As demand continues to grow for plastic injection molded parts and components, so does their complexity. To help keep up with this demand and competition, automation has become an integral player in the injection molding process. Automation is particularly beneficial for customers requiring plastic molded assemblies. Traditionally, assemblies have been put together by hand, requiring deep pools of skilled labor. While this approach may be sensible for smaller orders, automation for larger assembly runs is a must. Let’s take a look at the benefits that automation provides:
Perhaps the most celebrated benefit is the smaller price tag that comes with automated assembly jobs. The primary reason: reduced labor costs. The math is fairly simple. Once configured, automated processes require minimal labor to stay up and running. Fully automated assembly can faithfully handle all the tasks including loading, cleaning, flashing, cutting, milling, and more. While the up-front costs may be considerable, their impact is reduced with larger or more complex runs that require costly skilled labor.
Automation processes are tightly controlled, leaving little room for very little, if any deviation. This translates to improved quality, uniformity, and consistency across an entire run. This also leads to fewer rejects and less resulting waste, which further contributes to cost savings. As an added bonus, less waste makes the process more environmentally friendly too.
Decreased Lead Time
Strategically implemented automation brings efficiency to any manufacturing process that benefits from it. Why? It’s no secret, machines can often outperform humans for repeatable tasks. They can do them consistently and more efficiently. Machines can also run uninterrupted for extended periods of time, without breaks, even overnight. The result? Jobs are turned around much quicker.
Traceability, or the ability to track the history of a manufactured component including its materials and process, has been a mandatory requirement for automotive and military applications for quite some time. It’s now moving to other industries as well, despite its complexity. Traceability requires a lot: excellent record-keeping, precise data collection, identification, documentation/reporting, and so much more. While automation can’t eliminate the paperwork, it can do something extremely helpful: serialize every part. Having the ability to uniquely identify a specific component, rather than just what lot it came from, is invaluable. Why? When coupled with other technology, such as machine vision inspection, the source of a defect can be quickly identified and remedied.
Not every injection molding assembly project can benefit from automation. Keep in mind, start-up costs are involved, and they can get pretty hefty. These include tooling, programming, machinery investments and other factors, So for lower runs of moderate complexity, generally around 10,000 pieces or so, people still will likely outperform the robots. That’s good. In the end, the goal is to be sure the customer has the best quality parts, on time, and at a reasonable cost.