Meeting the challenges in plastics: cobots answer the call – Prosyscom

By Prosyscom
In March 22, 2018
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When most of us think of industrial robots, the automotive industry comes to mind immediately. Now that cobots are here, which industry will be the one that leads the way in putting these safe, flexible and smart machines to work? While predicting the future isn’t easy, the adoption of collaborative robots by plastics manufacturers is already trending and expected to continue for many years to come.

Both people and cobots work on the factory floor at Tennplasco, a plastic product manufacturing company in Lafayette, TN

So why do cobots make sense for plastics manufacturers? Several reports published late last year offered insight into the trends and challenges that are top-of-mind for leaders in the industry, including labor and talent shortages, competitive pressures, mass customization and economic uncertainty. In these areas, cobots are well-designed to help improve productivity and efficiency, giving operations managers and executives a way to focus on other areas that need attention. Let’s look closer at each of these challenges, and explore how cobots can bridge the gap:

Challenge No. 1: Where are the workers? 

In 2012, 45 percent of plastic manufacturers indicated that workforce development issues were a top challenge; in 2017 – only five years later – that number doubled, with more than 90 percent of the manufacturers reporting that recruiting and training qualified workers were major barriers facing their organizations.

The cobot solution: With robots that are safe enough to work beside people, can perform more than one task and can be trained by those who do the work, plastics manufacturers gain a workforce that is reliable, productive and flexible. With cobots on the production line, people are freed up to focus on problem solving, process improvement and innovation.

Challenge No. 2: The race to the top is harder than ever.

The cobot solution: Manufacturing is undergoing the greatest transformation the industry has seen since the assembly line. Automation is no longer a nice to have – it’s mission critical for success. Cobots make it possible for manufacturers to automate tasks that, until now, have been impossible or impractical with traditional means. So automation is well within reach, giving any plastics manufacturer a competitive advantage.

A Sawyer collaborative robot - aka cobot - is on the job at Plastic Molded Concepts (PMC) in Eagle, WI.

Challenge No. 3: Consumers want what they want.

Consumer electronics companies, apparel manufacturers and even car manufacturers are recognizing that the days when consumers bought what was in front of them are long gone. Production runs are shorter, seasonality rules and manufacturers need to modify how they plan, produce and innovate products.

The cobot solution: Because robots were once only able to perform a single task, requiring months of programming and reconfiguration of operations so that people would be safe, automating short runs was not logistically nor economically possible. Now, cobots can be rolled from one work cell to another and perform different tasks without expensive programming, so quick changeovers can be handled with ease, giving manufacturers fast ROI and greater customer satisfaction.

Challenge No. 4: Global economies and instability.

Right now, the cost of fuel seems to be pretty stable, but for plastics manufacturers, even the smallest increase can wreak havoc with margins. Along with productivity and efficiency, keeping costs down is always a challenge.

The cobot solution: With a price point around $40,000 and the ability to be deployed on multiple tasks in hours instead of weeks or months, cobots give plastics manufacturers a cost-effective solution for operational excellence.

It’s simple: more automation means greater productivity and efficiency, and increased flexibility to adapt to changing conditions. Cobots make that possible. And that’s just what the plastics industry needs to meet the challenges of today, as well as tomorrow.

From injection molding to material handling, our cobots know their way around plastics. Take a look at Sawyer on the job at two of our manufacturing customers in this industry.

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