Faster and more efficient with robots
More and more production steps are being integrated in individual plastics processing machines. For integrated handling and intralogistics tasks, robots are the go-to solution. With the fast cycle times typical of plastics processing, collaboration between humans and robots must be perfectly timed and seamlessly integrated. B&R has incorporated robotics seamlessly into the world of automation. This guarantees machine manufacturers maximum efficiency in the development process.
Each year, the European Union processes around 45 million tons of plastic, which corresponds to about 30 percent of the steel consumption. Various forming processes are used to shape plastic melt or powder into solid products. One such process is injection molding, where plastic material is melted, injected into a mold and compressed. Even highly complex parts can be produced in large quantities using this fully automated technique.
Manufacturers of plastics processing machinery have gone to great lengths to boost the productivity of their equipment. One popular approach has been to pack more and more functionality into each machine in order to ensure an uninterrupted flow through the various production steps – resulting in a single, fully automatic production process.
Robots key to efficient production
As a result, handling equipment and robots are taking on a growing range of tasks:
- Placing metal components into the mold to be encased in plastic
- Applying elastomer seals on hard plastic parts
- Removing parts from the mold that are too valuable or fragile to be dumped out
- Transferring parts to subsequent assembly or packaging stations
With the fast cycle times typical of plastics processing, robots must work in perfect harmony with the rest of the machine to ensure precisely synchronized movements. There is only a very brief window when the mold is opened far enough to either insert a metal component to be encased or to remove a finished part. The robot must therefore begin reaching into the mold as soon as it begins to open.
To minimize cycle times, the movements of robots and injection tools must be perfectly coordinated. Handshake communication between the robot and ejector allows parts to be removed without slowing down the cycle time.
To coordinate movements at the necessary speeds, the various axes involved must be highly synchronized. The traditional approach – with individual movements controlled separately using PLC, CNC and robot controllers – is hardly suited to handle large numbers of integrated axes with sensors, actuators and robotics. Even if it were, the variety of separate hardware components required for such a solution would make it extremely costly.
The most effective way to handle these requirements is with an integrated automation solution from B&R. B&R solutions span the entire processing chain and unify the control of all processes and movements – as well as HMI and safety technology – in a single project.
Synchronous processes rely on fast communication of data. B&R provides this by connecting all peripheral devices, as well as intelligent drive technology, via the real-time Ethernet POWERLINK protocol.
B&R's drive components can easily handle a wide variety of axes, providing microsecond synchronization even in complex kinematic systems. This eliminates the need for a separate robot controller along with the associated hardware and training costs.
Mastering complex tasks
Automation Studio provides a homogeneous software environment for all aspects of machine automation: from HMI and PLC technology to motion control, CNC and robotics. This gives machine manufacturers the freedom to mix processing, positioning and visualization as needed while effortlessly maintaining complete synchronization. Even complex tasks can be performed at optimum speed on a single PLC. Automation Studio is the ultimate integrated automation software for every requirement.
At the same time, B&R's development environment offers benefits throughout the entire development process. Machine software can be broken down and developed in parallel by multiple teams. A program that is complex in its entirety can be divided into modules, with one module representing the main machine and another the robot that removes the finished pieces, for example. Having engineering teams work in parallel reduces development times dramatically and allows manufacturers of plastics processing machines to keep pace with the trend toward ever increasing variety and customization.
Simulation and emulation with hardware-in-the-loop allow developers to test the effects of their code on machine performance without ever needing to produce a single prototype. Even connecting optional machine components from third-party suppliers to the overall system – including the corresponding software – is as simple as hooking up a printer to an office PC.
Automation Studio provides an array of parameter and function blocks for efficient and reliable development of safety-oriented control programs. These include TÜV certified SafeROBOTICS modules for monitoring the SLS at TCP function in robot kinematic systems.
B&R servo technology with the integrated SafeMC motion control solution can both receive safety data and execute safety functions directly in the drive. ACOPOSmulti servo drives boast a typical error detection and response time of 7 ms – about a tenth of the time possible with relay safety circuits. This shortens the stopping distance by a factor of 100, so the reduction in machine footprint alone is a significant advantage.
Language support requires integration
The language interpreter featured in B&R's software development environment makes it easier for machine manufacturers to integrate robots in their machine designs. This allows existing programs – from an earlier implementation of a robotic system with a dedicated controller, for example – to be reused. Developers of machine software can program robotics applications in Structured Text.
With extensive options for configuring the behavior of the robot and in turn the entire machine – by modifying the robot's acceleration and movement profiles for example – manufacturers of plastics processing machines are able to offer their customers new tools for direct access to their production processes. This makes it possible to configure operating modes optimized for energy efficiency or geared toward speed, or to accommodate different gripper types – with no programming whatsoever.
"The language interpreter featured in B&R's software development environment makes it easier for machine manufacturers to integrate robots in their machine designs. This allows existing programs to be reused. Developers of machine software can program robotics applications in Structured Text. Dr. Gernot Bachler, Technical Manager – Motion, B&R