Using a high-speed side loader working with a FANUC six axes robot has increased the output of lid mouldings by 30% at Bury-based trade moulder, Champion Mouldings Limited. Developed in partnership with Hi-Tech Automation Limited, the new cell is an evolution in plastics automation combining the speed of the Cartesian loader with the dexterity of a six axes robot.
Unlike previous robot installations at Champion the new moulding cell requirement allowed for the mould tool to be designed for automation. At the earliest stage, while Champion was still bidding for the business, Hi-Tech Automation was involved in cell and tool design to maximise the output.
An existing robot cell at Champion was installed three years ago to an injection moulding machine manufacturing lids. At that time the mould tool was supplied removing a degree of flexibility when designing the cell but the new system allowed input to tool design.
Working closely with the tool designer the orientation of mould cavities were changed to allow the side unloader to minimise its movements while the tool was open. When the tool is open the side unloader firstly places labels into the fixed tool plate by momentarily applying a static charge when 5.0mm away – the effect being to hold the label in place after releasing the vacuum gripper.
The side unloader then moves to mouldings, vacuum grips them and removes them from the tool.
The gripper plate of the unloader rotates through 180˚ allowing the FANUC M-10iA robot to vacuum grip the mouldings and place them on a conveyor. The robot then collects eight labels from a dispenser cassette and transfers these to the unloader ready to repeat the sequence.
Commenting on the approach to automating the process Andrew Mason MD of Champion commented, “I could have chosen a second-hand robot for £25K and be dealing with equipment that is unreliable – and that’s not what we do – it’s against our business model. Our business model is based around brand new innovative machinery – We can’t take a high-risk strategy without the support and backup of someone like Hi-Tech – you need it [support] because when the pressure’s on it’s on for Champion, Hi-Tech, our customer – everyone. This is what led us to start working with Hi-Tech – they have the facilities, the knowledge of handling components and the backup.
“We innovate for our customers. When we make a new lid we ‘re-invent the lid’…..we change the tool design, we’ve lightened the weight, reduced the cycle time achieving a 30% increase in output and all by being innovative with something as simple as a lid. All this innovation is to stay one step ahead because it’s a level playing field throughout the World – we supply in Germany, America and into China all because it’s a level playing field – it costs no more to make it here [Champion] than it does in China. There’s a lot of weight on our shoulders – if we don’t deliver we stop production in any of these countries – so we need the best bit equipment possible to manufacture.”
The second system allowed Hi-tech to maximise the use of automation and allow the cycle time to be controlled by the process – the first system because of the existing moulding was controlled by the automation – the time required to load and unload labels and mouldings.
In addition to the increased output, the development has allowed a reduction in material used and therefore a weight saving and reduced carbon footprint. Andrew Mason is also particularly proud that through innovation work has been returned to the UK that has previously been sourced in China.