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Challenges and Solutions in Pallet Automation

Man with an automatic machine
Thad KingThad King
March 1, 2024

Automation challenges in the pallet industry are nothing new, as automation has been used to increase efficiency in logistics and supply chain operations for decades. What’s new, however, are the ways in which automation challenges in the pallet industry are overcome.

Learning to Live and Work With Automation

Human and robot having a fist bump

Artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, and other digital technologies and integrated equipment have become powerful tools for warehouse professionals to use to overcome automation challenges. Additionally, newer manufacturing processes and materials have opened more possibilities for plastic pallets and even wood pallet solutions to be tracked with RFID tag technology.

Whether you’re a warehouse manager or a professional who works in logistics and routing, pallet automation systems and components offer speed and efficiency like never before. Overcoming challenges with pallet automation requires some restructuring in most cases, but the benefits of doing so are often very much worth it.

Below, you’ll learn about several common automation challenges in the pallet industry and how technology and innovation are overcoming them.

Changing Maintenance Concerns

Automated equipment and management systems have done a lot for the logistics industry in terms of reducing costs and increasing efficiency, but equipment and systems need maintenance. Unfortunately, complex operations and overburdened warehouse managers may not be able to keep to a strict maintenance schedule, leading to issues piling up. When this happens, machines can break down, and systems can crash and become unresponsive.

Thankfully, automation can also be the solution here with predictive maintenance scheduling. Using automated system technologies that take advantage of AI can allow for the creation of maintenance schedules based on predictive modeling.

AI systems monitor equipment in real-time, and based on variables like workload and standard life expectancy, the AI can process data to predict maintenance needs before things become dire. This reduces the amount of attention needed for these systems as AI can send automated alerts for maintenance as needed.

Cost Considerations When Implementing Automation

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The pallet industry is always looking for ways to reduce costs. Everything from employee compensation considerations to wooden pallet cost factors should be accounted for when planning a budget in the pallet industry, and keeping costs low is one of the keys to remaining competitive.

When introducing new automated equipment or systems into your organization, the upfront costs can seem high. Beyond these initial costs, there are also ongoing costs for some system components and equipment, potentially causing some warehouse managers to shy away from pallet automation despite the benefits it offers.

To overcome these challenges, you’re encouraged to look for automation solutions that can scale with your needs. Automation should be viewed as an investment, but the size of your investment should be commensurate with your current needs. There’s no reason to spend a fortune on automated equipment and AI systems if you don’t currently have the business to support them.

On the other hand, investing in automation technology that can scale as your needs change and your business grows can be a smarter way to invest. Try to find automated solutions that meet your current needs but that can also be easily upgraded as needed. In doing so, consider the complexity involved in upgrading these systems. You don’t want to end up in a position where upgrading takes operations offline for long periods of time or requires long-term assistance from a specialized IT team.

Space and Storage Challenges

Big machinery

Free space is another challenge when factoring pallet automation equipment and systems into a warehouse or pallet storage floor plan. With an increase in demand due to online ordering and direct-to-consumer selling, space considerations factor heavily into the decision to add any new equipment to a logistics facility these days. Limited space can be a deciding factor in upgrading to automation equipment, and for some warehouse managers, the potential for limited space due to fluctuating shipments can be a deal breaker.

To overcome this challenge, consider that many automated systems can actually save space. While the equipment itself takes up space, automated systems often move pallets more efficiently, and you can use AI to organize or reorganize your floor plan. This is once again an example of automation serving as the challenge and the solution.

Pallet Handling and Routing

Pallet handling and routing can also be a challenge when working with automation, at least at first. This is particularly true if you’re used to manually processing pallets and shipments using legacy systems. As the aforementioned online ordering and the increasingly wide range of products available globally place demands on warehouses and logistics professionals who use pallets, finding efficient ways to maneuver everything efficiently and safely becomes more difficult with time.

To solve this, you can turn to automation systems that utilize computer vision and tagging. Computer vision is a machine learning automation technology that recognizes and tracks items. While computer vision doesn’t actually see anything, it can recognize shapes and interpret them. This means that the size and shape of a pallet and its contents can be recognized, stored in a system’s memory, and then tracked as it moves throughout a warehouse.

These systems can even read numbers and letters in some cases, allowing computer vision automation systems to ingest data about moving pallets and parcels in a warehouse space. Once this data has been ingested and processed, automation systems can compute the best ways to move pallets through a space for efficiency and safety.

Consult With a Professional

Man consulting a professional

The above tips are general in nature, so you are encouraged to consult with a pallet expert to find solutions to the unique challenges your business faces. An experienced consultant will be able to provide personalized solutions that speak to the concerns and resources at your warehouse or processing facility.

By implementing personalized strategies to meet and overcome automation challenges in the pallet industry, you’re more likely to see success in keeping up with changes. Remember that automation itself may pose some challenges, but automation can also be the solution to these challenges in many cases.

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