With the possible exception of an unwrapper and/or a destrapper, a depalletizer is typically the first packaging machine along a production line. It sets the pace for the rest of the packaging process, and it’s the barrier through which every container must pass before they’re filled, seamed, labeled, and packaged. As such, purchasing a depalletizer is an incredibly important decision—and it’s not an easy one, either.
There are, however, a few factors to keep in mind when comparing your options that will help to make the purchasing process easier. From the containers themselves all the way to aftermarket support, in this post we outline the top five things to consider when purchasing a depalletizer.
1. What Kinds of Containers Do You Need to Depalletize (And How Quickly)?
Before any other consideration, the first thing to take into account when purchasing a depalletizer is the type of containers you’re looking to depalletize. Whether you’re a soft drink company that needs to depalletize 12 ounce beverage cans or a pet food company looking to unload pet food cans, depalletizers are designed to handle several kinds of containers. Common types include aluminum cans for beverages and pet food, steel food cans, and PET bottles.
Aside from the containers themselves, the speed at which containers are depalletized is a vital consideration as well. Depalletizer speeds are measured in layers per minute; a typical rate would be five to seven layers every sixty seconds. From there, the number of containers per layer determines the rate of containers depalletized per minute. During the purchasing process, be sure to consider what kind (or kinds) of containers you’ll need to depalletize, and the rate at which they’ll enter the rest of the production line.
2. What is Your Available Footprint for a Depalletizer?
For consumer packaged goods (CPG) companies and co-packers, availability of floor space is critical, and making efficient use of the space is a must. After all, a depalletizer isn’t the only machine in the production line; depending on what kind of materials you’re packaging, your line could include a filler, a seamer, a capper, a labeler, a case packer, a palletizer, and possibly even more equipment. The depalletizer itself may even integrate with an unwrapper or a destrapper (or both). When looking to add a depalletizer to your line, taking its footprint into consideration is a vital component of the buying process.
Along with palletizers and case packers, depalletizers tend to be one of the larger machines along the production line. An average depalletizer may take up anywhere from 600 to 650 square feet of your floor space (or, put another way, anywhere from 4% to 8% of the overall line footprint). Keep in mind that the space the depalletizer takes up varies depending on which one you end up purchasing, but either way, the footprint of the machine is a key consideration when deciding which one to buy.
The available working space around the depalletizer and the flexibility of the area around its human-machine interface (HMI) are factors to look out for, too. While much of the depalletizing process is automated, human operators are still involved to some extent—namely through dunnage handling. In many cases, forklifts need to be able to drive around the machine to remove dunnage materials like pallets, top frames, and layer pads. With a modular machine like BW Integrated Systems’ Fortis Bulk Depalletizer, there tends to be much more configuration flexibility for easier dunnage access, but without a depalletizer like Fortis, forklift accessibility is trickier. If possible, there should also be ample access for a human operator to interface with the depalletizer’s HMI to make adjustments or execute changeovers. Be sure to work with your original equipment manufacturer (OEM) to learn about all their available depalletizing options based on how much space you have available on your plant floor.
3. What Contributes to Expected and Unexpected Downtime?
As much as CPGs and OEMs alike wish they could avoid it, downtime is an inevitable element of the packaging process. There is a distinction, though, between the types of downtime your depalletizer may experience: expected downtime and unexpected downtime. Both can be mitigated to some degree.
Expected downtime consists of routine procedures that occur between loads of palletized containers, the most common of which is dunnage handling. The top frames, layer pads, and pallets that hold containers in place usually accumulate on top of the depalletizer as containers are unloaded, and operators typically remove the dunnage by way of a forklift. There isn’t a whole lot that CPGs can do to shorten this process, but OEMs are working to engineer innovative dunnage handling solutions. For example, BW Integrated Systems’ Fortis Depalletizer delivers dunnage materials to floor-level for easy removal within the existing depalletizer footprint. As a result, the dunnage can be removed while the machine continues operating, preventing downtime. Options like Fortis help to streamline the efficiency of the packaging process, offering the latest innovations in depalletizing technology.
Unexpected downtime is more difficult to control, and it tends to be caused by pallets that are out of specifications. Leaning pallets, pallets with missing containers, or pallets with layers that are otherwise askew can cause jams and faults within the machine, leading to potentially lengthy, unanticipated downtimes. There are some options to look out for that can alleviate these problems, though, one of which is pursuing a depalletizer that offers greater tolerance to layer variability (i.e., the ability to continue operating despite the presence of pallets or layers that aren’t within proper specifications).
Another possibility to decrease unexpected downtime consists of finding a machine with excellent messaging and detection methods to catch faults as early as possible and prevent problems from cascading out of control. When comparing depalletizers, be sure to understand the methods each one offers to help mitigate both expected and unexpected downtime, and choose the one that best fits the operating needs of your production facility.
4. Ease of Operation
Looking for a depalletizer that’s easy to operate may seem obvious, but what’s less obvious is the features to look for that make the machine simple to use. Ease of maintenance is one aspect to take into account; is there enough space to clean the equipment and check for damage? Does the depalletizer offer easy access to machine components for replacement and lubrication? Is the machine set up for minimal operator interaction? Does dunnage need to be taken away by forklift, or does the depalletizer offer floor-level access for dunnage removal? Ease of operation comes in many forms, so be sure to pick a machine best suited to your facility and the level of experience of your operators.
Most of the operation of the machine takes place on the HMI. There are plenty of factors to look for to ensure a smart machine interface is easy to operate: video instructions for changeovers and preventative maintenance tasks, on-screen replacement parts ordering, analytics and statistics covering the machine’s overall equipment effectiveness (OEE), and diagnostics guides are just a few examples of what an HMI has to offer in the way of intuitive, uncomplicated machine operation. Be sure to work with your OEM to find out what kind of features come with their depalletizers’ HMIs.
5. Aftermarket Support
Last but certainly not least, it’s crucial to purchase a depalletizer from an OEM that offers a robust, thorough system of aftermarket support. Between operator turnover, machine upgrades, HMI software updates, and more fluid operational concerns, there will always be questions you’ll have about your depalletizer that will require ongoing support. As a BW Packaging company, BW Integrated Systems offers a lifetime of aftermarket support for its entire lineup of packaging equipment.
Whether you run into issues with your initial machine setup, ongoing maintenance complications, questions about navigating the depalletizer’s HMI, or issues that lead to extended downtime, your OEM should always be on-hand to address your concerns. The manufacturer whose machine you select should also be able to assist with spare and wear parts ordering, as well as future upgrades to your depalletizer (should your production needs change in the future).
Purchasing a depalletizer is a potentially arduous process with many variables, but that doesn’t mean you need to go into it unprepared. Be sure to factor in the container capabilities of any depalletizer you’re considering and the amount of space the machine will take up on your production floor. Look for a depalletizer that gives you some degree of control over the amount of downtime you’ll experience, and be sure that that machine is relatively easy to operate. Finally, ensure that the OEM offers a good network of aftermarket support to address your concerns after the purchasing process. If you keep these five factors in mind, you’ll end up with a depalletizer that will be sure to serve your facility’s needs for years to come.
Did you find this content useful? This is the first of three posts in a series on depalletizers, so be sure to check back soon for more.