For plastics manufacturers, reducing costs and improving quality is a driving force for the increased use of robotic automation in their operations. The good news is that technological innovation has transformed robots, making it possible for plastics manufacturers to put these solutions to work on tasks and in places that, until now, were out of the reach of traditional robots.
Oh, the Places Cobots Can Go
Smart, collaborative robots – or cobots – give plastics manufacturers more opportunities to automate factory production. Safe enough to work alongside people, smart enough to do more than a single task and easy enough to train without a programmer, cobots are differentiated by a number of technical advances that support the unique needs of this sector. Just a few of the technological innovations that cobots bring to the 90 percent of tasks in manufacturing not yet automated include the ability to:
- See and pick up parts on a conveyor, using cameras that are embedded in the robot,
- Use dynamic force control to securely place parts into position without damaging them, the fixtures or the robot,
- Accommodate the changes and normal fluctuations that are inherent in most production lines, and
- Quickly adapt to different parts coming out of the injection molding machines with plug-and-play, quick-change grippers
Beyond new abilities, the advances in cobot technology are key to meeting a major challenge for plastics manufacturers: a reliable workforce. Moving from one to two shifts or three shifts to one with people as the primary labor force is not easy – nor desirable. Robots can work as much – or as little – as needed, and at a price point around $40,000, ROI can still be achieved if the robot is only in use for a single shift. This flexibility gives plastics manufacturers an easy path to scaling operations up and down as business demands.
Lower costs and flexibility mean little if quality suffers. For many tasks in plastics manufacturing, repetition is the name of the game. For people, doing the same thing over and over is not ideal. Robots, on the other hand, are well-suited to these tasks, and can perform with a guaranteed level of precision and reliability. As a result, it’s easy to achieve dependable levels of quality and productivity.
The technology innovation that differentiates cobots from more traditional robots is likely to be a contributing factor in the growth of cobot adoption by plastics manufacturers – predicted by some to be close to 15 percent annually through 2019. It makes perfect sense, after all: The advances and the resulting value that cobots can deliver to the relentless pursuit of lower costs and higher quality make investing a very smart decision.
Cobots like Sawyer are transforming the way plastics manufacturers do business – read about how one company, PMC, met a labor shortage while increasing quality and throughput.
About the Author
Jim had a choice upon graduating from Tufts University – chase a dream as a concert pianist or become part of the inaugural Leaders for Manufacturing Program at MIT. He chose the latter– dedicating his career to developing and delivering innovative solutions that improve the business of manufacturing. Internally at HP, and then at breakthrough start-ups in e-commerce, inventory optimization and supply chain risk management, Jim’s never once looked back. His charter today: capture the power of data and analytics to push the standard for world-class manufacturing higher—once again.