Ralawise is a large-scale apparel distributor, holding over 16 million items of stock, made up of 114,000 products from 182 brands. From its warehousing center in Flintshire, U.K., the company processes an average of 3,000 cartons per day into its pick system for product replenishment. In a bid to minimize accidents and better the health and safety for its workers, Ralawise began investigating ways it could reduce the use of knives on its warehouse floor without reducing throughput.

The most common injuries were lacerations caused by the cutting tools used in warehouses to open cartons and remove packaging. These cartons are often secured with nylon branding and wrapped with multiple layers of stretch film. To process these cartons effectively, Ralawise employs a team of warehouse operatives to cut, unwrap and unpack these boxes quickly, before moving them onto the next part of the distribution process.  

Ralawise began investigating ways to remove employees from harm’s way, by searching for an automated system for box opening. TM Robotics, the European distributor of Toshiba Machine industrial robots, suggested the Intelligent Box Opening Device (IBOD), the only patented automated box opener on the market.

The IBOD is a case cutting and extraction machine. Using built-in intelligence, the machine can measure the size of every incoming case to find the programmed cut lines on each carton. Because the machine can automatically feed and align boxes using a conveyor, it does not require a human worker to tamper with boxes or blades.

“Improving health and safety was a key priority when searching for a box opening robot,” explains Gary Clibery, facilities and projects manager at Ralawise. “However, having seen the machine in action when visiting an automated warehouse in the U.S., we soon realized the investment could provide a significant boost in productivity, quality and throughput in this part of the operation.”

Using photo optic and linear displacement, the IBOD measures the dimensions of each box before positioning it for cutting. With a programmable motion device, the robot then uses software-controlled automation to cut boxes according to the precise specifications defined by the customer.

Ralawise required the robot to remove lids from cartons entering its distribution center. By automating this process with the IBOD, the company eliminated the possibility of cuts and strains, which are commonly associated with cutting boxes manually. However, the company also benefitted from increased productivity, due to the fast speeds of the IBOD. This automation also meant staff could work on more complex tasks, rather than simply opening boxes.

“The IBOD offers more than simply removing the risk of cuts and lacerations to workers,” says Nigel Smith, managing director of TM Robotics. “Automated case extraction is another labor-saving feature of the IBOD. This add-on module removes the lids from cartons and empties the case contents into bins, or onto a separate conveyor. This eliminates the build-up of waste in the workspace, freeing manual workers to focus on other tasks.”

Since the installation of the IBOD, Ralawise has cut 135,000 boxes at its Flintshire facility. Of these, only one box suffered from damaged contents—a considerable reduction compared to the damage caused by manual box opening. Minimizing the possibility of cuts and lacerations provides the obvious advantage of improving safety for workers, but as Ralawise evidenced, automating these tasks can also reap productivity rewards.

For more information on the IBOD and other robots call 847-709-7308 or visit www.tmrobotics.com.