Smart Tool, Electric Tool

By: Matthew H. Naitove 20. September 2016

The old gray mold ain’t what she used to be. Or won’t be for long, if recent trends hold up.


Those trends will be evident to some extent at next month’s K 2016 show in Dusseldorf, so if you’re going, you can judge for yourself.


Trend 1: Mold with a Brain
As detailed in our K Show preview last month, one of the more prominent trends at the show will be the industry-wide evolution (more consciously in Europe than here) toward the “smart factory” of self-directed, interconnected machines, known under the rubric “Industry 4.0.”


The problem is that, while injection machines and auxiliaries have been getting smarter and smarter, one fundamental part of the process remains “dumb”—the mold. That’s dumb in two senses—it doesn’t think and it doesn’t talk or communicate.


Milacron in Cincinnati has been working on a multi-year project to do something about this. The result, exhibited at K, is Smart Mold, a metal box (photo below) that attaches to a tool equipped with cavity sensors. The box contains software to extract and communicate data from those sensors via web server and OPC-UA server, as well as logic and storage capacity to save setup recipes for the entire cell that works around that mold, as well as preventive maintenance routines, engineering change records, etc.



Think of that—a mold that can tell the injection press, auxiliary injector (for two-shot molding), hot-runner system, robot, chiller, etc. what settings to implement so the mold can do its job. (For more on Smart Mold, see the results of an exclusive interview in October’s Starting Up.)


Trend 2: Going Electric
The October story notes that Milacron will be introducing another new product, as yet unnamed, that controls six servo axes on the mold—valve gates, top and bottom stripper plates, and two rotary axes such as a spin stack or rotary table and an index plate. Milacron is only one of a handful of companies that seek to replace hydraulic tooling functions with electric servos and/or stepper motors, which are clean, compact, fast, and more affordable than ever.


In an October Close Up, I report on my visit this summer to NyproMold in Clinton, Mass., which has pioneered high-cavitation unscrewing molds with electric “continuous cam” action in place of the cumbersome rack-and-pinion mechanisms of the past (photo below).



There’s also the Altanium servo control from Husky Injection Molding Systems, Bolton, Ont., a fairly new module (shown at NPE2015) for its hot-runner controller that controls servo axes in the mold—valve gates, collapsible cores, slides, unscrewing, stack rotation, and coining motions. Husky will exhibit at K, too.


And as far back as K 2010, Hasco of Germany (U.S. office in Fletcher, N.C.) showed off an all-electric mold with servos controlling every action in the tool. Hasco also will show off its latest at K.

Let a Cobot Hand You a Beer

By: Matthew H. Naitove 13. September 2016

So-called “collaborative” robots (or “cobots”) are supposed to be safe and easy to get along with—no need to wall them off in their own guarded areas.


Just how easygoing cobots can be will be given new meaning at this month’s K 2016 show in Dusseldorf, at the exhibit of Dr. Boy GmbH & Co., German parent of Boy Machines Inc., Exton, Pa. A vertical Boy 35 EVV press will mold, label, fill, and serve beer glasses with the help of two obliging cobots from Universal Robots USA, Inc. (UR) of Denmark (U.S. office in E. Setauket, N.Y.).


One six-axis, articulated UR cobot will demold the glasses (something you probably haven’t seen one of these cobots do before) and place them in a labeling station to receive one of seven different images. A second UR cobot then places the glasses on a conveyor belt—empty—for visitors to take with them.


If you’re not satisfied with an empty beer glass, open a page on your smartphone using a QR code on the Boy press and enter your data into an input screen. The first UR cobot then receives the command to label a glass with a QR code containing your specific data. The second QR cobot then takes that specific glass from the internal transfer station and fills it with beer. You are then offered the filled glass, which you can easily take directly from the cobot’s gripper in a transfer area with no safety fence. How’s that for friendly?


(Note: the QR code on your glass also contains a variety of production data that can be retrieved from the Boy database.)


What’s Brewing in Technology to Make Coffee Pods

By: Matthew H. Naitove 23. August 2016

With more than 9 billion of them sold last year alone, the prospect of selling high-output production systems to make single-serve coffee pods must be enough to make a machine builder’s mouth water.


Two different flavors of manufacturing technology (if you’ll permit me to pound the metaphor even harder) have been the subject of recent commercial announcements.


