How Can Contract Services Navigate the World of Robots?


My fellow contract packagers and manufacturers,

Labor issues brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic have pushed for an increased implementation of automation, robots and artificial intelligence (AI). I think this will only continue. Personally, but I get calls from different robot companies on a weekly basis.

These systems offer sophisticated warehousing, and camera inspection, as well as palletizing and case packing robots, which are typically easier for contract packagers and contract manufacturers to introduce robotics into their lines.

Amazon strategically acquired Cloostermans, a warehouse machinery and robotics maker, rather than continue to outsource. The company recently announced new ways it is implementing robotics in its processes at its sites. In the Midwest, colleges are incorporating robots and AI courses into their packaging programs, such as Michigan State University’s classes entitled ‘Automation in Packaging’ and ‘Robotics and Packaging’.

Clearly, robotics and automation and are the direction of the future, but here are some considerations before deciding to invest in robotics:

  • What will best suit the lines you are searching to improve? Is it a palletizing robot, an automated, an AI application to use at a critical quality control point? There may be many options to consider which can help increase efficiency.
  • What kind of footprint can you afford in terms of space for a robot? You need to have sufficient space to accommodate such a large machine.
  • Robots can be used for many applications and are increasingly easy for anyone to program. However, each robot has a weight limit that may correlate with its size. The heavier the weight, the bigger the robot.
  • When integrating a robot into a line, what labor is being removed and what are the cost savings? Will you need to hire on an engineer specifically to maintain the robot?
  • Lastly, do you buy a robot or use a Robots-as-a-Service option? This could be viable, but again, you need to consider the labor costs associated with it.  A robot is reliable, always at work, and doesn’t need breaks or health benefits, but will it replace the full job of a worker? For example, if an employee would both pack a carton and apply the label, can the robot do both tasks? What would the extra labeling ability cost, and would that still be cheaper than having that employee on the line?

As always, feel free to reach out to me with questions or to discuss your experience with robots.


Jerry Thompson, President of Combined Technologies, Inc.

[email protected]


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