For some molders, the word "automation" might immediately invoke a six-figure price tag or bring to mind the image of dollars, one by one, flying out through a factory window.
Absolute Robot Inc. (ARI) is trying to break down the budgetary stigma associated with robots used in manufacturing environments.
"Our philosophy to ARI was that there are options out there that are just as high quality, but lesser cost that can help keep North American molders competitive," Tim Lavigne, business manager of the Worcester, Mass.-based company, said in a phone interview.
"You don't need a six-figure budget," he added. "One robot doesn't cost $70,000 for a 500-ton press. We can do one for $25,000."
The company was formed in 2013 by the Absolute Group to sell Well-Lih robots as the exclusive sales and service agent for North and Central America. The robots are manufactured in China by Ningbo Well-Lih Robots Technology Co. Ltd.
Visitors at NPE2018 can see the company's Well-Lih in-mold labeling system in action at Booth W4182.
ARI said it offers a variety of "cost-effective" robots from pneumatic pickers to full servo, 5-axis robots that can be equipped on injection molding machines up to 3,300 tons.
The majority of plastics processors, Lavigne said, are moving into automation, as it offers increased equipment functionality and a competitive edge. In terms of ARI customers, he said he comes across fewer than 10 companies a quarter that have zero automation in their facilities.
"Automation is known to be a necessity almost, if you will, moving forward with manufacturing," Lavigne said. "We have plenty of custom molders that tell us they either win or they don't win contracts because of their automation or lack thereof."
With ARI serving North and Central America, companies are also switching their mindsets to include more control over their supply chains, handling more production in-house for customers as opposed to sending the work 12 hours across the world, he said.
"Automation allows you to set a more reliable production pace or schedule," Lavigne explained.
In one example, Lavigne described a customer who was making 400 parts a day. The customer then added a robot to remove the part, which still requires a human touch to trim the flash, inspect the part and remove the screw.
"Just that robot pulling the part — as opposed to having a human open the gate, pull the part out, close the gate, hit a button — they went from producing 400 [parts] to 900 parts a day," he said.
Positive steps in efficiency such as the one described are just one of the reasons why robotics "won't be going away," Lavigne said.
And as for the long-drawn-out debate on robots vs. jobs, Lavigne said it is not so much about robots taking jobs away from workers, but rather an opportunity for the emergence of new kinds of jobs.
"I think it's going to be a more of a collaborative nature than one pushing the other out," he said.