Old Faithful Robot Gets Its Due at K Show

By: Matthew H. Naitove 15. November 2016

The purpose of a trade show like K 2016 in Dusseldorf last month is to show off new products to entice buyers. But Star Automation Inc. took the contrary approach, highlighting a 34-year-old model at the center of its booth, which was still running just fine.


This MHY-L900 II unit was purchased from the Italian customer, Rigamenti Srl, which had been running the robot since 1982. The paint was scratched a bit, and the overall design was a lot less clean than sleeker current models, but “old faithful” kept on cycling without complaint.


Technology marches on: Equipment gets faster, more energy efficient, and easier to maintain. But sometimes hardware that’s well made and well maintained will just keep on doing its job, long past the horizon of nominal obsolescence.


It’s no wonder that machine suppliers sometimes have a hard time convincing processors to let go of “old faithful” and scrap it or trade it in for a new model. At a respectful distance from the battle-scarred veteran, Star Automation showed off a new model (not aimed at the U.S. market). The unspoken message seemed to be, “Take good care of it, and you’ll have plenty of time to grow attached to it.”


Now That’s “Collaborative”!

By: Matthew H. Naitove 8. November 2016

Pick-and-place product handling … simple assembly tasks … sure, or why not serving a cold beer?


So-called “collaborative” robots, or “cobots,” are gaining interest and adherents among plastics molders, who welcome the idea of robots working safely side by side with humans, unrestricted by “hard” guarding.


They also entertained and refreshed visitors to October’s K 2016 show in Dusseldorf. Among several examples at the show, Universal Robots USA, Inc. (E. Setauket, N.Y.) put one of its six-axis cobots to work at the Boy Machines Inc. exhibit, handing out freshly molded drink cups digitally printed with the recipient’s name and, on request, filled with beer. Direct transfer of the cup from the robot’s gripper to a visitor’s hand was a vivid illustration of safe collaboration.



Among new cobots on display was the two-armed, tabletop assembly model, dubbed YuMi (pictured), which is the first cobot from ABB Automation (ABB Inc. Robotics Auburn Hills, Mich.). Fanuc Automation (FANUC America Corp., Rochester Hills, Mich.) also showed off one of its new “CR” six-axis robots. The accompanying photo shows how human contact safety interrupts its operation.



And In addition, Kuka Robotics Corporation (Shelby Township, Mich.) showed off its seven-axis cobots, designated LBR (lightweight robot) IIWA (Intelligent Industrial Work Assistant), first seen at Fakuma 2015.


In addition, suppliers showed how to make conventional robots more “collaborative”—focusing on allowing technicians access to robots without shutting them down altogether. Both Sytrama USA, sister company of Negri Bossi North America (New Castle, Del.), and Staubli Robotics (Staubli Corporation, Duncan, S.C.) demonstrated robots that use compact laser scanners to sense the presence of humans.


When a technician approaches within a certain distance, the robot continues its cycle, but at a much reduced speed, which Staubli calls Safe Limited Speed (SLS). Coming even closer can cause the robot to slow further and finally stop completely (Safe Operating Stop, or SOS). It starts up again instantly when the person moves away a certain distance. Staubli’s new generation of TX2 six-axis robots (pictured) use the same principle to define a Safe Zone around the end-of-arm tooling to prevent collisions with inanimate obstacles. These models also have a sensory skin, which when touched immediately brings the robot to a halt.



Sources at both Sytrama and Staubli agree that even with the laser scanner, some sort of physical barrier is still necessary to prevent accidental encroachments from hindering robot operations, but full-height guarding may no longer be needed with this safety feature. One maker of the laser scanners is Sick AG in Germany (U.S. office in Minneapolis). It is the yellow object at the bottom of the photo with the Staubli robot.


All Work & No Play at the K

By: Matthew H. Naitove 7. November 2016

I had sore feet at the end of every day—all eight of them—at the K 2016 show. But there were chances to relax at numerous hospitality events.


One of them, which I gather is a K Show tradition, is the Viking-themed after-show booth party thrown by Rapid of Sweden (parent of Rapid Granulator, Inc. in Cranberry Township, Pa.). Horned helmets, shots of akvavit, and little fishy snacks topped off a day of booth-hopping interspersed with innumerable press conferences. (Pictured, left to right: Jackie Dalzell, district sales manager, Plastics Technology and Moldmaking Technology; Rick Kline Jr., group publisher Plastics Technology; Ryan Delahanty, publisher Moldmaking Technology and Composites World; and Heather Caliendo, senior editor, Plastics Technology and Composites World). 


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.


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