Integrating and Maturing New Technology

Automation Plastics workers sharing their tribal knowledge
Collaborative Development: Tribal Knowledge, Standard Work, and Dozuki at Automation Plastics
February 19, 2018

Integrating and Maturing New Technology

Some things my Dad told me

My dad, a lifelong airplane enthusiast, was born in 1915.  He lived through an aviation technology explosion over his 101 years, including an event that changed the world, Lindbergh’s unprecedented 33½ hour 1927 New York to Paris solo flight in the Spirit of St Louis.   In World War II, he personally witnessed the game-changing jet-powered Messerschmidt ME 262 in action Germany in 1945.

Another “game-changing” aircraft introduced early in World War II was the Lockheed P-38 Lightning, a twin engine, twin-boom, aluminum-skinned fighter designed for high-altitude long-range operations.  Unfortunately, the Lightning’s debut was a dud, as pilots were unable to achieve advertised range performance.  The shortfall was overcome by sending a fuel-burn expert to the front.  The expert introduced engine-leaning techniques to P-38 pilots, greatly improving fuel consumption, enabling the long-range fighter aircraft to fulfill its promise.   The expert’s name was Charles Lindbergh.

According to my dad, one of Lindbergh’s techniques, maddening to his understudies at first, was to burn fuel while fine-tuning the engine at the end of the runway prior to takeoff, a counter-intuitive approach considering the objective of extending fuel range.  However, his investment on the ground paid off in the air.


P-38 Lighting, 1944

The Robot and the Stiletto Sprue

Few there are who are immune to P-38 type rollout experiences.  As we expand our technological footprint, we can expect “unknown unknowns” to be lurking in the shadows.  Each new solution introduces a whole new subset of potential hurdles.


Automation Plastics has been actively investing in new technologies and equipment over the past decade.  In 2017 we rolled out our first collaborative robot.  One of the selling points of collaborative robotics is the elimination of guarding requirements.  While this promise is legitimate, the first application at Automation exposed the need for some type of guarding despite the collaborative functionality of the robot.


Integrated Technologies Enhance the Solutions

Human finger impersonators of the Oscar Meyer variety confirmed our suspicions; we could not ignore the safety hazard from the robot borne Stiletto Sprues.

Automation’s Manufacturing Engineering team resolved the concern by integrating a different cutting-edge technology into the work cell: a laser safety scanner installed on the platform slows the robot down when humans approach.



3D Printing at the end of the Runway

Another emerging technology that is helping us address the unknown unknowns is 3D Printing.  We continue to find new applications that allow us to fine tune enhancements to robotic installations “at the end of the runway.”  A few examples:

Airbag Guards

  • Engineers identified accidental damage to the OD Gripper Airbags on End of Arm Tools as an unacceptable (and expensive) failure mode. Protective sleeves were designed, printed, tested, and implemented with a very short lead time, eliminating the concern.

Centering Cones


  • Another end of arm application used to pick multiple parts simultaneously was hindered by random minor variations in the position of the individual components being grabbed, with the result that parts could be dropped or missed. 3D printed centering cones mounted in front of the grippers solved the problem.

End of Arm Prototyping


  • The fork we use to pick molded parts off of a conveyor required extensive prototyping. Our Stratasys 170 3D printer enabled our team to fine tune its design prior building the actual aluminum assembly.


So we at Automation Plastics have learned to value the challenges, and opportunities presented to us at the end of the runway.

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