Officials of Metro Plastics Technologies Inc. wanted to boost automation at its custom injection molding plant in Noblesville, Ind. But since the average production run is short, fixed automation didn't make sense.
"It's very difficult for us to find a payback on some automation possibilities, due to the fact that the product runs are too short. There's no payback," President Ken Hahn said.
So they bought what's known as an autonomous mobile robot from Mobile Industrial Robots. It's a moving cart that shuttles parts around the plant.
Automated guide vehicles have been the standard for plastics processors — usually very big companies — to carry parts and supplies from place to place. They followed a wire track buried in the floor. Some use elaborate conveying systems. The most common method? The good old forklift.
This month, Best Practices takes you to the future — actually right now at Metro Plastics — and a mobile robot that needs no track and is easy to program.
Mobile Industrial Robots, or MiR, is a Danish company that is owned by Teradyne Inc. of North Reading, Mass. Teradyne also owns another automation company from Denmark, that makes the well-known collaborative Universal Robots.
Hahn said Metro Plastics wanted a more efficient way to move boxes of parts around the plant. A fixed conveyor system was one possible solution, but Metro officials wanted something totally flexible to move between the plant's 25 injection molding presses. Like most custom molders, Metro sometimes rearranges machines to make the most efficient production layout. And they buy new machines.
Hahn said the family-owned molder looked at traditional automated guide vehicles, but they were too expensive and company officials thought the buried track would be too disruptive to install and not flexible enough.
Metro Plastics built a new 72,000-square foot factory about a year-and-a half ago. It was time to look at the automation challenge again.