VIF Mould and Plastics reduces production costs, increases process stability and improves product quality by using six-axis robots

Industrial Robot

ISSN: 0143-991x

Article publication date: 1 August 2004




(2004), "VIF Mould and Plastics reduces production costs, increases process stability and improves product quality by using six-axis robots", Industrial Robot, Vol. 31 No. 4.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2004, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

VIF Mould and Plastics reduces production costs, increases process stability and improves product quality by using six-axis robots

VIF Mould and Plastics reduces production costs, increases process stability and improves product quality by using six-axis robots

Keywords: Plastics, Robots, Production

Thriving on difficult technical challenges is not only the company's motto; it is the driving force behind their success. Since 1973, VIF Mould and Plastics Industries Ltd., a family owned and operated business, has continually accepted difficult technical challenges and flourished because of it. Considered one of the few turnkey solutions suppliers to the plastics industry, VIF designs, engineers, tests, re-engineers and manufactures moulds and customer products on demand. Hiring educated, motivated and quality- conscious personnel, VIF is much more than a “job shop”. They specialize in engineering R&D and are masters at mould making. They manufacture everything from small hand tools to spa components, to under-water cameras, to metal detectors to rocket launchers. Serving modest and prestigious clients in North America, Europe and Asia in industries that range from aerospace, electronics, medical, food and consumer goods, VIF has a proven reputation and commitment to “Total Customer Satisfaction”.

In 2000, VIF faced several production challenges when demand for a particular product increased 100 per cent, and costs needed to be reduced by 25 per cent. The product, a hand tool, utilizes inventive moulding methods and Nissei injection moulding machines to permanently fuse two completely different materials. Running three shifts per day, 5-7 days a week, one operator would manually load/unload inserts into two separate injection moulding machines. According to VIF's President, Steve Vaskuthy, the manual load/unload operation was the one job in the plant that no one wanted to do. “The inserts are hot, insert damage was becoming an issue, it's redundant work, and consistent cycle times are absolutely essential for part quality”.

In the machine tool industry the natural consideration would be to use a multi-shot injection moulding machine. However, due to part thickness, the high-tech materials (polypropylene, soft-touch elastomer materials such as Santoprene and others) and the time delay required to cool the part prior to over-shooting the second material, a multi-shot machine was not an option for VIF. Shot-to-shot consistency was critical for maximum throughput. If a part cools too much or too little, the second shot would result in flashing. The slightest delay, even 2 or 3 s would produce defective parts.

Continually challenged to improve manufacturing processes and maximizing efficiencies, VIF was determined to find a solution to reduce their costs without jeopardizing part quality or distribution to their end customer. It was evident right from the beginning that automation was in order. VIF approached various different suppliers to assist in finding the right solution to their problem. One major constraint was to remain extremely flexible for future production needs.

After considering a wide range of solutions including some very elaborate and expensive set- ups, VIF concluded the best approach was to use a conventional floor mounted robot. VIF awarded their business to FANUC Robotics Canada. The decision to work with FANUC Robotics was based on several factors, including FANUC's servomotor reputation in the CNC business and FANUC Robotics' reputation for having the industry's most reliable robots coupled with their ability to provide easy to use programs, hands-on training, end-of- arm-tooling, turnkey systems capabilities and 24 h service and support (Plate 5).

The system included one FANUC M-16iL robot, HandlingTool operation software, end-of- arm-tooling, programming and operator training. Jointly with VIF, FANUC Robotics designed, engineered and supported the entire system from its Montreal, Quebec location.

The process

The M16iL robot is integrated in an overmoulding cell with a Nissei FN3000 and a Nissei FS120 injection moulding machine. As the robot extracts a moulded core, the press closes and the polypropylene is then injected into the mould. Once the cavity is packed, the machine will maintain pressure until the gate freezes. During this process, the robot places the extracted core on a horizontal cooling rack. The robot then selects a cooled core and top loads it into a Nissei FS120 injection moulding machine for the secondary elastomer over-moulding process. Prior to the press closing, the robot extracts a completed part and presents it to a gate removal/part handling tool. The newly moulded tool's handles are placed onto a conveyor and carried out of the automated work cell for manual inspection and packing. The robot proceeds to the first Nissei FN3000 machine in order to repeat the cycle. The robot load/unload cycle time is 35 s per machine.

Though the speed and dexterity of the robot were never an issue, the robot path and overall programming was extremely challenging. Creating a program to simulate human motion and pinpoint the exact time for loading and unloading the moulding machines proved lengthy. However, simply duplicating the process as it was done manually did not solve the problem of increasing production. Owing to the cooling required between machines, decreasing cycle time was not an option. The only feasible way of increasing production was to increase the number of parts manufactured per cycle. VIF and FANUC Robotics worked together to develop an end-effector (end-of-arm-tooling) to handle a newly developed four-cavity mould insert. By doing so, the system has allowed VIF to double production, achieve material savings generated through part consistency, and realize a 33 per cent cost savings by going from a two to four cavity mould. Full payback on the entire system is anticipated within 2 years.

From VIF's standpoint there was a technology learning curve, but according to Vaskuthy, adopting the technology was easier than originally anticipated. “We've taken the self dependent approach by hiring and training employees to be dedicated in-house robotics technicians,” he added. “We're so confident in our process and capabilities that we have guaranteed a price freeze to our end customer for 3 years; not many suppliers are willing to do that.”

Owing to the ease of operation and their own comfort level, VIF has since purchased another robot, a FANUC M-710i for a separate application. Confident in their technical ability, VIF took full responsibility for the integration and programming of the robot themselves. VIF continues to fine-tune their process by modifying and adding procedures as they go on. With the quality and consistency demonstrated from their first two robot installations, VIF now aggressively pursues business opportunities both domestically and internationally with robotic automation in mind. According to Vaskuthy, VIF has no fear of using or recommending a robot for the job – in fact, he thinks that more people in the plastics industry should be using them.

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