PITTSBURGH — A Fanuc M6i articulated-arm robot that was palletizing PVC fence profiles caught the attention of Conair Group's extrusion clients.
The message: Robots aren't just for injection molders anymore.
The robot automatically indexed 4-foot profiles extruded at more than 20 feet per minute from an ExtrusionTek Milacron coextrusion line. Conair showed off the equipment at an April 25 open house at its Pittsburgh technical center. The robot is capable of handling more than 10 parts per minute, officials said.
"I want everyone to know it can be done," said Bob Bessemer, downstream extrusion product manager for Pittsburgh-based Conair. "I've been trying to tell people that extrusion can use robots, and robots have been very focused on injection molding for taking parts out of molds."
Credit advancements in technology and the high-growth extrusion markets such as PVC fencing, officials said. According to Plastics Custom Research Services of Advance, N.C., extruded PVC fencing — a market estimated at $200 million in 1999 — is growing three to four times faster than the overall fencing market.
The robots can make quick, precise movements and can reduce labor costs substantially, officials said. The demo robot handled one 4-foot section in less than six seconds, said Jim Healy, Conair's automation product manager.
"If you're running a seven-day, three-shift-per-day operation, that's four people per shift," said Ernie Preiato, Conair's extrusion vice president. "This ended up being a very simple payback analysis."
The price of the demonstration robot starts at $50,000.
"They're not dramatically expensive, and labor is one of the highest costs that people have when they're in a production facility," he said. "They're trying to minimize labor and floor space. The biggest issue for the use of robots is that they need a line where it's repetitive."
Bessemer said that since extrusion is much hotter than injection molding now, more people are focusing on this growth market.
"That's why, all of a sudden, they're looking at the robot," he said. "That's why they're looking at increasing cooling capacities and doing everything they can to go faster."
The robot uses a vacuum gripper to take each profile from the extrusion line and palletize it. The demonstration robot had a payload capacity to 13 pounds and a maximum 54 inches of reach, Conair said. Conair can provide robots with payload capacity to 441 pounds and a reach of 122 inches.