FREEPORT, ILL. - A plan to reorganize plastics operations at Micro Switch Division, Honeywell Inc.'s captive molding unit, has culminated in a Battenfeld work cell that insert molds car sensor housings automatically, without any operators. Battenfeld is now the single-source supplier of molding ma-chines to Micro Switch. At the automated cell, robots place inserts in the mold and remove finished parts. Mold-ing is done by a Battenfeld vertical-clamp molding press with 77 tons of clamping force.
The cell began turning out parts about one year ago, but details only recently were announced.
The firm molds about 3,000 different parts for Honeywell switches, sensors and control components.
``It's been an exciting last year,'' said Todd Breneman, plant manager, in a June 14 interview in Freeport.
Micro Switch won the 1995 Gold Pentastar Award from Chrysler and the ABE Award (Achieving Business Excel-lence) from the state of Illinois.
But much of the real work began in 1992 for the maker of switches, sensors and control components. That year, Micro Switch engineers bought a rotary-table insert molding machine from Battenfeld of America Inc. of West Warwick, R.I., to help them develop a new automotive sensor.
Picking a single supplier of injection presses was part of a reorganization program that also included creating work cells, buying a new resin drying system and upgrading the molder's Mattec Pro-Help production monitoring system with Millennium software, with a computer screen replacing printed instructions at every injection press.
In 1994, Micro Switch brought its plastics molding under one roof by creating a Plastics Commodity Center in one of its five plants in Freeport. Micro Switch has 10 factories overall, in Illinois, North Carolina, Texas and Mexico. It is Freeport's largest employer.
The Freeport plastics center houses more than 40 injection molding machines, with clamping forces of 28-300 tons.
Vertical- and horizontal-clamp Battenfeld machines gradually will replace other makes at the plant, which includes Arburg, Newbury, HPM and Engel presses.
``If you looked at our plant before, there were clumps of machines that were bought in different eras,'' Breneman said.
Driving the changes was a demanding automotive market. To become certified under ISO 9000 and QS 9000, the automotive-specific standard, a molder has to monitor and verify data from the machines accurately, Breneman said.
The Millennium software, now being installed, will help Micro Switch change how it measures quality. Currently, the company measures molded parts after the fact.
Millennium has the ability to track 96 different process values, such as temperature and pressure.
Despite the move to total automation with the new Batten-feld work cell, Micro Switch's other insert molding machines still have operators.
The system from Mattec Corp. of Loveland, Ohio, includes touch-screen monitors at each press. Operators instantly can pull up color charts to see how the press is running, plus background, instructions and even pictures showing bad parts.
Micro Switch also has beefed up employee education with an interactive program from Paulson Training Programs Inc. of Chester, Conn.
One reason Micro Switch went with Battenfeld is that company's willingness to customize machinery for specific applications. Universal Dynamics Inc. of Woodbridge, Va., won out as the source for resin drying equipment based on the same principle, according to plastics engineer Brian McBride.
Because it makes tiny parts, often in small lots, Micro Switch needed a flexible setup for drying small amounts of engineering resin. Una-Dyn made a special dryer in which 10 small cylinder-shaped hoppers, each holding 5- 10 pounds of resin, are hooked up to a central drying station. An operator simply removes a hopper and takes it to the machine.
The equipment has improved consistency of the dried resin, McBride said.
A walk through the plant shows insert molding technology of the past, present and future. A number of machines have shuttle tables, where operators load metal inserts into one side while the other side is being molded.
The automated Battenfeld cell, shielded behind see-through panels, works like this:
A bowl-shaped feeder aligns L-shaped metal electrical contacts and moves them to a linear feeder, which takes them to a robot. The robot places the inserts into one of two molds on a rotating table. At the same time, the machine is injecting the resin, polybutylene terephthalate, into the other mold. Each sensor has three inserts. The table rotates, moving the mold and inserts into the molding cycle and the other mold to the unloading station. A second robot lifts the sensors, with sprue and runners attached. The robot moves the part to a chute that automatically removes the sprue and runners.
Battenfeld makes everything except the bowl feeder. The machine control and robot control are mounted on a fixed arm that can swing 360 degrees around the machine.