High-mix, low-volume (HMLV) manufacturing has seen significant growth in recent years as lower margins, increased demand for customization, and supply chain uncertainty have altered day-to-day production realities. The result is a world where shorter product lifecycles are the norm and speed in production and delivery are king.
Injection molding of plastic parts and components figures prominently in the HMLV space. Often handled by smaller contract manufacturers, companies engaged in injection molding face a unique challenge when automating. On the one hand, the variable nature of their product runs mandates high flexibility; on the other hand, their size may limit their ability to engage in big CAPEX spends. Simply put, they need sophisticated equipment for less money.
In many cases, collaborative robots (cobots) have proven to be the remedy to this predicament. Typically deployed for machine tending, material removal, and other material handling tasks, cobots present a relatively low-cost option that is flexible, easy to integrate, and capable of working directly alongside human workers without any safety fencing, provided a risk assessment has first been performed.
The e-Series of cobots from Universal Robots has seen a high level of adoption by injection molders, with numerous case studies on the company’s website documenting the robots’ success at small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) in the plastics and polymers space. According to Universal Robots, the flexible nature of its e-Series cobots allow them to be redeployed throughout a plastics manufacturing facility to automate secondary processes, such as degating, grinding, spru removal, and polishing, as well as for the application of decals or labels to plastic parts.
Universal Robots is following these successes by taking steps to make communication between its e-Series cobots and injection molding machines faster and more intuitive. The company’s recently released injection molding machine interface provides standardized connectivity between its e-Series cobots and injection molding machinery that employs EuroMap 67 and SPI AN-146 communication interfaces.
The interface can be installed in a cobot’s control box in less than ten minutes, and reportedly provides deep integration with the robotic system, including safety functionality, according to Universal Robots. In addition, an injection molding machine interface template for Universal Robots’ Polyscope operating system is provided to simplify programming.
“Injection molding machines have many inputs and outputs to manage the complexities of the molding process,” said Joe Campbell, senior manager of applications development at Universal Robots. “Standardized interfaces allow for ease of integration and exchangeability. With the injection molding machine interface, we give the manufacturer the ability to set up, program, and control the entire application cycle through the cobot’s teach pendant. Combine this with the positioning flexibility and the additional degrees of freedom found in Universal Robots’ cobots, compared to traditional cartesian robots, and you have a very powerful solution.”