Software to pack pallets

Saturday, 08 October, 2005

Stacking different products on a pallet in a stable arrangement that makes the best use of space is an art in itself.

A software module for an automatic order picking system works out how mixed consignments can best be arranged on pallets.

Scientists at the Fraunhofer Institute for Material Flow and Logistics IML have developed the UNIT Order Packing module (utilities for numerical methods and information technology in packaging and transport logistics) for the food trade.

The software supplies the data for a fully automated order picking system operated by the Witron company in Parkstein, south-east of Bayreuth, which loads pallets in a goods distribution centre to meet specific orders.

As soon as an order is received, the software is given all necessary information such as the dimensions, shape, weight and load capacity of the items to be packed.

The program also takes the goods group into account: those of the same group should be packed together on the pallet as far as possible, since that saves the retailer journeys later on when transferring goods to the shop shelves.

The various constraints - for instance, goods that can bear a load go on the bottom, less robust goods go on top, goods of the same category go together, and then stacking them all to a height of at least 2 m - are bound to create conflicts.

However, the software calculates the best packing arrangement, right down to the last millimetre. Sensors check whether there is really enough room in the space envisaged.

The position and orientation of the items to be packed are communicated to the automatic picking system. This requests the items from the automatic warehousing system, and a robot arm stacks them on the pallet.

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