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With the rise of Industry 4.0 and advanced manufacturing, plastic injection molding automation systems have become critical to maintaining robust production capabilities. In the coming years, the prevalence of these systems is only expected to increase. In fact, one study predicted that 34% of manufacturing-related roles could be automated by 2032.
Not only could this free up workers for more skilled and critical tasks, but it will enable manufacturers to streamline their processes with new capabilities. With lights-out manufacturing and human-machine collaboration, automation systems can enable faster production times, lower costs, and improve accuracy with every plastic component.
Advantages of Plastic Injection Molding Automation
Among the many advantages that come with plastic injection molding automation systems, improvements in precision, speed, and repeatability are often the most noteworthy. Robots (such as Fanuc robots) run on sophisticated programming that allows for a heightened level of consistency and quality even in long production runs.
This enables manufacturers to lower labor-associated costs, but it also removes the risk of human error in part production and enhances worker safety measures.
At Noble, our automation systems go beyond these advantages to deliver an additional asset for our customers: ease of use.
We work only with vendors who are known in the industry for reliability and readily available support. Our pre-engineered systems do not require programming knowledge to operate. Instead, after the initial system installation, which normally takes less than a day, and some initial training, skilled laborers are fully qualified to operate and monitor the system.
In short, our plastic injection molding automation systems are designed for precision, cost-effectiveness, and a better user experience. Because we use these systems in our own manufacturing processes, this translates to a streamlined and more cost-effective production process for our customers.
Types of Automation in Injection Molding
Within Noble’s plastic injection molding automation system, there are a variety of parts that make up the whole, including:
Robotics—Noble has been a Fanuc Authorized System Integrator for nearly a decade. We’re able to determine the size of the robot our customers will need based on their component specifications and machine size. With the system being plug and play, further applications are easy to add, such as conveyors, nipping stations, and other post-molding operations.
Automated component handling—With advanced automation systems, Noble can provide custom tooling for all our customers. Most parts come with direct screws or cold runners, but we can design tooling around the complexity of the part. Our 6-axis robots allow for advanced manipulations during demolding, deburring, and other post-mold operations. Additionally, our systems are designed to handle every part of the injection molding process from pellets to box, allowing operators to monitor without extensive hands-on involvement.
Automated quality control—When it comes to quality control, plastic injection molding automation systems’ capabilities often extend far beyond human capabilities alone. Our 6-axis robots at Noble are capable of performing advanced vision inspection, and can even provide analog measurements if needed. Once the base system is in place, post-molding operations can be added to meet our customers’ specific needs and desires.
Overcoming Challenges and Considerations
For customers who want to invest in automation systems of their own, there are some challenges to consider such as available floor space, integrating with existing equipment, communication protocols between devices, deploying the system into production, etc. Fortunately, Noble Plastics provides solutions to help our customers navigate the process of integrating an automated system into their own workflow.
Cost Factors and ROI
At Noble, we start by understanding the specific needs of our customers so we can provide them with a ROM system that does exactly what is needed. From there, Noble offers other options through system additions that would meet their minimum requirements.
This allows the customer to have the power to determine the best quantitative solution for their investment. The customer can choose to install the minimum required base system, or they can choose to fully automate their entire process.
Integration with Existing Systems
At Noble Plastics, ensuring that automation systems are fully integrated with the existing systems of our customers in a safe and reliable way is important to us.
When integrating these systems with injection molding machines, safety is ensured by a set of handshakes between the robot and the injection molding machine. With a two-way communication system, the robot and injection molding machine can effectively coordinate with one another to ensure all stages of the manufacturing process are being run efficiently and safely.
To integrate with other systems, Noble Plastics collaborates with our customers’ engineering department to ensure that all devices, hardware, and software programs (such as CNC machines, ethernet, and POCs) are visible to one another and included in the communications protocol.
As mentioned above, programming complexity is virtually a non-issue with our pre-engineered automation systems. Our user-friendly HMI can be customized to fit our customers’ needs without the need to access the programming itself.
For troubleshooting, Noble can utilize remote ipendant capabilities to remotely access the automation system without the need to be onsite in order to make necessary uploads and edits.
Initial Training and Skill Development
A misconception about plastic injection molding automation systems is that they require lengthy, in-depth training to operate.
While this may be the case for some systems, Noble has opted for systems that are built for maximum ease of use. The basic training required to run the system is always included in the system quote and provided on-site at the time of deployment.
For our particular systems, more in-depth training is available through Fanuc. If our customers want to learn how to reprogram the 6-axis robots for other purposes, Noble can help set this up by requesting a quote and reaching out to operations managers to coordinate.
Future Trends and Innovations in Plastic Injection Molding Automation
Briefly looking at future trends in plastic injection molding automation systems shows some promising AI developments in machine vision and part loading that far surpass the speed of 3D bin picking. Smart technologies like pressure sensors are also becoming more essential.
Noble Plastics is a Leader in Plastic Injection Molding Automation
At Noble Plastics, we pride ourselves on being at the forefront of automation and other Industry 4.0. As of 2023, we are an official OnRobot partner and we’ve been a FANUC Authorized System Integrator since 2014. We implement automation systems in our own injection molding processes to provide faster, more cost-effective part production for our customers. We’re also capable of providing others with the same systems we have been using for years.
Are you looking to add automation systems to your manufacturing process? Or do you need an injection molder that is at the forefront of technological advancements? Connect with our team of experts today to get started.
March 30, 2023 marked the ten year anniversary of the UL Mystery Design Challenge hosted by Noble Plastics! During the University of Louisiana at Lafayette’s Engineering Week, Noble Plastics sponsors a design challenge that all engineering disciplines compete in.
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