Workplace injuries cost the United States an estimated $250 billion each year, according to The Bureau of Labor Statistics. In fact, the number of non-fatal workplace injuries and accidents in the United States reached 2.8 million in 2019 — with cuts and lacerations among the most common causes. Industry leader in apparel distribution, Ralawise believes automation could be the solution.
Accidents in the workplace can be caused by multiple factors, but some industries are prone to a higher risk of accidents. Warehousing is a prime example of this. In the sector, every effort is made to reduce the likelihood of large accidents, but it is equally important to minimize the causes of small injuries. Cuts and lacerations are one of the most common injuries — many of which are sustained in the workplace. Worse still are injuries that cause permanent damage to the worker, leaving them unable to return to work.
Usually, these lacerations are caused by the cutting tools used in warehouses to open cartons and remove packaging. Ralawise began investigating ways it could minimize the likelihood of these accidents without reducing throughput.
Ralawise is a large-scale apparel distributor, holding over 16 million items of stock, made up of 114,000 products. From its warehousing center in Flintshire, the company processes an average of 3,000 cartons per day into its pick solution for product replenishment. Ralawise employs a team of operatives to cut, unwrap and unpack these boxes quickly, before moving them onto the next part of the distribution process.
Steps were already taken to enhance the safety of workers, by using retractable blades and investing in high quality utility knives. However, while workers are appropriately trained, using a blade manually always runs a risk of injury. Ralawise began investigating ways to remove human employees from harm’s way, by searching for an automated solution for box opening.
Robots have long been used to separate human workers from dangerous elements in the workplace. Traditional six-axis robots have often been deployed on production lines to remove workers from the danger of heavy and fast-moving processes. Similarly, box opening robots, while on a smaller scale, can eliminate the need for workers to handle blades.
Unfortunately, box opening robots are not as common as the more traditional six-axis or SCARA robot models. To find a robot that could perform this task effectively, Ralawise approached TM Robotics, the European, North and South American distributor of Shibaura Machine industrial robots.
While specializing in the distribution of Shibaura Machine robots, TM Robotics prides itself on its ability to recommend the right automation for each application. On this occasion, TM Robotics suggested the Intelligent Box Opening Device (IBOD), the only patented automated box opener on the market.
The IBOD is a case cutting and extraction machine from CASI, a specialist machine builder of automation systems for fulfillment processes. The IBOD is a specially designed, pass-through box opener. Using built-in intelligence, the machine can measure the size of every incoming case to find the programmed cut lines on each carton. As the machine is automatically self-feeding and self-aligning, using a conveyor, it does not require a human worker to tamper with boxes or blades.
However, switching from manual box opening to an automated version can be a significant shift for a distribution facility. Before making the investment, Ralawise was invited to visit the CASI facility in Frisco, Texas to see the machine in action.
“Improving health and safety was a key priority when searching for a box opening robot,” explained Gary Clibery, Facilities and Projects Manager at Ralawise. “However, having seen the machine in action when visiting CASI in the US, we soon realized the investment could provide a significant boost in productivity, quality and throughput in this part of the operation.
“One of the unexpected advantages was the reduction in damage to products. Aside from accidents and injuries, manual box cutting also runs the risk of damaging a carton’s contents. Due to the automated nature of the machine, boxes are opened in a precise and controlled manner, reducing the possibility of accidental damage.”
Since the installation of the IBOD, Ralawise has cut 135,000 boxes at its Flintshire facility. Of these, only one box suffered from damaged contents — a considerable reduction compared to the damage caused by manual opening.
The IBOD comes in two variations. The IBOD ONE can cut the top cases of cartons at a rate of up to 450 cartons per hour, whereas the IBOD DUO can operate at a rate of 750 cartons per hour. Ralawise chooses the IBOD ONE for use in its processes. Using photo optic and linear displacement, the IBOD measures the dimensions of each box before positioning it for cutting. With a programmable motion device, the robot then uses software-controlled automation to cut boxes according to defined specifications.
Ralawise required the robot to remove lids from cartons. By automating this process, the company eliminated the possibility of cuts and strains. However, the company also benefitted from increased productivity, as automating the process also meant staff could focus on more complex tasks.
“The IBOD offers more than simply removing the risk of cuts and lacerations to workers,” explained Nigel Smith, managing director of TM Robotics. “Warehouses can expect to reap significant throughput rewards from the machine. The IBOD can also be equipped with an Automatic Blade Changer (ABC), minimizing downtime to change dull blades. The IBOD has a blade wear monitor which tracks the life of the blades and automatically changes the blade cartridge within seconds when the blades reach the end-of-life threshold.”
Minimizing the possibility of cuts and lacerations provides the obvious advantage of improving safety for workers, but as Ralawise evidenced, automating these tasks can also reap productivity rewards.