Hybrid Athenas target all-electrics in medical applications

Athena Automation (Vaughan, ON) will target the medical market with a hybrid machine in the mid-to-high-end price range that provides superior accuracy, energy efficiency and cleanliness compared to the industry-leading electric machines, CEO Robert Schad said in an interview with PlasticsToday.

"Our machine is cleaner than the electric machines," Schad said. "We don't have a toggle system, so therefore we don't have to lubricate toggles. Most electric machines have grease under the toggle. We had one here for tests and it was very bad. Our machines have oil that is in a sealed system. You will not see one drop of oil on the floor here."

Base-mounted robot. (Athena Automation)

Schad is referring to a brand-new 40,000-sq-ft manufacturing, testing and demonstration plant that Athena Automation is ramping up near the Toronto airport. The company expects to start shipping machines and robots in the fall of this year, starting with 150-ton models. He said in the interview that capacity will ramp up to 300 or more per year by early 2015. The plant, located on a 20-acre acre site, will grow to 190,000 sq ft.

"Our machine is not a cheap machine," Schad said. The base price of the machines will be slightly above $1000 per ton of clamping force.

Schad and VP Sales Jim Overbeeke, who worked with Schad at Husky Injection Molding Systems, said that several features will be attractive to medical molders:

Accuracy: "We have better shot-to-shot accuracy because hydraulics on the injection side give us better repeatability over a broader range of applications," Overbeeke said. Testing done by Athena show that shot repeatability for the Athena machine is ±0.08g compared to ±0.10g for the industry-leading all-electric machine.

Footprint: The Athena A150 RS42 with a 42 mm screw has a footprint of 1.50m x 4.71m compared to the footprint of the industry-leading 100-ton all-electric machine with a 40 mm screw: 1.60m x 6m.

Mold space: "I went to see a medical molder last week who was very impressed with our tiebar spacing on the 150-ton machine of 560 mm. They said that was the biggest tiebar spacing for that tonnage in the industry," said Overbeeke. "With all the slides and action that medical molds often have, the machines are often sized for the mold and not for the tonnage."

Energy efficiency. "Our test show that our power consumption is as good or better than the electrics," Schad said.

Cleanliness. The Athena hybrid machines, designed with a clean sheet of paper, use a closed-loop oil return system with double seal wipers. The machine has a six-inch floor clearance to allow easy housekeeping. A two-platen electric clamp has non-lubricated tiebars. Motors are sealed and water cooled.

The machine also has a number of pre-engineered options allowing dual injection, in-mold assembly, and rotary cube, among other options.

At the recent Plast-Ex show in Toronto, Athena Automation showed its PLC control at the B&R Industrial Automation booth. Founded in 1979, Bernecker + Rainer Industrie-Elektronik, is based in Eggelsberg, Austria. "We use the B&R platform as a PowerLink distributed control," Overbeeke said. "In markets like medical where you add a lot of options, the machine is very flexible to put together a very integrated package."  

Powerlink is a successor to classic fieldbus technology. A transmission speed of 100 Mbit/s and a synchronization accuracy of +/- 100 ns allow single network integration of control engineering, robotics, CNC and motion control.

Use of B&R for automation controls and servomotors signals a global intent for the Athena Automation machinery. Electro servodrives are used for the mold stroke and ejector.

Athena Automation makes a unique robot for its machines. "It's not a top-entry, platen-mounted robot," Overbeeke said in the interview. "It's a very cost-effective, base-mounted design. So it's very space efficient. There is no frame into the floor, but has the same attributes as the top-mounted robot, in that it's attached to the machine. But you don't have the height issue. You don't have the loading issue. It can run a much faster cycle."

Athena Automation will not make molds or hot runners to avoid a conflict of interest. At its recent open house, machines on display had a MoldMasters hot runner control card integrated into the machine.

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