While Hollywood is still pumping out films about sentient killer robots, a different reality is unfolding in the busy warehouses and factories around the globe. Plastic injection molding advances have become increasingly reliant on robotic assistance with industrial robots gracing the cover of plastics magazines and garnering rave reviews at tradeshows. But the use of industrial robots in the plastic molding industry has been going on for ages so what’s all the fuss about?
Industrial Robots Are More Affordable Than Ever Before
The appeal of going robotic has primarily been based on enhanced, superhuman productivity. However, the advances made in robotic injection molding machine design and technology over the course of recent years has been astounding to say the least. Until fairly recently, the most affordable of industrial robots were adept at primitive tasks. Now robots capable of taking on much more complex processes in plastic injection molding are easily affordable. In the past, it was deemed more cost-effective to rely on human labor for such plastic molding processes. You no longer have to be among the top of the industry’s plastic manufacturers to afford precision six-axis industrial robots. The reduced purchasing costs for technologically advanced six axis industrial robots has found smaller plastic manufacturers choosing robotic methods.
Robotic Plastic Molding Offers Quality and Productivity
The popularity of the six-axis robot has skyrocketed due to the robot’s agility. Six-axis robots are particularly skilled in plastic injection molding processes as their flexibility allows them to work inside of the mold and maneuver during extraction from the mold. This nimbleness and complexity of use has made six-axis robots desirable but until recently, such robots were out of most manufacturers’ price ranges. Due to the fact that this technology wasn’t always so affordable, many plastic manufacturers (particularly the smaller companies) found human labor a much better fit for their needs.
Robot Labor vs. Human Labor
High labor costs across the world have also contributed to plastic manufacturers large and small seeking a robotic labor force in plastic injection molding factories. The advanced six-axis industrial robots are capable of mastering two jobs simultaneously with no break in concentration. Safety concerns are reduced when overseeing robotic laborers and quality is typically top-notch with the threat of human error removed.
Plastic manufacturers are also attracted to industrial robots because they require a one-time cost whereas a human laborer receives a pay check. If that’s not enough to sell an entire industry on robotic solutions, the average six-axis robot can work non-stop 24 hours a day, taking the place of three skilled plastic injection molding laborers.
This may seem like a double-edged sword as plastic manufacturers reap the benefits of automation while human laborers become obsolete. Yet, some manufacturers, such as Lowell Allen of the Rodon Group, argue that the only jobs that have gone automated are those that no one would actually want to perform. This statement coupled with a shortage of laborers adequately skilled for the plastic molding processes absorbed by the six-axis robots illustrates a solid perspective that’s not likely to sway anytime soon.
The Use of Robotic Plastic Manufacturing in Specific Industries
The plastic-heavy automotive industry is particularly keen on robotic augmentation of plastic injection molding techniques used to create auto parts. With high oil prices and steep manufacturing costs, the auto industry is looking to use lighter weight plastics in their plastic molding processes. In order to offset these costs while exploring the use of lighter materials, auto manufacturers are turning more often to industrial robots to offer the speed, agility, and quality necessary to take their automobiles to the next level. Of course, there are several business factions outside of the automotive industry looking to take advantage of robotic advancements for their plastic molding needs. Packaging companies and businesses dealing in household appliances are also major investors in the robotic manufacturing trend.
Industry analysts expect to see the costs of robotic technology dropping while the demand for the use of industrial robots in the plastic molding industry grows. Likewise, as any tradeshow can attest, advances in machine-operated plastic injection molding continue to grow in leaps and bounds. Will these strides leave behind the human plastic molding laborers or will workers simply find themselves displaced into more favorable positions? It seems only time will tell. Meanwhile, the robots are here to stay.