Siemens Helping VARO Pioneer Automated Pallet Film Removal

Søren Jakobsen, Head of Industrial AI at Siemens Denmark
VARO with support from Siemens is leading in automated pallet film removal, shining a spotlight on the benefits of automating this overlooked process

Automation has transformed manufacturing. One area it has had a significant, but less championed impact on is packaging. 

For many manufacturers, particularly food manufacturers who have to efficiently produce high volumes of identical products, automating packaging has led to significant efficiency gains. 

This is especially true regarding the pallet unwrapping process, which has a variety of hidden costs.

The costs of the pallet unwrapping process 

Manufacturers who wrap large amounts of product daily often go through a greater amount of thicker film, raising their medium and long-term wrapping costs.

Budget films- which manufacturers often opt for to save on costs- may not provide suitable tension to ensure pallet integrity when transported or stored, which can lead to a loss in stability. Product and interior packaging can also be damaged, incurring further costs.

While utilising a higher-quality specialist wrap increases the initial cost per roll, the benefits gained in performance and efficiency will lead to increased long-term savings. It also enables manufacturers to avoid the hazards outlined in an Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) study, which confirmed that manual pallet wrapping raises the risk of employees injuring their fingers and sustaining chronic back conditions. 

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Danish manufacturer VARO Machinery in collaboration with Siemens, is leading automated palette removal systems. The company was one of the first globally to develop a machine that automatically removes film, with AI and visual technology that gives manufacturers vital insight into the process.

This process starts with the pallet being wrapped at the warehouse before the film is automatically processed into a waste container. Then, regardless of the product's size or shape, the film's thickness or lighting conditions, the AI’s algorithm and camera can detect if all the film has been removed.

VARO’s AI completely automates pallet film removal without needing monitoring or human intervention to remove residue. This is a huge achievement for the technology's development considering the difficulty in getting a machine to accurately observe if the film had been properly removed. Siemens delivered the systems platform and provided board support. 

Arne Lundfold Bjerring, CTO of Technology & Production at VARO

"We are the first in the world to automate a traditionally manual process and, because the process is unmanned, we need to reassure the customer about the process,” says Arne Lundfold Bjerring, CTO of Technology & Production at VARO.

“Therefore, in collaboration with Siemens, we have developed a system based on AI, where our algorithms provide certainty that the film has been removed.”

What are the benefits of automating film removal from pallets?
  • Reduce waiting times by enhancing the efficiency of the wrapping process
  • Enhance sustainability through the effective use of energy and materials
  • Increased film stretchability compared to standard hand films, reducing tearing
  • Enhances worker safety by removing risk of strain and proximity to sharp blades
  • Increases worker productivity by freeing them to focus on engaging tasks
  • Significantly reduces film usage and costs while maintaining quality
  • Minimises risk of damage and spoiled loads, increasing revenue

VARO’s AI has enhanced productivity and efficiency by freeing up its customers' employees, who no longer have to continually monitor film removal machines. By digitising a traditionally manual and frequently overlooked process, companies can reduce time lost to laborious labour tasks, increasing revenue and employee and customer satisfaction.

"The trend is that our customers must continuously increase their output while requiring fewer people to attend the machines. Digitalization and artificial intelligence allow us to offer extra services to our customers in the form of knowledge and data collection, which they can use to improve their output, and which we can use to build better machines," added Arne Bjerring.

VARO’s AI through various testing methods was deemed capable of identifying if the film had been removed. However, the manufacturer wanted to develop a wider ecosystem that could address monitoring the solution and update the models. Here is where Siemens came in, helping VARO develop the model further with hardware through Siemens Industrial Edge, an opportunity the global company was enthusiastic about. 

"Siemens wants to establish itself as a partner for machine builders working with artificial intelligence,” says Søren Jakobsen, Head of Industrial AI at Siemens Denmark.

“ We see great potential and believe that AI will become a competitive parameter for Danish machine builders. At the same time, we have good solutions that are in line with the PLC and HMI solutions that we have already provided to machine manufacturers” 

He finished with a message to other manufacturers pursuing automation, be it for solutions to film removal from pallets or other factory tasks. He says manufacturers must think of automation in terms of their broader ecosystem and hardware.

"Solutions based on artificial intelligence must be able to solve the task, but it is also important to think in terms of industrial-grade hardware. Machines often run for 10, 15 or 20 years, and the components in them are always industrial-grade. In which case, there is no point building an AI model with a camera system or other modules that cannot withstand dust, vibration or rapid temperature fluctuations.” 

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