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October 1, 2004

3 Min Read
Automatica: Integrated automation the next big thing

Robots are getting cheaper and better-good news for processors keen to automate entire production lines.

Robots are already standard equipment for parts removal at many injection molders, but away from the press there remains great potential in secondary finishing and packaging.

For instance, Swedish processor AD-Plast AB (Anderstorp), which molds parts for the automotive, electrical, and consumer goods markets, uses four six-axis robots from ABB to automate its entire processing line from parts removal through to assembly, packaging, and palletizing. "Automation for us is a must in order to maintain competitiveness," according to Michael Jonsson, AD-Plast president.

The K show this month will highlight plastics-specific automation developments, but a sneak peak was offered in late June during the inaugural Automatica exhibition in Munich. At that show, officials from German robots supplier Stäubli (Bayreuth) said processors investing in new automation will be getting much more robotic bang for their investment buck compared to those who bought robots only a few years ago. The firm, among the top-10 suppliers though only in the industry since 1984, has a leadership position in cleanroom robotics, and Manfred Hübschmann, managing director, says the firm intends to be in the top four within the next 10 years.

To cut its manufacturing costs, the firm developed and now manufactures and programs its own controls, and it already has taken manufacturing of almost all other parts in-house. An example of improved performance for little additional investment is the new TX40, says Gerald Vogt, general manager for North America. This robot, for small parts assembly tasks, "only costs 5% to 10% more than a three-axis robot, but has six-axis flexibility." The extra axes often enable robots to complete assembly at the press between cycles, obviating temporary parts storage.

Hübschmann says cleanroom automation continues to account for much of Stäubli''s business. Use of cleanroom automation has grown dramatically at automotive parts suppliers in the last two years, he says. Vogt adds that Stäubli has developed special cleanroom robot solutions for processors within its RXPlastic robotics range.

Not just for picking and placing

Practically every exhibiting Automatica supplier of note highlighted the development of robots and software such that, far from being simply a helping hand, automation can become more of a production-line integrator. At the Kuka (Augsburg, Germany) stand, firm officials were trumpeting the first products in their RoboTeams range of robots that cooperate with one another to form a workcell. Individual robots can be integrated into more than one group so that, for instance, a single parts-removal robot could service two processing machines and then forward moldings to other robot teams for more time-consuming assembly and packaging steps.

Kuka also touted its new six-axis robots, capable of the detail work required to pick and place sliced cheeses, lunchmeats, and other foods, tasks admittedly non-plastics related but up to now performed manually. Automating the process with the KR 15 SL robot could open doors for thermoformers and others via hole-through-the-wall supply operations as already seen in the automotive and beverage bottle filling markets. These robots are also marketed for processing in cleanrooms.

Reis Robotics brought its Augmented Reality technology to Munich, billing it as an easier way for operators to work with a robot. Reis (Obernburg, Germany) has simplified the instructions for working with its robots, and also allows a user to look at a computer screen that provides a visual preview of what his input will do. The firm also highlighted its SafeProduction functions, which let employees safely access a robot''s work envelope without interrupting operations.

One of the plastics industry''s principal robotics suppliers, Wittmann, did not exhibit at Automatica, choosing this month''s K show as the preferred platform for its highlights. K show attendees will have the chance to see what it and other robot manufacturers are doing to help processors make better parts faster and at lower cost.

Matthew Defosse [email protected]

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Reis Robotics  


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