In the next decade, robotic automation is expected to lower production costs and improve efficiency in a wide range of industries, with plastic manufacturing being one of the most significant. The use of robotics in the plastics manufacturing industry comes with numerous advantages and can slash production costs substantially when properly implemented. The number of applications where robotic automation can be implemented is constantly increasing, and the cost is being justified with improved productivity.
The plastics industry is no stranger to robotic automation in general. Linear or Cartesian robots have been used in the industry for decades in order to load and unload injection molding machines with incredible speed. However, more versatile, expensive and complex six-axis robots are now being used in plastics manufacturing to automate multi-step production processes. Although they are not always the most cost effective solution compared to Cartesian robots, there are still plenty of applications where six-axis robots can be implemented with guaranteed productivity improvement.
Plastics Companies Can Achieve Increased Productivity
Helen Ke Feng, the Global Segment Manager of ABB Plastics believes that improved productivity is the primary driver of robot adoption in the plastics industry. “We’ve seen cases where customers have achieved 15 to 30 percent productivity increase after they installed robotic automation…That means a lot in terms of competitiveness and also their overall production costs.” In spite of the improved productivity, the plastics industry as a whole has been slow to invest in six-axis robots as opposed to the more traditional Cartesian robots due to the misconception that the higher cost and complexity is not worth it.
Case Study: Swedish Company Installs 15 ABB Robots to Improve Production Efficiency
AD Plast, a Swedish automotive parts supplier offers an interesting case study in robotics. They installed 15 ABB robots including six-axis robots and four robotic molding machines to automate the production of a three-part cooling system hose connector. The connector is used in many makes and models including Mercedes vehicles, and it is now manufactured with a robotically driven production cell with robotic quality control systems in place. A series of cameras are used to measure each part and check it for tolerances, and if there is an error, it will be detected by a robot and the part will be rejected.
Robotics Has Helped AD Plast Compete with Overseas Companies
The adoption of robotic automation has proven to be valuable in many ways for AD Plast. The company now runs a 24-hour operation, and Mike Wilson of ABB’s UK robotics business said that AD Plast has been able to “achieve consistent quality levels…while maintaining competitive pricing” even while facing heavy competition from overseas companies.
Similar results could be obtained from other plastics manufacturing companies that utilize the latest robotics technology, and although the cost has to be carefully justified, robotic automation represents one of the most exciting areas of production improvement in the plastics industry.