Milacron Holdings Corp., Cincinnati, says its coinjection systems using Kortec embedded technology are now being used to mold 100% recyclable coffee pods (read more about Keurig’s efforts in this regard here, here and here). The PP-based cups are replacing non-recyclable, thermoformed PS pods. One benefit of injection molding is the ability to mold in features that replace separately molded components such as filters. Milacron coinjection technology will be demonstrated in molding Klear Cans at the K 2016 show. Read more here.)


Meanwhile, Sacmi Imola S.C. of Italy (U.S. office in Des Moines, Iowa) has sold two of its 32-cavity CCM (continuous compression molding) systems to Mitaca of Milan, Italy, to produce PP coffee pods for Illycaffé. Cycle time of 3.2 sec is said to be half that for injection molding, allowing output of around 600 pods/min. CCM reportedly also makes lighter pods weighing just 2.15 g with improved thickness control of the pod bottom. Sacmi will demonstrate CCM processing of bottle caps at 1000/min with just 24 cavities at K 2016. (Read more here.)


Why You Can’t Ignore (Even If You Try) Industry 4.0...

By: Matthew H. Naitove 8. August 2016

...(Or Why They’re Calling the Upcoming K Show “K 4.0”).


As I wrote last month (see July 21 blog), exhibitors this October’s K 2016 show in Dusseldorf, Germany, will be constantly reminding visitors that “Industry 4.0 is coming” or even that it is here already. The term Industry 4.0 refers to what some call the “fourth industrial revolution” or, more specifically, the interconnected, internet-enabled Smart Factory. (See our Sept. ’15 feature for more explanation.)


It’s not just a matter of machine builders jumping on the latest bandwagon or echoing the buzzword of the day. This quote from Arburg of Germany (U.S. office in Rocky Hill, Conn.) sheds light on what’s going on: “Innovative machine manufacturers like Arburg are rebranding themselves as suppliers of flexible production systems for IT-networked production in the ‘smart factory.’”


What 4.0?
If you find yourself walking the aisles of this mammoth show, or even if you only read about it, don’t get confused by the welter of different labels that individual machine suppliers give this new industry direction: Plastics 4.0, Injection 4.0, Wittmann 4.0, Electrified 4.0, Extrusion 4.0, Recycling 4.0, and even Packaging 4.0. They’re all just trying to bring this soaring concept down from 40,000 ft closer to shop-floor level.


K 2016: Are We Seeing Something New Here?

By: Matthew H. Naitove 21. July 2016

I’ve been to a lot of trade shows, believe me. After a while, you think you know pretty much what to expect of them. But every now and then, I leave a show with a feeling that I saw something new happening there.


I remember shows in the Seventies when the microprocessor revolutionized plastics machine controls. There was one in the mid-Eighties when I scratched my head at the sudden explosion of robots everywhere. And some of you may have felt like that at shows in the early Nineties: Where did all those electric injection machines come from?


This October’s K 2016 show gives hints of possibly being one of those. Maybe it will be the next NPE or K after this one that confirms those hints. I don’t want to overstate the impact of a phenomenon that, so far, seems to have gained more traction in Europe than here. I’m talking about the “Fourth Industrial Revolution,” or “Industry 4.0,” or the “Internet of Things” (IoT).


I find the term, “Smart Factory,” a bit more descriptive of the concept—self-regulating production systems in which smart machines talk to each other and to plant supervisory computers and to maintenance departments, spare-parts databases, and, when necessary, to service departments of machine vendors to diagnose problems.


This has been a low-level buzz in the background of major international shows for a little while now; only a few machine builders made it part of their public agenda. But this K Show is different: Most of the major names in injection presses will be talking about it and how they are preparing for what they foresee as a coming upheaval in manufacturing. They have differing names for it, so keep your ears and eyes open for the “4.0” designation and for the OPC UA open-platform, “universal” communications protocol that will make it possible.


Two Close Up news articles in our upcoming August issue touch on the “4.0” phenomenon and OPC UA. There will be more in our September K Show news preview. (You can also read last September’s feature article on the topic.) Please don’t accuse me of falling head over heels for the latest European fad. I’m just trying to do my job of sniffing out the “next wave” before it washes over us. I could be wrong, but I think the surf’s starting to kick up.


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