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February 1, 2002

11 Min Read
K 2001: Faster, more flexible automation

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Expanding its automation offerings, machine maker Arburg brought out the vertical version of its Multilift Series. Three linear servo-driven axes can be augmented with rotating or hinged axes to handle parts up to 55 lb.

We are repeating ourselves, but there is no choice: Automation is coming at us from every corner. Drawn on by the need for verifiable product quality, repeatability, and shorter cycles, K 2001 resembled a robotics supermarket. Linear servo technology is going to every size of molding machine, sprue pickers included. Industrial multiaxis robots continue to be more conspicuous with every passing trade fair. This was the first K, for example, in which ABB had its own exhibit. The gamut of choices is ever wider; performance increases; adaptability to virtually any application is evident; and best news of all, the robots are much easier to use. 

The robot makers are the first to say that ease of use is a major factor. Self-teaching programs and graphic interfaces are bringing robotics programming into the walk-you-through-it realm of computer wizards. At K you could walk into a number of stands and within minutes get comfortable enough with a robotics control unit to start creating new sequences. Being an expert still needs practice, of course, but a lot less than before. 

One could justify a trip to K 2001 simply to see the variety of creative ways in which robotics are designed and applied. Robotics experts say that as costs come down and options increase, the major obstacle to better automation remains the user's lack of experience. If the only automation you have dealt with is a sprue picker or less, it is not easy to conceive of a production cell with multiple interacting robots linked to a set of molding machines and postmold finishing systems. If imagination is the key, IMM saw many new products and concepts at K 2001 to get yours fired up. 

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Demag showed one- and two-arm versions of its new Demag Robot DR-CB H1. The single-arm version of this high-speed, side-entry robot fits within the machine frame to help save floor space.


Many Ways to Shorter Cycles 
Neureder, which recently increased its North American presence, designed its newest linear-motor robot to enter the mold laterally. The gripper can be positioned just outside the closed mold to move directly in when the mold opens. The company notes that top-entry robots must cover the distance from outside the machine shell to the center of the mold. Combining the short in-out path with native high speed lets the CB 150H robot help reduce cycle times on small to medium machines. The unit's design keeps the handling axes outside the tool. Since only the gripper need enter, it can be designed flatter to minimize mold-opening distance. 

Demag Ergotech is no stranger to automated systems integration. Judging by its K display, this machine maker is placing even more emphasis on purpose-designed automated cells. One system based on a 200-ton El-Exis S machine used a two-arm version of the company's new modular Demag Robot DR-CB H1 to extract and place mobile phone housings from a 4x4 Männer stack mold in 3.6-second cycles. 

Designed for telectronics and medical applications, and built for Demag by Neureder, the modularity of the robot allows multiple configurations. A single-arm robot on a 50-ton Viva machine showed the robot within the machine housing to help conserve floor space. The 40-mm-wide arm can extract parts from a mold opening as narrow as 60 mm in .5 second. 

A six-axis Mitsubishi industrial robot integrated with a Demag Ergotech 35/320 demonstrated multiple movements from insertion to extraction to multiple postmold movements. However, what Demag wanted this concept machine to show was how its controller could integrate the complicated production cell. Besides controlling machine parameters, special support software in the controller managed the Mitsubishi robot, a two-camera inspection system monitored part ID and OD, and more. Demag delivered 10 similar systems before K 2001 and is installing the first one in the U.S. 

Increasing productivity by 5 percent in products like CD jewel boxes, trays, and slim boxes will draw a standing ovation. The automation system Hekuma unveiled at K 2001 reportedly increases productivity as much as 50 percent for CD packaging. Hekuma's Kurt Knoepfler says the last big breakthrough in this area happened more than 10 years ago when cycle times went from 14 seconds to less than 7 seconds. The high-speed, side-entry system Hekuma had at the show ran 4.4-second cycles that will soon decrease to 4.2 seconds, or faster. 

Among the contributing innovations—some patented—the most visible are the fans on the Hekuma system's end-of-arm tooling (EOAT). The fans are designed to create a suction to lift parts faster from molds that open only for .3 to .4 second; the fans also help with part cooling. In addition, the robot helps with startup and protects the mold by verifying part removal. Integrated with 4x4 stack molds on 240-ton machines, this system will produce 27 million CD jewel or slim boxes per year, or 54 million CD trays. 

Exemplifying ease of use, ATM's new ES Series high-speed CNC robots are fitted with a PC-based touch-screen control pendant with full teaching capability. Available in four models for machines from 30 to 2000 tons, the ES robots include features such as time-save and movement anticipation to minimize cycle times. ATM says the performance, which includes a sub-4-second dry cycle time and
.6-second takeout time, is partly achieved with an innovative control technology that minimizes the time used for processing and transferring commands. 

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The automation system Hekuma unveiled for CD jewel boxes, trays, and slim cases cycled a 4x4 stack mold in just more than 4 seconds—a productivity boost of up to 50 percent over previous systems. The fans speed extraction and help cool the part.

Indicative of the influx of industrial robots into the molding industry, Stäubli chose K 2001 to present its RXplastics line of six-axis devices. Ready for Class 100 cleanrooms, the controls memorize frequently used sequences that can be recalled when creating new programs.


