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Wittmann Opens Simulated Clean-Room Demo Facility

By: Matthew H. Naitove 2. November 2016

 

White walls, sticky floor tape, and even a startlingly realistic manikin gowned in a “bunny suit”—all intended to simulate the look and feel of a clean room in one alcove of the U.S. headquarters plant of Wittmann Battenfeld, Inc. in Torrington, Conn.

 

Given the intense interest in “clean” facilities for medical and electronics molding, the company pursued this approach to demonstrate the “clean-room-ready” molding equipment from its new Medical Products Group. These include specially equipped medical clean-room versions of its MicroPower, EcoPower, and SmartPower machines. “Our involvement in medical molding applications is increasing, and the addition of this new facility shows our continued commitment to the market,” said David Preusse, president.

 

 

The simulated clean room contains a fully enclosed MicroPower 15-ton micro-molding system, which can be equipped as a self-contained clean room; and a 110-ton, all-electric EcoPower SE (special clean-room edition) press with a W823 clean-room robot. An application for Wittmann 4.0 (the company’s version of Industry 4.0) is exemplified by a touchscreen terminal located outside the perimeter of the “clean room” demo area, that can provide full remote access to the molding machines, water-flow controllers, hot runners, robots, temperature-control units (TCUs), and dryers.

 

The clean-room demo facility was shown to the public for the first time at last month’s open house, which I attended along with around 300 visitors and some 20 industry partners, presenting 22 machine demonstrations, eight operating molding cells, and 36 technical presentations over two days. The open house also showed off the company’s recent expansion, involving the purchase of a 50,000-ft2 plant next door to the original building. Occupied in April, the new building is devoted to material-handling and auxiliary equipment.

 

More than a Buzzword, ‘Predictive Maintenance’ Is Key to Optimum Machine Utilization

By: Matthew H. Naitove 13. October 2016

I wrote here recently that this month’s K 2016 show in Dusseldorf (where I and the whole staff of Plastics Technology are headed next week) is evidence that the wave of “Industry 4.0” activity is building toward a crest.

 

Now, I’m also expecting to find signs of another wave just starting to build. That wave has its own buzzword: “Predictive Maintenance.” But don’t dismiss it as a fad. It’s very likely to be your future.

 

Predictive maintenance as an essential strategy for obtaining maximum machine efficiency and uptime. The idea is to install sensors on processing machines that will measure vibrations, torques, temperatures, pressures, electrical functions, and other things like oil quality (particle count), level, and moisture content.

 

One machine builder compared it to Formula 1 racing, where the vehicle data are analyzed on every circuit of the track in order to keep the car operating at optimum performance and to call it in for maintenance before a breakdown is imminent. The ultimate goal is to detect wear, leaks, or deterioration of components before a critical failure occurs. Sensor signals, processed by appropriate software, can be used to send emails to maintenance departments to order a spare part or schedule preventive maintenance.

 

The key is for maintenance shutdowns to be planned events, not a potentially costly surprise that has to be dealt with on an emergency basis. Predictive-maintenance data can also be monitored remotely by the machine builder, which has the expertise to interpret the information. This added level of machine intelligence and communication functions makes predictive maintenance and element of the Smart Factory, or Industry 4.0.

 

One maker of injection machines notes that the need for predictive maintenance technology comes from two factors:

 

Many manufacturers have fewer experienced maintenance technicians on-site these days;

 

It’s getting harder and harder for those technicians to keep up with all the new machinery and controls technology entering the market. (Just read our K Show previews in September to get an idea.)

 

But as one machine builder wisely puts it, predictive maintenance is the intersection of technology and human diagnostic competence. You have to “know what to listen for, how to interpret it, and when to put this knowledge to use.”

 

My first awareness of predictive maintenance came more than a decade ago, when Coperion Corp., Sewell, N.J. (then Werner & Pfleiderer), promoted the idea of putting vibration sensors on compounding equipment to sense the health of drive bearings. More recently, the pioneer has been Prophecy Sensorlytics of Columbia, Md., which has licensed Novatec Inc., Baltimore, to use its preventive-maintenance sensor technology on materials-handling auxiliaries. (Read about it here.)

 

At K next week, there will be at least three firms that I know of talking about predictive maintenance:

 

Engel Austria (U.S. office in York, Pa.) will present its new e-connect.monitor software and sensors for monitoring screw wear and ballscrews on electric servo axes of injection machines. (See our K preview.) Engel considers it part of its “inject 4.0” program.

 

•Last week, at its open house in Torrington, Conn., I learned that Wittmann Battenfeld will introduce its Condition Monitoring System for comprehensive monitoring of injection machines (photo). It’s a new addition to the “Wittmann 4.0” program (details here).

 

•Italy’s ICMA San Giorgio, an established producer of twin-screw extruders, will present its I-Smart concept of sensors and advanced diagnostics on a co-rotating compounding machine (details here).

 

I’m sure these are just the first ripples of a new wave of technology you can’t afford to ignore.

 

U.S. Molders Warming Up to All-Electric Blow Molding

By: Matthew H. Naitove 5. October 2016

When I set out to research a feature on “What Molders Think About All-Electric Blow Molding Machines,” I thought it would be no big deal to get interviews with a handful of shops.

 

I’d target, say, one customer apiece from Bekum America, Kautex Machines, and Milacron, which have been the major proponents of the technology in North America. After all, Plastics Technology magazine has been reporting steadily on new generations of all-electric shuttles and injection-blow presses since at least the K 2001 show in Germany.

 

All three of those vendors (and probably more from Europe) are slated to bring out new all-electrics at the K 2016 show next month (see our September show preview). One of those new machines is Milacron’s M-Series (pictured), described in detail here.

 

Imagine my surprise, then, when I was given the name of exactly one U.S. molder to contact for this article, plus one in the U.K. and one in South Africa. It turns out that after 15 years on the market, all-electric shuttles and injection-blow presses amount to barely more than a half-dozen machines installed in North America.

 

The situation is very different in Europe, where all-electrics account for 80% of the shuttles Milacron sells. Bekum is selling a smaller but still significant fraction of its shuttle machines in all-electric versions, and Kautex has sells smaller shuttle models only in all-electric form. Milacron sources say they also have customers in Asia and South Africa that buy only electric machines.

 

While European bottle molders have jumped at the chance to cut their high electric utility bills, their U.S. counterparts are a more conservative lot and most of whom don’t pay as much for electricity. Even more, a lot of them have had plenty of available machine capacity and had resisted making major capital investments—at least until recently.

 

There are signs the tide may be turning. The number of all-electric machines on order now by U.S. customers appears roughly equal to the number installed—including the first electric injection-blow unit from Milacron. Kautex expects to see some bigger customers get into the act next year with 10 machine orders. Bekum is putting its hopes on its first electric shuttle equipped with U.S. components such as servo motors, actuators, and controls.

 

Blow molders looking for new machines should take careful note of the comments on all-electrics by the one U.S. bottle maker interviewed for my November story—and of the corroborating testimony from the South African molder. (The British molder did not respond to a request for an interview.) These molders know hydraulic presses well—and they’re sticking with all-electrics for the future.

 

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.)

 




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