Processing Magazine

Robotic palletizing solution provides 114-year-old manufacturer with a 55 percent productivity gain

March 7, 2007

Dan Schodowski, the president and CEO of Solon, Ohio-based JTM Products, Inc., faced a challenge when his growing company relocated its manufacturing operations to a new site outside of Cleveland. Schodowski knew that choosing the right equipment for the new facility would be critical in meeting the material handling demands of JTM’s product range.

Best known as the remaining piece of the original manufacturer of Murphy® Oil Soap, JTM’s business now centers around two product lines: Murphy’s™ tire mounting and demounting lubricants and Phoenix™ pipe joint lubricants. While the Murphy’s line of products is primarily packaged in 25- and 40-pound pails, the Phoenix line is packaged in cases of either quart or gallon containers. Both sets of products have to be palletized before shipment, leaving Schodowski’s factory staff with a lot of slow and heavy lifting.

“When we decided to move, we looked at how we could set up our operations differently,” says Schodowski. “Our layout was fragmented in the old building, and we could not bring in automated palletizers or other automated equipment. We were faced with having to keep adding people to manually load the product on the pallets and then truck them somewhere else to have them shrink-wrapped.”

The Move to Automation

Schodowski worked with Larry Wilson, JTM’s director of operations, to find a solution that could handle both product lines and allocate more space in the new 70,000-square foot facility for its chemical processing and packaging equipment and its inventory. The team decided the answer was an automated palletizer that could palletize both pails and cases.

“If we have an automatic palletizer then we don’t need somebody at the end of the line,” says Schodowski. “The idea was not to eliminate any jobs, but we also didn’t want to have to add any personnel when the business started growing.”

FKI Logistex® was the only vendor who offered an integrated solution that could handle both pails and cases. That solution was a robotic palletizing cell featuring a Motoman® articulated-arm robot with an FKI Logistex vacuum end-effector.

Flexibility in Motion

“JTM’s FKI Logistex robotics cell uses a sophisticated control system that minimizes the amount of operator interface required,” says Tom Simone, engineering manager, robotic products, FKI Logistex Manufacturing Systems North America. The FKI Logistex equipment makes it possible for JTM to run both lines at the same time and handle a variety of stacking patterns and pallet sizes.

In the new design, FKI Logistex accumulation conveyors move pails or containers from the production conveyors and queue them for the robot on instruction from the robot’s control system. Depending on the product size and stacking pattern, the robot uses a vacuum tool to form rows and layers of palletized product. When the pallets are full, they are automatically shrink-wrapped and taken by forklift to inventory on the shop floor.

Design flexibility is built into the FKI Logistex system, enabling JTM to ramp up production at any time. FKI Logistex is also currently working on a modification that will allow the operator to load any number of pallets at the start of a run up to 10, providing JTM flexibility to do shorter runs and vary sizes without having to manually pull pallets out of the cell.

A Heavyweight Performer

JTM’s FKI Logistex robotic palletizer has lived up to Schodowski’s and Wilson’s expectations. While JTM uses the system at only 65 percent of capacity, leaving the extra capacity for continued growth, Wilson estimates that the cell now handles 75 percent of JTM’s annual business volume. That volume translates into an impressive performance of more than 200,000 pails and 150,000 cases per year.

The JTM factory currently runs one 7.25-hour shift five days a week with a factory crew of eight, but does not palletize every day. An average day sees 2,800 pails palletized compared with the 1,800 pails that could be hand-stacked in a day at the old facility, generating a 55 percent productivity gain. The robot’s addition to capacity has also freed the crew to work on other tasks in the factory.

Beyond adding capacity, the decision to install a robot was due in large part to the founding family’s values and to the safety and ergonomic issues surrounding a loyal, but aging, factory crew. With the robot, some of the crew’s most labor-intensive work has been eliminated.

Schodowski believes JTM is seeing a quick return on its investment in the robot. “I calculated it as at least one person’s salary and benefits, so my payback could be as little as four years,” he adds. “I think the payback could be even quicker because as we grow, we won’t have to add additional personnel. Our original plan was to keep to a crew of eight, which is where we are today.”

On the Shop Floor

According to Wilson, the skepticism that his crew originally felt about the robot turned to inspiration. One day they took it upon themselves to reconfigure one of their heavily manual secondary lines to also run through the robot. “All they have to do now is pack the boxes and the robot gets them all stacked,” he says.

JTM’s FKI Logistex robotic palletizer, rated for a lifespan of up to 20 years, has performed reliably since it was installed. JTM expects its new robot to be a dependable part of its operation for years.

“FKI Logistex goes the whole nine yards,” says Wilson. “They bring the engineering, the staffing, the integration, the whole package from start to finish. If I was going to buy again, I would buy again from FKI Logistex, no matter what the application.”

For the dedicated employees, managers and owners of JTM Products, that same tradition of loyalty looks like the formula for another 114 years of success.