PIA’s New Way to Move Bundles

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By: Jim Rosenberg

A new option in automated bundle handling was introduced here this week by Plant Integration Associates (PIA). The Port Chester, N.Y.-based company brought to the annual America East trade show and conference a video animation of a product it will exhibit at Nexpo in June.

PIA’s system will use a robotic arm to load newspaper bundles into a four-section metal container with a metal base designed for transport in the same manner as a pallet. Arranged two by two, the sections are walled to keep even unstrapped bundles in place and undamaged. The robotic arm lifts and loads bundles from below rather than grabbing them from the sides or top. Bundles are lowered into sections from above, with the arm passing through a cut-away portion in one outer wall of each section. When a bundle is in place, the arm slides out horizontally.

Though the containers have characteristics of pallets (their base) and carts (metal container), PIA President Richard Esposito emphasizes that his solution is not adapted from another industry. Gently loaded and securely stacked, the bundles require no slip sheets or plastic wrapping. As for the robotic capability, “we can load pallets and carts with the same machine,” Esposito said.

He added that the system eliminates the hazards of loading and transporting pallets and enables product to be moved out faster. Those hazards relate to the product and to the worker, said PIA’s Dwight Carey. “The cost of a typical [lower back] claim pays for all these containers in one shot,” he said. Besides stability and safety, “problems with wooden pallets that people don’t think about” include nonstandard sizes and lack of durability, Carey said.

Not unexpectedly, the containers cost more than wooden pallets, but besides reducing risks of injury and damage, Esposito said a packaging operation will save the cost of plastic wrap and wrappers, labor and related costs.

At Nexpo, PIA will show the square, four-part container but not the robotic arm. Without a constant and reliable source of fresh newspaper bundles (as in the days when pressmakers could be counted on to have running units or tower), the same batch of bundles would soon give out, said Esposito. Nevertheless, for “the next generation, we’ve already figured out how to do the unloading robotically,’ said Carey. But at this stage, PIA is not ready to add or announce an unloading capability for the system, said Carey, who’s been involved in industrial robotics for 25 years.

That capability may become more important if the system is employed for incoming material as well as outgoing product. The containers, which nest into trucks, “would be good for preprints, also, coming in,” said Esposito, citing the importance of keeping stacks of uninserted ads together and unharmed during transport and storage.

Three hours west, PIA has served as general contractor for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s major mailroom upgrade — a project that dates back at least two years and is expected to be complete late this year or early next. The Post-Gazette will rely on palletizing, however, rather than robotic containerizing. PIA will supply equipment from several other companies for that project.

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