Automated Tote Management System

April 4, 2020

Automated tote management systems for food producers employs reusable containers made of plastic or cardboard to transfer products, accommodating a wide range of products and primary packaging types. Reusable plastic totes not only reduce carbon emissions, waste, and natural resource consumption, they offer improved product protection versus cardboard alternatives. Durable plastic totes are easy to clean, hygienic, resist water and chemicals, and are consistently sized. Plastic totes have been shown to reduce product damage by up to 96% while lowering costs by as much as 27% through more efficient, reusable distribution processes.


The system uses a closed-loop process to drive cost savings. In the initial automated operation, stacked foldable totes are de-palletized, de-stacked, opened using a multiformat opener (or rejected as unopened), distributed, and delivered to the packaging process. In the return phase, totes are collected, prepared/cleaned, and conveyed for set up again.


While tote systems can leverage traditional material handling equipment, stacking and de-stacking often requires manual intervention. The company’s automated system increases reliability and throughput, reduces long-term costs, and provides ergonomic improvements that enhance workplace safety. Since totes are available in a variety of types and open/stackable configurations, Harpak-ULMA advocates tote loading robotics with flexible, customizable end-of-arm tooling that can be tailored to handle unique tote requirements. The solution employs a 4 Axis tote-packing robot that operates at up to 80 trays per minute. The specific palletizing system employed for secondary packaging will be guided by a combination of product versatility and production volume requirements. Harpak-ULMA designed an associated buffer system to optimize palletizing equipment performance for either robotic or mechanical palletizers.


Harpak-ULMA leverages Allen Bradley industrial control systems as their platform of choice for smart, connected packaging solutions, including totes management. Ease of integration is key to accelerating innovation and achieving productivity gains at digital transformation scale. Using Rockwell Automation’s controls and information platforms offers Harpak-ULMA’s customers one of the industry’s most advanced integration capabilities, improving the ease and reducing the cost of embracing new innovative solutions. Customers easily adapt to market changes at less cost, improve OEE/MTBF/MTTR, productivity and safety metrics, overcome the challenges of an aging and evolving workforce, and better control maintenance expenses with competitive parts sourcing.