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Towards automatic palletization for heterogeneous elements

When robots play Tetris

In the current industrial world, task automation is a way to save valuable time for manufacturing products, managing stocks and preparing packages. In most cases, products are all the same and palletization is automatized.

However, sometimes they are all different: size, shape and weight. In that case, it is a real challenge to realize a stable and optimal stack, and operator intervention is often required.

Technic Automation and Acsystème wanted the automation of this task thanks to a robotized system and an embedded calculation algorithm. This solution is a gain in productivity and improves work safety by relieving operators from hard and physical tasks.

Robotics at the service of industry

For an industrialist in the sector of wood and furniture, Technic Automation designed a machine to stack wooden panels of different sizes. The point is to alleviate this burden on operators so they can focus on their real occupation.

Design and production of the machine

The project is quite complicated owing to the restricted area in which the machine operates. In order to adapt to the customer’s configuration, Technic Automation first built a 3D model of its machine before producing it.

At this point, mechatronic skills are the keys to optimize the space occupied by mechanics, electronics and informatics.

Moreover, the machine needs to stick to strict rules in terms of robotic security and client specifications (performance, speed, and stability of the stack). A feasibility survey is indispensable in order to ensure that the mechanics can follow the imposed pace.

stacking

Elements are scanned by an optical reader to identify the next panel. Onboard software allows the robot to calculate the element’s final position on the stack, and then the robot places it. One of the difficulties was to elaborate a fast algorithm that does not require a lot of resources to optimize the stack. To give the machine such technology, Technic Automation collaborated with a partner used to optimization technics: Acsystème.

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Stacking machine (3D model)

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Simulation of stacking

Optimization thanks to scientific computing

Optimal stacking

The specifications require optimizing board positioning so as to stack as many of them as possible with reliable stability at a defined pace.

An optical reader provides information about the next five elements to place. A buffer area and some shims are at the disposal of the robot so as to avoid cantilevered configurations. It is an online “bin packing” problem, for which degree of complexity grows exponentially with the number of visible elements.

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Stacking optimazation by simulation

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robotized machine

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wooden stack

meeting stability criteria

Element heterogeneity (shape and size) makes the problem harder. Indeed, the machine has to meet stability criteria (weight and center of gravity) according to the effort needed to destabilize the stack. Thanks to software modeling, we were able to study and optimize a powerful and robust solution to position boards.

Finally, an optimal, robust, light and fast algorithm was developed and implemented on the robot.

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Evolution towards 3D solution

Thanks to the experience and good results obtained on this project, Acsystème carried on its research work to extend the concept to 3D. It resulted in a solution for 3D automatic palletization.

Optimized and automatic palletization

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