Conair Group (Booth S2616) is exhibiting advances in robotics, touch-screen controls and its future-oriented ResinWorks System at NPE.
Pittsburgh-based Conair's new Visual controls offer increased memory and ease of use across its line of beam robots.
``The need for easy and intuitive controls has come to the forefront as all customers have gotten leaner and operator turnover in shops has increased,'' said Hank Dixon, executive vice president of automation.
A touch-screen Visual controller facilitates robot programming for pick-and-place processes, memory-stored embedded program source commands or direct inputting from scratch.
Conair is introducing the SR4040 model, the latest within the Sepro-built Generation IV robot line. The firm launched three smaller Generation IV models in early 2003, and plans to phase in three larger ones through 2004. Development began more than two years ago.
A processor can get a payback in six to 12 months, along with consistency, reduced cycles and possible labor savings using a Generation IV robot, said Jim Healy, automation sales manager. ``That's at least a 50 percent improvement'' vs. the common 12- to 18-month paybacks of some earlier robots.
Conair became the exclusive North American distributor for Sepro Robotique SA of La Roche-sur-Yon, France, in 1988. Generation IV connotes the fourth family of robots during the Conair-Sepro partnership.
In addition, Conair is responding to processors' interest in reducing costs associated with moving secondary materials and trimming parts manually.
At NPE, Conair is simulating trimming of a blow molded plastic child seat using a six-axis, M-6iB materials-handling robot with an AccuDeflash program, both from Fanuc Robotics North America Inc.
Conair began building a systems-integration relationship with Fanuc of Rochester Hills, Mich., in 1999 for special-purpose robots not in Sepro's line.
Conair seeks to expand automated processes beyond typical injection molding applications and into markets for blow molding and extrusion, Healy said. Customers note Conair's product lines and wonder about Conair offering other auxiliaries.
``In all lines, we try to provide complete processing solutions,'' Dixon said.
The market for robots has changed. ``Ten years ago, we had to convince customers to automate,'' Dixon said, but the down market has accelerated a drive toward robots for higher productivity and faster payback on equipment investments.
On a related front, customer demands to cut costs motivated Conair to develop the ResinWorks System. Industry veteran Chuck Thiele, who joined Conair in December, and two others created the concept to help customers improve efficiency and lower material and machinery costs.
ResinWorks, an operating philosophy as much as a customized product, creates innovative ways to provide properly blended or guaranteed-dry material to the molding machine, Conair said.
``As much as possible, we want to remove dryers and blenders from the machine, and we want any material to be prepared to go to any destination at any time,'' said Thiele, director of systems business development. Initially, the vision was ``to redefine and reshape central drying systems to make them simpler, more user-friendly and take all of the potential snakes out of the equation.''
Conair revisited how its dryer and loader technologies are packaged, and then added features, Thiele said. The goal: ``maximize [processing] machine utilization while saving energy, labor, material, space and inventory costs.'' The firm envisions broader goals.
The concept targets injection molding, extrusion and blow molding processors of multiple dried, blended and virgin materials. Efficient resin handling means a machine never waits for materials, and a processor will gain machine uptime, he said.
The ResinWorks exhibit at NPE includes a simulated system with four drying hoppers, a resin distribution center and end-point loading.
In controls, Conair hired electrical engineer Mark Ollander in October 2000 and challenged him to unite controls across Conair's diverse product lines. ``Each Conair operation had its own unique setup'' and control format, said Ollander, vice president of controls technology.
But now that is changing.
``I am getting foundational products and more common architecture in place so the controls can span from platform to platform,'' he said. With a common look and feel, they ``definitely belong to the same family.'' Most controls allow an operator to input instructions from the front panel.
The firm exhibits a sixth-generation loader control embedded with proprietary Conair technology. The flexible, digital Selectronic 6 replaced analog technology last year and retains compatibility with earlier SEL4 and SEL5 models.
For other loading-control products, Conair relies mostly on Rockwell Automation Inc. of Milwaukee with its MicroLogix, Control Logix and Compact Logix central processing units, DeviceNet architecture for communications between individual loaders and programmable logic controllers and Allen-Bradley modules or ArmorBlock technology for input/output functions.
During 2002, Conair introduced centralized and distributed versions of its basic, 32-station control system.
The traditional, one-cabinet central system costs less to buy and more to install and can control eight to 32 loaders and two to eight pumps. Without installation, a basic, eight-station central unit costs about $2,400; a larger, fully loaded one is $5,300. The distributed B32 system offers flexibility in expansion for larger operations and can save about 35 percent on installation costs, according to the company.
At NPE, Conair is unveiling an Intelligent Loading System with distributed I/O controls for a core range of 30-96 loaders. A semi-distributed ILS can link 32 loaders, 16 pumps and 32 material sources.
Conair's supervisor-oriented System One release 2.0 data-integration platform now sports a high-end, flat-panel computer touch screen.
Sewickley Capital Inc., a Pittsburgh holding company, owns Conair through its International Plastics Equipment Group Inc. unit.