Robots are a key tool for remaining competitive in times like these.
What can automation offer a moulder today? The average shop is looking at tight acquisition budgets and as many gloomy predictions about 2009 as last year there were upbeat ones. And all that means any purchase needs careful justification.
Sepro America LLC (Pittsburgh, Pa.), formerly a joint-venture of French-based Sepro with Conair (Pittsburgh, Pa.), is following a common tendency in offering two robot ranges: the moderately priced Axess robots, for the simpler pick and place applications’ and its more capable Generation IV robots, which offer additional control capabilities, higher speeds and the ability to tie in with peripheral equipment.
“You don’t see this same pricing differential in automation systems that integrate robots, conveyors and peripheral equipment into a manufacturing cell,” says Jim Healy, vice-president of sales and marketing. “The specifications (and cost) of these systems tend to be very applications-driven. However, as we have gained more and more experience with them, the engineering requirements and the cost to the customer have been trending level or downward, even as the capabilities of the systems increase.”
Quick-change tooling has been improving since the 1990s, and Sepro today offers quick-change tooling plates on its robots as standard features. It also offers quick-disconnects on electrical and pneumatic lines.
“We can also offer an ID system that automatically verifies that the EOAT on the robot matches the mould that it is to be used with, and that the robot program is installed,” he says. “In fact, tooling changes and robot set-up can usually be accomplished in less time than it takes to change a mould and adjust machine settings. When it comes to changing jobs these days, the delays are more on the moulding machine side, not on the robot side.”
John Westbeld, engineering manager at SAS Automation (Xenia, Ohio) observes that complexity in moulding cells and systems is increasing.
“Costs are decreasing, but not complexity,” he says. “It seems to be the trend from our vantage point that moulders are trying to automate systems that they would not have considered before. The reasons for automating are the same—labour costs, quality, and ergonomics—but the drive to decrease costs to be competitive has increased.”
SAS specialises in quick-change systems for EOAT. In the second half of 2008, the company began offering EOAT with RFID tags to automatically ensure the correct tooling is operating with the corresponding operation and equipment.
SAS has applied an RFID tag in an EOAT mounting plate, Westbeld says, that can identify itself when mounted and installed on a standard quick change mounting chuck, which mounts to the robot. Important features of this system are that it identifies the correct robotic EOAT gripper is mounted to the robot running the applicable program and confirms the rest of the critical equipment is installed. This includes the correct die or mould in stamping, plastics or packaging operations.
RFID, he notes, is low-cost insurance against robot, tooling and part damage because it quickly ensures the correct tooling is running. RFID tags prevent costly damage due to system crashes, reduce labour costs, and are critical during line changeovers.
Engel Canada (Guelph, Ont.) has also broadened its EOAT quick-change offering with a manual system with a dovetail, that uses two wing-nuts for mounting and dismounting.
“Not much has changed in the EOAT itself,” says automation manager Harold Luttmann, “but this system costs just hundreds of dollars, whereas a full quick-change system from most suppliers can run into the thousands.”