Ludwigshafen, Germany — BASF SE has a new manufacturing cell at its injection molding and extrusion pilot plant to produce test specimens for product development and research of thermoplastic polymers and compounds.
The work cell, which features a compact Sumitomo (SHI) Demag's ultra-precise IntElect 100-ton injection molding machine and equipment from H+S Automatisierung GmbH, fully automates mold changes.
The system has a linear SDR 5-35S robot automating the selection and placement of one of 12 interchangeable mold inserts from a magazine located within the cell.
After the part is molded, the same robot, which is fitted with a multi-functional gripper, extracts the test specimen from the mold and passes it to the small six-axis articulated-arm Yaskawa GP8 robot, which cuts the specimens from the gate using a servo spindle drive punching machine.
The work cell also uses an existing thermal temperature control unit and a new manufacturing execution system (MES) to map each test sequence.
The cell combines advanced engineering, mature technology and the latest automation and molding precision, according to BASF officials.
"Although we have extensive experience collaborating with the Sumitomo (SHI) Demag team producing standard test parts, from the outset all of the partners had the courage to deviate from previous concepts and break new ground. Despite the complexity of the project, Sumitomo (SHI) Demag and H+S delivered an innovative production cell design in a much smaller energy and spatial footprint," Angelika Homes, senior project engineer at BASF, said in a news release.
At any time, up to 12 interchangeable inserts can be loaded to the side magazine and then swapped automatically into the injection molding machine.
Many of the specimens processed at BASF's technical center are high-temperature thermoplastics that are fiber-reinforced and often flame-retardant. The company does business in a wide variety of markets, including transportation, construction, industrial applications and consumer goods.
As a result, melt temperatures during specimen tests can reach up to 750° F (400°C) with mold temperatures hitting up to 350° F (180°C).
By integrating a HB-Therm temperature control system with the injection molding machine control, automated mold insert changes can be completed safely and efficiently, according to Markus Hausmann, an automation systems senior engineer at SHI.
"In order to lower the temperature to 80°C (176° F) and depressurize the insert to guarantee that the SDR robot could remove the mold insert safely, our machine control has to talk and interact seamlessly with BASF's MES," Hausmann said.
As a pilot center, the BASF research team typically sets up 20 test settings daily, which means the control program of the cell has to be adapted to different materials, sample geometries, temperatures and processing parameters.
Every single setting that runs is recorded and documented digitally, according to Homes.
"Unlike our former MES systems, this one logs every single aspect of a trial and the results, giving us insight for every single shot," she said. "This data is extremely valuable as it represents the entire processing sequence and enables us to draw deeper conclusions about how materials perform under certain conditions and how a customer might later process it."
With this manufacturing cell, BASF, SHI and H+S Automatisierung have taken test specimen production and material experiments to a whole new level, Hausmann said
"As BASF continues to intensify its efforts to develop sustainable products and solutions for industry, this automated injection molding cell is already proving itself to be indispensable," he added. "Capable of conducting over 4,000 systematic trial settings on high-performance polymers with complex formulations every year and tracking the results digitally through the MES system accelerates this innovation effort."