In 2016 the engineering team at Automation Plastics was asked by management to identify a process improvement project that would increase efficiency. In evaluating process improvement opportunities the team focused on automation in general and robotics in particular. Almost immediately we realized that it would be difficult to justify a project for just one process: APC is a custom injection molder with only a few customer products that fully utilize an entire work cell. Additionally, an inherent problem in our business is when a job’s lifetime comes to an end, its associated specialized equipment is difficult, if not impossible, to repurpose.
The challenge therefore was to develop a modular automation strategy utilizing flexible equipment adaptable to diverse applications from work cell to work cell. Based on this requirement for flexibility, we determined that collaborative robotics could provide the necessary capabilities to increase our ROI on a new piece of equipment. We had experience with other 6 axis robots, but after comparing options we identified UR Robots as the best fit for our modular approach, and selected the UR5 as the model around which to build the project. Among other advantages, the collaborative UR helps with space constraints and does not require a large robotic cage installation.
The first day we received the robot, we unpackaged it and within 15 minutes we had it powered up and were programming and commanding it to do tasks. Needless to say we were enthusiastic to put it to work on the shop floor. To facilitate our modular strategy, we needed a moveable, robust, and flexible platform on which to mount the UR. The solution was to design and build a modular wheeled cart that would weigh enough to utilize the robot’s full reach and not be unstable. We also designed and fitted modular connections for the robot’s end-of-arm tooling. The last challenge we addressed was to develop modular connections for sensors and secondary equipment signals back into the robot controller.
As a result of this project we are now utilizing a single collaborative robot in multiple work cells running completely dissimilar products, with rapid redeployment capability. This contributes to high utilization rates for the robot, and extends its ability to increase productivity and efficiency across multiple applications at APC not only within the scope of present operations, but also in the future, beyond the horizon of current programs. Its highly flexible technology enables us to avoid buying expensive specialized custom equipment to do the same tasks. The UR can be reprogrammed very easily and we are confident it will continue to find new applications and resulting synergies across APC’s present and future operations profile. Needless to say, we’re excited to expand our UR fleet!