The Tissue World in Miami offered a futuristic-looking scene in which people in the aisles of the trade fair halls seemed to be in a different reality. They continuously tapped with their fingers in the air as though they were pressing buttons — which is precisely what they were doing. At the trade fair, augmented reality (AR) goggles enabled visitors to operate machines that only existed in digital form. The users could grasp a variety of products, put them together on separate layers, and transport them onward. What they saw was the combined palletizing solution consisting of the AR500 articulated-arm robot and the layer-handling system TheWave — both of which are innovations from Langhammer, the automation specialist from the Körber Business Area Logistics Systems.
It was a pioneering form of presentation for a pioneering product. “The WhiteTiger project is raising palletizing systems to the next level,” says Langhammer CEO Enrico Pes. The company has developed a basic palletizing machine, the palletizer PA15, as well as the matching “feeder” systems, which can gently and above all highly flexibly combine a wide variety of products on the pallet layers. Together, these systems offer customers a number of benefits.
lWe already took these requirements into account during development and the key steps were coordinated with reference customersr
Langhammer CEO Enrico Pes
One of them is that WhiteTiger is a floor-level solution that doesn’t need any platforms because employees can access the conveyor belts from the floor. Although such systems already existed in the past, they weren’t as fast as those that grab the pallets from above. Instead of six or seven layers per minute, as is usual for palletizers, the PA 15 can move up to ten layers per minute. Another benefit is that the system consists of modular units that can not only handle differently sized pallets and packages but can also be adjusted as required in terms of both length and width. This is made possible by its one-pillar structure. Instead of needing a full-scale housing, WhiteTiger only has a small footprint. “It enables the system to fit into tight spaces,” says Pes.
However, the system’s most outstanding feature is the way it moves the packages. It can grasp individual products and arrange them in any pattern on the pallets, thus ensuring great flexibility. “We previously arranged kitchen towel packages, for example, into rows of products that were then combined to form a layer. The products are now grasped separately, which enables maximum flexibility in the arrangement of the pallets,” says Pes. Another distinctive feature of this system is that it doesn’t push products, but rather conveys them. The belt slides underneath the package like a cake server. It then slowly lifts it like an elevator. After depositing them at their predetermined place on the pallet, the system gently fixes them tight. It then withdraws just as gently. This makes the system especially well suited for fragile products, such as rolls of paper or bags of flour, which can get damaged if they are pushed.
“This aspect is becoming increasingly important, as are intuitive operation and maintenance,” says Pes. For environmental and other reasons, customers are increasingly using less and lighter packaging. “This is a trend that’s just now beginning to go global,” says Pes. “Germany is already far ahead of other countries when it comes to gentle product handling.” However, the situation is often different elsewhere. “In the USA, for example, toilet paper is sometimes still sold in boxes. However, the new trend will make more headway there too, due, in part, to the expansion of German discounters in the USA as well as the general rise in the people’s environmental consciousness.” After all, less and lighter packaging not only reduces the attendant costs, but also the amount of CO2 emitted during production.
Customer requirements were the decisive driving force for Langhammer early on. “We already took these requirements into account during development and the key steps were coordinated with reference customers,” says Pes. The first systems were subjected to product tests as early as 2018.
The basic machine, the PA15, and the first layering system were released for sale in June 2019. Potential customers will get their first chance to experience the new basic machine at the FachPack trade fair in Nuremberg.
lWhiteTiger is raising palletizing systems to the next levelr
Langhammer CEO Enrico Pes
As was the case in Miami, the visitors at FachPack will get to see far more than just the exhibited machine. “We are using AR goggles to simulate a walk through the hall. We can replace a large machine with a small one or arrange it differently. This enables customers to experience first-hand how the system integrates itself into the production hall,” says Pes.
Pes points out that even though the AR technology is currently only intended for such presentations, “digital twins” of all of the products offered are already under development. These 3D models can be used to train employees, for example, before the associated machine is actually built. An AR-based service app is also being developed. Pes is certain that “WhiteTiger clearly sets us apart from the competition.”