For injection molders, automation helps plastics processing companies gain efficiencies in their production processes and compete in a global market.
Injection molders have been attracted to automation in large part by the innovations in the robotics industry, including collaborative robots, robotic safety and a quicker return of investment.
Plastics processing also is becoming a focal point for collaborative robot applications in the plastics processing industry. This can be seen press-side on the floor of injection molding facilities.
The robot, known as a collaborative robot or cobot, handles the repetitive part of the operation, leaving the operator to handle the complex part of the operation, such as inspection. These robots can work safely side by side with people, unprotected by guarding. Collaborative robots by design move slowly and often with low torque in order to work safely alongside humans. For this reason, they are not being used for removing parts from injection molding machines.
In injection molding, robots require speed to shorten the time to remove parts without reducing the maximum molding machine output. While the parts generally are light in weight, the robot end-of-arm tooling may need some weight for grippers or fingers, as insert loading applications. As a result, collaborative robots offer the most efficiency in post-molding activities.
Collaborative industrial robots are defined as complex machines that work hand in hand with human beings. In a shared work process, they support and relieve the human operator. Cobots have proven to be a flexible automation option that can be implemented side-by-side with employees while delivering a fast return on investment.
Some automation manufacturers are working with a cell whereby the master computer connects to the robot, a tiny camera inside the cavity of water flow tubes being molded, and the laser marking station. These images are then cross referenced with ‘pass/fail’ shots held in the system and if the part passes the quality checks it is moved to the labelling station by the robot. A unique part code label is printed and adhered to the side of each molded flow tube. The two images taken by the camera and corresponding part ID code are then stored by the system before the robot lays the finished product into a blister tray.
The injection molding segment has seen a flurry of innovations in automation over the last decade to evolve into a fully automated, high-volume process that demands thousands of parts produced at the lowest cost.