Romeo RIM flips the switch on rotary system for flexible production

Custom reaction injection molding (RIM) and composite solutions provider Romeo RIM has officially “flipped the switch” on its brand-new, innovative rotary molding system. The new fully automated system -- incorporating multiple presses and off-line mold changes -- will significantly boost production capacity for the company which continues to see increasing interest in its long fiber injection (LFI) molding solutions.

Flexible RIM system can process multiple finishes with glass fiber content adjustable on the fly.
Seven RIM molds travel round a hockey rink-sized track.

“With the applications of LFI virtually limitless, this new rotary system will open up new markets to us as well as help us continue to serve our existing customers that are seeing increasing growth,” Randy Johnson, president and CEO said. As an example, Johnson pointed to customers in the spa industry which is seeing a renaissance of sorts, judging by positive momentum permeating this year’s annual industry show in Atlantic City. With spa manufacturers needing to start production in the spring of 2017 for the next model year, the timeliness of having the new rotary system fully operational now will benefit existing Romeo RIM customers as well as new ones.

 “The rotary opens our capacity way up to almost 30,000 spas, which translates into roughly fifteen percent of the entire [U.S.] spa market,” he explained. A video of the rotary system in action is available online.

The new rotary system takes Romeo RIM’s ability to produce lightweight, class A finish, and b-side detail products with superior stiffness and strength to a whole new level. Occupying roughly one quarter of the company’s main manufacturing facility on its 67.5-acre innovation campus north of Detroit, the system is about the size of a hockey rink, with a large 100-foot oval track. The system consists of seven individual presses that run around the oval track, each containing its own unique mold, which can be in mold painted its own unique color. The press can run at a speed of 15 ft. per minute, which ultimately delivers a complete molded part in about a minute. In addition to its high speed, the equipment is desired to always be running. Mold changes are completed off-line by shuttling a press out of the oval.  

If maintenance must be completed to the LFI system, this can be done without shutting down the press because there is a redundant backup. Since the equipment is completely robotically controlled, the part is produced the same way every single time, no variations like you get with many other composite manufacturing processes. 

The rotary LFI system is already delivering value to the agriculture industry by producing sidings for large farm equipment. They are realizing the low-cost benefits of in mold paint, so the OEMs no longer have to pay for a secondary operation in top coat painting.

The spa/hot tub industry is benefiting by producing patterns and finishes on their siding that were previously not available to the industry, all thanks to in-mold painting. Their products look better, but are now stronger, lighter, and more impact resistant to the occasional baseball or lawnmower damage.

In transportation and truck industries, weight is everything. With LFI, composite parts are produced at lower weights. Producing body siding, or even interior parts, will reduce overall vehicle weight. The use of in-mold paint with it also provides lower costs for the finished components as well as they can be textured to simulate leather, wood grain, or geometric patterns that are popular in industry today. 

According to Romeo RIM, other markets that would benefit from using LFI include utility terrain vehicles (UTV), recreational vehicles (RV) and motor homes, building materials, medical enclosures, electric vehicles, and industrial portable equipment. 

According to General Manager Tim Howell, the genesis of the rotary came from having very high demand for LFI that was coming close to exceeding the company’s capacity limits, especially crucial when routine maintenance is also required.

“When designing the rotary system, we wanted to be sure that we eliminated any issues relating to that. We accomplished our goal by having redundant systems in our equipment to ensure maintenance could be performed without shutting down the entire production line. Mold changes are now done off-line and we don’t shut the system down. The previous equipment would need to be taken down for 30 minutes with each mold change. Not anymore!” he explained. Another key advantage is the ability to vary long fiber content on the fly.

Additionally, Romeo RIM wanted to ensure a very flexible system, so it can run parts for seven different customers, all at the same time, each having their own unique color with robotically applied in-mold paint. This shortens lead times to customers and allows for the ability to quickly react to changes in customer demand.

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