On the floor of today’s plastics processing factory, automation is fundamental to profitability.
Even without high-production volumes, automation can make for extremely cost-effective production. But automation is much more than simply adopting the use of robots.
Automation is something that is a must-have on the modern shop floor. Automation also is becoming increasingly interconnected with auxiliaries.
Top machinery and automation manufacturers also are incorporating Industry 4.0 into their machines.
Industry 4.0, the integration of digital technologies and automated processes, is transforming the face of production for industrial players, accelerating the convergence of the virtual and real worlds. Wirelessly connected electronic industrial components can now share information with a computer, tablet, or smartphone and are capable of perceiving, analyzing and acting based on a specific situation and environment.
Manufacturers are increasingly digitizing their work tools, and the entire industrial process, from production to warehousing, distribution, and sales is becoming networked and communicating in real time.
Mass customization of personalized goods is a growing trend driving growth that is creating opportunity in the automation sector. With individual demands for product variety increasing, the manufacturing industry is turning more and more to digital technology and powerful manufacturing systems to ensure efficient production. To meet market needs, industry players have to be able to diversify their products, and the more varied the product line, the more competitive it is. But varying products or changing their design takes a flexible process. This level of flexibility requires downtime for recalibrating and retooling equipment, operations that can drain productivity and increase costs.
In injection molding automation, “flexible feeders” are becoming more prevalent press side. Rather than using a vibratory feeder bowl and escapement track to line up metal inserts, to present to an injection molding machine-mounted robot to insert load inserts into the molding machine, some companies use a press-side robot. These robots are fitted with a camera that can look at inserts moving on a conveyor to pick them up and then place them in the mold of the injection molding machine.
This is a flexible automation approach that can offer future application changeovers or even to run shorter jobs with a flexible feeder and still get a solid return on investment.
Another trend that robot suppliers are seeing today is clients seeking more options on their robots. This may correlate in more molders not only wanting to remove molded parts from the molding machine, but also to keep an open mind to doing more beside the press. This can include inspection, pack out, cavity separation or traceability, degating, which are some reasons to add servo wrists, more vacuum and gripper circuits, more inputs/outputs.
Robots can perform added value steps if cycle times allow the extra activities and do not show the injection molding machine’s cycle time.
Automation manufacturers can meet these challenges by designing automated systems capable of communicating with each other and adapting production to demand with the greatest flexibility.