Robots equipped with new lower-price sensors and vision systems hold promise to dramatically improve productivity in injection molding plants. A Boston-based company called Rethink Robotics already has its “Baxter” collaborative robot in a handful of American molding plants, including Nypro.
Two global robotics powerhouses, ABB and KUKA, showed new transformative capabilities in robots at the Hannover Messe in Germany two months ago, giving huge new clout to the robotics revolution.
The new technology seems sure to catch on as molders seek to lower labor costs, make existing labor more productive, and improve production reliability when possible.
Crescent Industries, an employee-owned custom molder based in New Freedom, Pennsylvania, is now using a Rethink robot to help sort parts and products, working alongside humans at an injection press.
“As a custom manufacturer, we’re constantly switching between parts and products, and had traditionally been unable to automate our injection presses for that reason,” says Shawn Hedrick, process engineer at Crescent Industries.
Koller-Craft of Fenton, Missouri uses a Rethink robot to sort and package on a line that produces parts made four at a time every half minute. The robot can be deployed without interrupting the production line, unlike many other automation solutions. Mike Ewing, operations manager at Koller-Craft says: “Baxter’s force-sensing capabilities have opened the doors for us to consider many potential applications the robot can help with. Our whole team is coming up with new ways to use the robot.”
At the Hannover show, ABB introduced the collaborative robot YuMi, which it says significantly expands the types of industrial processes that can be automated with robots. Features include dual arms, flexible hands, universal parts feeding system, camera-based part location, lead-through programming, and precise motion control.
It has a magnesium skeleton covered with a floating plastic casing wrapped in soft padding to absorb impacts. In case of contact, it can pause its motion within milliseconds, and the motion can be restarted again as easily as pressing play on a remote control.
At its Hanover booth, German automation specialist KUKA showed how human-robot collaboration, mobile systems and open communication standards are creating flexible and adaptive systems. Sensors helped a robot at the booth determine if a part is accurately located.
KUKA, ABB, Fanuc and Yaskawa are the four largest robot makers in the world.
There were also signs at NPE2015 of the new trends in robotic capabilities.
Wittmann, for example, showed the new R8.3 robot operating system, with demonstrations of features including QuickNew easy-teach program creation. Star Automation demonstrated a robot with a vision system with Internet capability.
Times are good for robots. According to a report by Stanford professors, sales are being driven by strong auto output, wage inflation, and an expansion in robot capabilities, such as collaboration. Sales of industrial robots have grown 36 percent in the past three years.