They are the perfect employee: fast, productive and salary-free. And they never need to take a break (unless they break!)
Of course, we’re talking robots. And, while they aren’t new to plastic injection molding, they’re certainly getting more and more ink. For good reason. But first, a little robotic history…
Cartesian or linear robots, sometimes called beam robots, invaded the industry years ago. They were first, ahem, “employed” to unload injection molding machines with dazzlingly speed. But these days, the cage-free “collaborative” robots are all the rage.
What’s driving the interest? Productivity, quality, product life cycle flexibility, and labor savings, just to name a few. Moreover, multi-shot molding, in-mold labeling and decorating, and composite part fabrication are “priming the pump” for advanced manufacturing methods.
2014 was the best year yet for North American robotics sales, according to statistics from the Robotic Industries Association. Figures aren’t in for 2015 but they are almost sure to beat those for 2014.
Oh, I know what you’re thinking… robots are job killers, right? Well, yes and no. Yes, no doubt, robots in industry have reduced the need for very low-skilled workers. But what is often forgotten in this conversation, is that employment goes up through robotics too. How? Have you forgotten that high-skilled employees are needed to manufacture robots?
And what industries have been driving employment gains at the robot factory? Rubber and… wait for it… plastic injection molding!
Productivity. It’s the elephant in the room but we can’t overstate it. Many observers have seen increases of 15 to 30 percent in productivity after companies installed robotic automation. Obviously, that means a lot in terms of competitiveness and overall production costs.
One more consideration: Robots increase yield quality which is especially beneficial with carbon fiber composite materials, where costs can be extremely high. Saving on raw materials lowers overall production costs, right?
Today, everybody’s talking about six-axis articulated robots are renowned for their dexterity and flexibility. Cartesian or linear robots are fine for most injection molding processes. But if you need manipulation inside the mold, such as is necessary for insertion molding, or have other flexibility needs, six-axis robots are the answer. In an environment where product cycles are getting shorter and shorter, such flexibility is crucial.
More could be said about the robots in the plastic injection molded world. But that’s a subject for another blog post!