The Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago is featuring a full range of manufacturing technologies - including use of plastics - in a new exhibit called Toymaker 3000 now undergoing final tests.
During four years, the museum explored how to portray innovative manufacturing techniques, encouraged by Rockwell Automation Inc. of Milwaukee and Illinois Tool Works Foundation of Glenview, Ill.
The exhibit's corporate suppliers and donors with plastics industry ties include Algus Packaging Inc. of DeKalb, Ill.; Stratasys Inc. of Eden Prairie, Minn.; Cox Automation Systems of St. Charles, Ill.; KlÃ¶ckner Pentaplast of America Inc. of Gordonsville, Va.; Tedco Toys Inc. of Hagerstown, Ind.; and PM Mold Co. Inc. of Schaumburg, Ill.
The exhibit's total value is about $5.7 million, including $3 million that the museum raised to build the assembly line, said exhibit projects manager John Meyer.
The museum bills Toymaker 3000 as part of its virtual Ball Enterprise business exhibit, which opened in 1999 as a maker of juggling balls. A nearby Petroleum Planet exhibit features a monomer challenge, a hydrocarbon mirror maze and multiple plastic product displays.
Toymaker 3000 visitors observe a microcosm of product design and market planning, automated assembly operations and various packaging procedures. Advanced robots from Fanuc Robotics America Inc. of Rochester Hills, Mich.; Yaskawa Electric Corp.'s Motoman Inc. unit of West Carrollton, Ohio; and Adept Technology Inc. of Livermore, Calif., handle most functions without human intervention.
At the start of the tour, visitors can order the mostly plastic product - a mechanical, gyroscopelike Gravitron toy - for $3. They can personalize the toy, choosing, for example, purple, green or orange components and a text string up to 20 characters.
Sequential manufacturing processes follow. At the end of the line, a barcoded receipt prompts a robot to find the order, which is delivered in a sealed, PVC package through the dispensing rack. The process takes about five minutes.
The line is designed to run continuously; robots disassemble unsold toys and return the components to elevated bins for reuse through feeder bowls.
The museum's sealing machinery and clamshell packaging equipment surprised a veteran developer of such systems.
``I never expected to have a machine in there,'' said Algus President Arthur Gustafson.
Beginning in 1954, Gustafson ran a press at Plastifilm in Wheaton, Ill. From 1961-90, the entrepreneurial inventor operated Alloyd Co., and in 1995 he established Algus to build a broad line of self-developed machines and custom thermoform packaging materials.
Stratasys supplied a desktop Dimension three-dimensional printer that extrudes ABS filament in 0.0001-inch-thick layers to build a 3-D model in the exhibit's product design area.
``We take a design concept on a computer screen and turn it into reality in as little as an hour,'' said Jon Cobb, Stratasys vice president and general manager of 3D printing.
``People can't believe you can go from nothing to creating this usable part.''
Cox Automation provided integrated robots and a power-and-free conveyor line to handle assembly operations including pick and place, ultrasonic welding, laser marking, color sorting and quality control.
``With our scope, we automated the assembly of the product,'' said Paul Vaulman, Cox project manager.
Algus' package design lets the toy be displayed with its enclosed graphics card on a retail pegboard or standing on a shelf. The firm thermoformed the packaging components in DeKalb.
Algus worked closely with other suppliers to make sure the automated systems worked effectively. KlÃ¶ckner supplied about 25,000 pounds of industrial-grade, silicon-coated, clear, rigid PVC film for high-speed thermoforming and cold sealing.
``The product must de-nest easily,'' said Peter Gianniny, KlÃ¶ckner business manager for thermoforming films.
The program was expected to mold 20,000 toys per year for five years, but heavy traffic at Toymaker 3000 could push sales to more than 100,000, requiring more film.
At their plants, Tedco and PM Mold make components including injection molded styrene butadiene copolymer covers, polycarbonate bumper rings, acetal retainer rings, polystyrene stands and polypropylene cord.
There were more challenges than the museum expected in getting the technology operational, and initial plans for an early April opening were scuttled.
``We had to become a manufacturer,'' Meyer said of establishing the exhibit. ``We learned a lot about business.''