said, “It’s simpler because you don’t have to stop to load nails into the guns.”


Seize the Future

                If you are looking at revamping your operation or just want to find ways to maximize versatility and reduce labor costs, the Simple Robot Nailer is something you should evaluate. The pallet dismantling station combined with a robot allows for easy board removal of complex pallets. Robotics can do a wide variety of things with precision. And the pallet press is a good idea for almost any new automated pallet production line. For more information, view the videos or visit www.jointec.se.


Advantages of Robotics

1.) Robots can reduce changeover time to mere minutes for complex pallet designs.

2.) Robots can boost production when evaluated over a full week because they never need to take a break. Robots tend to have less downtime for maintenance than more sophisticated automation. Basic automation requires 20% or more downtime for maintenance in some cases compared to robots.  

3.) New patented technology can auto feed nails into guns, which reduces downtime and cost.

4.) Robots improve the professionalism and appearance of your plant to customers. Robots produce precise pallets every time.

5.) Robots can handle tough repair jobs, such as removing blocks from block pallets or cutting out stringers and deck boards.

6.) Robots allow you to boost production with limited personnel requirements.

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