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Brave New Shop Floor: Artificially Intelligent

September 29, 2015

Twenty years is a long time in the plastic injection molding industry.  Even thought the internet age had already dawned in the ’90s,  a shop floor manager working in that era would most likely have been still twisting knobs and staring at analog dials.  Operators  still consulted printed instructions to set up equipment by hand. Pneumatically driven robots were wrestled into position so limit switches could be set.
Not so in 2015.  Today, it’s all about smart equipment, open communication protocols, and robust computer networks. It’s a brave new shop floor, where groups of intelligent machines “talk” to each other as integrated systems and Bluetooth-enabled tablets take the place of analog machine interfaces.  Self-aware of their own condition and productivity, today’s smart plastic injection molding machines are light-years ahead of their counterparts in the ’90s.

In 2015, one computer screen shows it all:  Barrel heating on the main page and custom tabs along the bottom showing temperatures in hot runners, TCUs, dryers, etc. give the operator all the information he needs.  Because all information is included in a single piece of software, the water heater, hot-runner controller and robot program all boot up at the same time.

Today, fully-integrated molding cells, including molding machine, robot, and temperature-control unit (TCU) smoothly share operations, communicating with each other and the operator. The mold, for example, digitally communicates the necessary settings for the press, TCU, and robot,  allowing setup in 25 min. vs. up to 2 hr in the old, analog days.

Today’s advances are the culmination of the complete automation of the molding process —within the machines, within the cell, and within the factory itself.  What’s been called the Fourth Industrial Revolution is  forcing equipment suppliers to rethink everything they think they know about equipment.

It’s gotten to the point that many observers feel that OEMs that  don’t have a remote monitoring service won’t be able to survive just a few years from now.

The potential economic impact of this new industrial revolution range from $3.9 trillion to $11 trillion per year by 2025.  Interestingly enough, industry spending on technology will outpace consumer and healthcare spending in this sector.

So hold on to your monitors:  plastic injection molding is racing into the future.


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