Fernthal, Germany — Dr. Boy GmbH has steadfastly remained focused on small-tonnage injection molding machines with a clamping force maxing out at 100 metric tons — but these are anything but simple, basic machines.
Boy has added automation and technology over the years. Maybe some customers still do shoot-and-ship molding (after all, Boy presses are so small you can run one in your garage). But like all Western machinery manufacturers, Boy faces lower-priced competition from China — and executives have responded with presses packed with customized automation, tailored for specific molding jobs.
Boy began a major push into automation within the last 10 years, continually adding features like six-axis articulating robots, more automated part inspection, micromolding and two-component molding. Many of the small parts get packaged right at the press.
“We learned this also from our customers,” said Alfred Schiffer, Boy's managing partner. “We followed our customers and they asked for [more automation]. They reduce their technical personnel, because of the availability, not because they want to.” And, Schiffer said, customers said they would look to competitors unless Boy added more automation.
Chinese companies can significantly undercut the prices of German and U.S. machinery manufacturers — although Schiffer said the Chinese have not focused much on small-tonnage machines for export.
The low-priced competition makes it even more important to work closely with customers, earlier, he said.
“We want to be more and more the one who solved the problem,” Schiffer said. “And this is difficult because the machine that molds the part and just drops it into the box, this is becoming more and more difficult for us to reach the necessary selling price.”
Schiffer gave one example: A work cell of two Boy injection molding machines equipped with two six-axis robots. One machine produced a nylon ring, which was plasma treated in a station between the two presses. That ring was placed in the second machine, which overmolded a two-component liquid silicone rubber component.
Plastics News sat down at Boy's factory in small-town Fernthal with Alfred Schiffer and his sister, Helga Schiffer, the chairman of Boy Machines Inc., the company's U.S. operation in Exton, Pa., which is run as an independent entity, and Wolfgang Schmidt, export manager. They discussed Boy's past, and the future of the company's small-tonnage injection molding presses — a growing stable of technology that includes insert molding, LSR, multicomponent molding, micromolding, powder injection molding and elastomer molding.
LSR is a growing market, Alfred Schiffer said. “In the future, LSR will become more of a share of the cake. Especially in the technical area. It will be strong and growing in the medical area,” he said.
Boy also has tapped into a desire by some molders to run many smaller machines with single-cavity molds instead of big presses with expensive multicavity molds — even in packaging, where one major U.S. Boy customer, Double H Plastics Inc., has honed that to a fine art for its lids. Rather than shutting off one of 96 cavities — or turning off the entire large press for maintenance or repairs — you can just take one single-cavity machine off line and deal with it.
Schmidt said another reason to use small-tonnage presses is when you need to mold the same product with different colors or designs, which is hard to do in a multicavity mold.
K 2016 was a typical Boy stand in the modern era. Two robots were working cooperation on a Boy 35 VV — including a collaborative robot serving of all things German, a beer! The injection press made transparent glasses, which were then removed from the mold by a six-axis robot. On request from the show visitor, the glasses were individually labeled with a name and filled with beer. Then a collaborative robot handed the filled glass directly to the trade fair visitor.
“This is our topic for Industry 4.0, where you can do beer on demand,” Schmidt joked.
Also at K, Boy reprised its 3-D printed mold inserts, first shown at the Fakuma show last year. And the tool changing system for accommodating the 3-D printed mold inserts, which was previously only used on the Boy XS, is now also available for the larger Boy 25 E and Boy 35 E.
Another show highlight was micromolding on a Boy XS of parts with a shot weight of just 0.08 grams using a screw diameter of just 8 millimeters. The parts are for a micro rotary engine.
Boy also showed multi-component molding, the injection blow molding process and medical technology. Visitors also could help to manufacture their own torque wrench.