Sandy, Utah-based Jesco Injection Molding Inc. officials made their foray into automation about three years ago when they bought a Wittmann Battenfeld robot off the show floor of NPE2018.
That purchase also marked the first U.S. sale of a Primus-brand robot for Torrington, Conn.-based Wittmann Battenfeld.
More than 2.5 million cycles later, the Primus 14 has operated without a glitch, according to Jesco Vice President James Schoudel. He credits the Primus robot with improving molding operations and working conditions for employees.
Founded in 1974 as a tool and die maker by Schoudel's father, Jim Schoudel Sr., Jesco expanded into injection molding for a variety of markets, such as dental devices, sporting goods, pool and spa parts and industrial supplies.
Annual sales of about $3 million are generated from 10 employees who produce more than 250 types of parts on 11 molding machines for 70 customers.
The integration of the Primus robot allowed Jesco to increase throughput on a dental device, improve accuracy and redirect employees to higher-paying projects, James Schoudel said in a news release.
"We quickly saw we could achieve better and more accurate part production because of the robot," Schoudel said. "This allowed us to give our employees more money, as they were freed up to do other things."
Like many businesses, Jesco struggles to fill job openings and that challenge prompted company officials to look into automation in the first place.
Jesco staff worked with Wittmann to design the best way to integrate the robot into the dental device molding cell, Schoudel said, and had a custom end-of-arm tool (EOAT) designed by Richard Savage, owner of Savage Automation in Centerville, Utah.
"By adding a cavity separation station and cycle count program, we were able to produce and pack the parts more consistently," Schoudel said.
Since hitting the market at NPE2018, the Primus continues to be Wittmann Battenfeld's most cost-efficient robot for pick-and-place applications, according to Jason Long, Wittmann Battenfeld's national sales manager, robots and automation.
"It's safe to say that with over 2.5 million cycles and counting, the Primus has exceeded all of Jesco's expectations," Long said in the release.
Schoudel said he doesn't consider the Primus to be an "economy" type of robot.
"The 'teach' program is very easy to use and allows us to write programs in a few simple steps, and Wittmann is always there to help answer any questions we may have," he said.
Since the 2018 investment, Jesco bought a second Primus and added a more advanced W818 robot to reduce operator parts handling.
"Hand-touching always adds a variable to the part run," Schoudel said. "We are looking at a more complete automation pack-out to ensure our customers get the highest-quality products that they deserve."
Andrew Rajkovich, owner of Ponderosa Plastics Equipment LLC and the Wittmann Battenfeld sales representative for Jesco, said the company took a chance on automation that worked out well for them.
"They are now confident because they have seen the results, that robotics and automation can help them improve their operations," he said.
Jesco's website says it has 11 injection molding machines ranging from 55 to 720 tons in size with shot sizes up to 6 pounds. A sister company, PMI Mold Making, builds and maintains injection molds.
Vienna-based Wittmann Battenfeld manufactures robot automation, injection molding machines and auxiliary equipment.