Machine maker Arburg's new Multilift V vertical servo robot series is designed for more complex loading, removal, and positioning needs. The V Series joins the company's established Multilift H horizontal robots to provide a wide range of solutions. Like the horizontal robots, the vertical units are modular for configuration flexibility and are fully integrated into Arburg's graphic Selogica machine controls. The V can stack molded parts in containers, deposit parts in specific positions to form a pattern, or take inserts from programmed positions. The basic configuration of the Multilift V has three servoelectric axes, and rotating or hinged axes can be added. 

Engel's commitment to automation is evident from the large factory it built a few years ago. It produced 1000 robots last year and may be expanded this year. At K 2001 Engel showed a production cell developed jointly with Bayer and Siemens to mold the latter's film-decorated, thin-wall mobile phone housings. A 200-ton machine from Engel's Victory Series is constructed using modules for a very stiff clamp, fast machine movements, and high injection rates. A high-speed linear ERS 1 robot is integrated in the machine and a linear ERC 23/1-E combines with a tray server as a parts buffer. At the show, it used a sprueless direct injection process to mold ABS/PC onto special film in a 1x1 hot runner mold in 9-second cycles. 

While Kuka's new Series 2000 industrial robots boast longer reach, larger payload capacity, and higher acceleration, the company is paying particular attention to the "shelf-mounted" versions designed to sit on top of injection machines. Payload limits up to 210 kg (462 lb) let these six-axis units handle machines of more than 5000 metric tons. The optimized kinematics of Models KR 150 K and KR 180 K produce higher velocities and a work envelope that is 73 percent larger. 

Molding machine maker Negri-Bossi launched a line of three-axis servodriven robots for machines of 160 to 1400 metric tons. The robot control system is fully integrated with the machine control, and all setting and verifying functions of the robot can be done at the machine control. The interface is designed simply enough that users can learn to program the robots without special training. There is also a portable terminal for programming or manual operation. As it has done with its Canbio molding machines, Negri-Bossi uses CANbus technology to connect all robot functions. 

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The cell Engel developed with Bayer for Siemens mobile phone housings uses two linear robots. The first places IMD film in the mold while removing parts; the second sorts parts into trays, prealigns IMD film for entry, and provides a parts buffer—all in 9-second cycles.

Wittmann showed its new W673 servo robot line for payloads up to 275 lb, and some interesting ways to use it. The robot can turn a large part many times in various directions to present it to auxiliary operations such as sprue cutters, welders, or inserting stations.


Sepro presented a preview of its Generation IV robotics at K. Due out this summer and featuring a number of engineering improvements, Sepro says the real key to these robots is electronics. In the most advanced version, a G-IV integrates up to eight numeric axes. A totally new machine interface offers touch-screen, online help, graphic help, and content-based icons. Extremely user-friendly, the system will employ four main function keys: production, mold change, programming, and maintenance. The first two units to the market will cover machines from 20 to 350 metric tons, and the series will ultimately reach to 5000-ton machines. 

Stäubli, a well-established (12,000 installed units) maker of multiaxis industrial robots, premiered its RXplastics line of six-axis robots. It offers a maximum load capacity to 25 kg (53 lb) and a reach of 2185 mm (85 inches) to support a wide range of machine sizes. It also offers high speed, rapid acceleration, and cleanroom compliance to Class 100. The robot's controllers include Euromap 12 interface software. 

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The new ES servo robots from ATM offer dry cycles of less than 4 seconds on machines from 30 to 2000 metric tons. Besides linear units, ATM's capability for full automated handling systems now includes industrial and Scara robots, feeders, indexers, heatstaking units, and more.

Negri-Bossi added a line of robotics to its offerings using the CANbus technology already in its Canbio molding machines. The three-axis Flash Robots are servodriven, integrate fully with the machine controller, and are available for machines from 160 to 1400 metric tons.


Geiger rolled out a pair of high-performance units designed to bring more automation power to smaller machines without breaking the budget. The FlexiLiner is a servomotor-based handling robot for machines of up to 150 metric tons. It allows precise individual positioning and programming that is user-friendly. All axes can be positioned at the same time. The company's MiniServo handling robot is pneumatic but also can be freely programmed and positioned. It features short removal times, minimum energy and air consumption, and quick changeover. 

The Wittmann stand in Düsseldorf featured new products and very creative ways to use them. The new servo robot Series W653-W673 is for larger-tonnage presses and payloads up to 125 kg (275 lb). A telescopic vertical arm minimizes overall height, doubles the speed of the gripper arm, and has maximum rigidity for accuracy over long strokes. A variety of pneumatic or servo rotating axes can be supplied for part placement and secondary operation positioning. 

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Sepro says electronics play a starring role in the Generation IV Robots it previewed. The controls can manage up to eight axes, made easier by a friendly graphic interface, a touch screen, and software to guide the less-experienced user.

What Kuka calls its "shelf-mounted" six-axis robot is optimized to sit on top of a molding machine. The work envelope has been increased by 73 percent and payload capacity is up to 462 lb.


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Geiger's MiniServo brings easy programming, positioning flexibility, fast in-out times, and low cost of ownership to small machine users.

Wittmann's new W613 offers the company's fastest in-out times and is designed to avoid turf wars with hoppers or blenders on machines with short injection units. 


At K, a new Model W673 removed a bumper fascia from a mold and manipulated it for various secondary operations. Rather than putting the part down and bringing the secondaries to it, Wittmann used the robot to bring the part to multiple secondaries. Similarly, another robot manipulated a dashboard fascia to allow Wittmann's wrist-mounted nipper to remove multiple subrunners. The concept provides product flexibility with reprogramming and easy changing of EOAT and secondaries. 

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