Many manufacturers are turning to robotics to enhance their operations. Robots can often execute manufacturing and logistical tasks more accurately than manual methods. Labor shortages are another reason an increasing number of companies are turning to robotics. Many manufacturers have found that robots often don’t replace manual laborers; automation enables people to get more done. Robots also handle hazardous tasks, keeping the workplace safer for employees.
The main hurdle to automation is knowing where to begin. It’s critical to identify the scope of your operation and narrow down the opportunities, then prioritize the potential gains of each.
Initial Questions to Ask
When assessing where to begin with automation, your team should discuss the key aspects of your current process and workload, and answer the following questions:
Bottlenecks are an essential consideration when assessing whether to invest in robotics and artificial intelligence (AI). For example, what are the tasks that take the longest amount of time? Could technology reduce that time?
Another crucial aspect is the nature of the job to be done. Is the task highly repetitive? If so, it is probably a good prospect for robotic automation. On the other hand, if the task is different every time, then a robot may not be a good fit and could be more costly to implement. However, AI could still assist people in getting even these kinds of jobs done more efficiently.
As is always the case when making any business decision, the critical question of cost effectiveness must be answered. When does it make sense to invest in automation from an economic standpoint?
Many manufacturers have found that robots often don’t replace manual laborers; automation enables people to get more done.
Processes to Consider First
Evaluate your shop’s entire process and capabilities to identify areas that can benefit from automation. For example:
Infeed: One of the most overlooked areas of automation is material infeed, which generally includes a repetitive and low-variation process to bring materials and components to the work area. Typically, being a low-variation task, this area is where automation can be highly efficient and cost effective. The infeed process can often be the fastest path to tangible production increases.
Quality Control: Vision robots are armed with industrial cameras to provide exceptional flexibility in a variable environment. In moldmaking, inspecting mold components and parts tends to be a highly tedious and repetitive task. Its importance, however, cannot be ignored. Many vision technologies and solutions exist in the market today, which are more than capable of performing quality inspections, which enhance the working environment and increase product quality levels.
Machine Tending: CNC machines are an effective area to integrate machine-tending robots capable of handling the loading and unloading of parts on and off the machine.
Benefits and Limitations to Evaluate
Shops sometimes invest in a robot, thinking it will be like a CNC machine. This is not true. Each has its advantages and disadvantages.
Cost — A modern articulated robot arm can be considerably less expensive than most CNC machines.
Flexibility — A robot arm can handle various geometries and make more complex shapes than most CNC machines. In general, a robot milling arm significantly increases the flexibility of milling.
Floor space — A robot arm typically takes up less floor space than a CNC machine.
Cuts from below — The articulated robot arm can reach underneath a workpiece and make cuts from below, which is impossible for a CNC machine to do.
Precision — An articulated robot arm cannot compete with a CNC milling machine in accuracy and precision. CNC machines are usually more accurate than robots, with tolerances that go down to fractions of a micron. Robot arms can typically achieve accuracies in the hundreds of microns.
Stiffness — CNC machines usually have very high degrees of stiffness in three axes. However, the stiffness of the robot arm will vary. And it’s possible to have higher stiffness in one axis than another with a robot.
Ability to work with very hard materials — Hardened steel is needed for molds that last a million shots. However, because the robot arm has less stiffness, it can’t handle materials that are as hard as CNC machines can.
Meanwhile, buying an articulated robot arm can do much more than milling. Other tasks in your operation may be suitable for a robot arm to perform. For example, the arm could be used for sanding, painting, picking and placing, palletizing and more.
Buying Options to Review
The need for automation technology continues to grow and the options for small-, medium- and large-sized businesses have increased. However, the initial investment is often a valid concern and has been a significant barrier to entry to robotics for many shops. The common misconception is that it must be implemented as the newest and most top-of-the-line technology. On the contrary, the benefit of automation becoming a widespread part of many manufacturing processes is that a large secondary market for quality robot solutions drives down prices.
Also, in the case of infeed and end-of-line solutions, a vast selection of standardized options can help. Finally, to alleviate the sticker shock of purchasing a new robot solution, look for robot leasing programs that can break down the cost of a robot into extremely manageable monthly payments.
What should you be looking at when considering automation? Start with your existing labor force. If you are having a hard time finding skilled operators, process engineers, or maintenance technicians, then automation can almost certainly help you achieve an increase in overall efficiency and quality. Automation almost always works faster and occupies less floor space than a manual operation. Automation systems also do not need breaks and can offer a consistency that manual operation cannot. The added consistency in cycle time not only improves product quality, but also can help you identify more accurate operating costs and production output. Automation can help you to become more successful when competing against other molders.
How to Automate a Molding PlantRobots are particularly critical when delicate molded parts need to be handled with care.
It’s also wise to consider the products that you are creating. Automation is an important and necessary step if you are working with parts that have delicate surface features, are comprised of softer materials, and/or have critical dimensions that must be maintained during the molding process. Any uncontrolled interaction with humans can damage a part or decrease its quality. Many medical or high-end electronic parts are particularly susceptible to contamination through human interaction, so automation is essentially a necessity if you are working with products for either of those fields.
Automation is becoming increasingly prevalent throughout every type of manufacturing because automated systems can take on most aspects of the work without operator action. This results in:
Better utilization of the machines. Automated systems are interconnected and communicate through a centralized control system. This type of injection molding equipment will generate analytics that allows users to identify opportunities for improvement and alert human operators when parts malfunction or need inspection.
Faster production: Robotic systems can move through processes without interruption. Properly maintained automated systems would operate 24/7, resulting in better per-unit production and quick order completion.
Reduced labor costs: Robotic systems can handle work that previously required multiple people, allowing facilities to take on more orders with fewer staff members. Lower direct labor costs and associated expense reductions ultimately result in lower overall project costs.
More sustainable fabrication. Because automated machines create high volumes of products with low error rates, they generate less waste from rejected or deformed parts.
If robotics and automation setups in a mouldmaking company seem novel, that’s because they are. They’ve also been essential to the company’s survival. we have been laser-focused on broadening its scope beyond traditional mould manufacturing over the past decade.
This transition, although slow, has had a huge impact on the mouldmaking industry, It has forced mould makers to think in different ways, and to come up with ways to stay relevant and still retain market share.
This includes product prototyping that moves a part from engineering and moulding through to assembly, using simulators to predict a product’s quality or longevity, and production documentation, customization and assembly.
When you’re responsible for the parts themselves, not the piece of equipment, your scope of risk and your scope of influence is much larger, In the engineering phase, I now have to go through a full failure and mode analysis, and actually make sure it’s strong enough or that it looks nice enough, or that it can actually go through the process without any obstacles. I have to make sure it’s mouldable, so I have to look at that part totally differently.
Now I need to build the whole process – so that not only requires moulds, but also it requires press, it requires material verification and selection. It requires all of the fixtures that part depends on, If a part warps, if it needs holes, if it’s discoloured, if it gets scratched, if it has any deformations or imperfections