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Automation will provide a host of benefits to the plastics industry
Automation will provide a host of benefits to the plastics industry

Automation will provide a host of benefits to the plastics industry

Added to MTDCNC by KUKA Robotics on 17 February 2017

Automation will provide a host of benefits to the plastics industry as business owners look to enhance production output says Jeff Nowill, CEO at KUKA Robotics UK.

These include, but are not limited to, improved productivity and quality output, reduced operating costs and improved process flexibility. Certainly in view of Industry 4.0 as manufacturing technologies evolve, more and more business owners will develop an increased reliance on automated solutions to remain competitive.

KUKA Robotics, based in Wednesbury, West Midlands, have extensive expertise in the plastics industry having developed a range of robots, high tech grippers and sensors that are suitable for a wide variety of injection and blow moulding applications.

Throughout 2016 KUKA have continued to develop our collaborative robotic solutions; units designed to work alongside humans.

One such robot, the LBR iiWA (intelligent industrial work assistant) is becoming a popular addition to existing operational systems, especially so in the plastics industry, due to its flexibility. The unit can be used as an anchored or mobile variant within an automated environment.

The units which operate on seven axis relieve machinery operators from repetitive and/or physically demanding tasks and can be incorporated across both plastic and polymer production applications. iiWA enables clients to implement automated solutions without the need for safety fencing. The lightweight robot interacts with its human operator without the need for a protected space, making cooperation between humans and robots without physical safeguards a reality.

The sensitivity of the LBR iiWA allows for highly dexterous, complex and high value add applications that separates it from many industrial robots that are available in today’s market.

As the plastics industry evolves the need for new processes and applications increases. KUKA have recently been involved in some significant projects, with our robots supporting 3D print technology, or additive manufacturing. KUKA showcased our capabilities as an automated robotics provider at the recent MITS 2016 (International Manufacturing Technology Show). Several live automated demonstrations showcased how our robotic designs collaborated with 3D print technology.

In the UK KUKA have partnered with London based 3D print specialists Ai Build who are developing 3Dp technology for 3D printing large scale objects cost efficiently at a very high speed.

Co-Founder and CEO Daghan Cam explains how partnering with KUKA supports 3Dp through increased flexibility and efficiency.

Why have Ai Build chosen KUKA 6 axis robots as a method for 3D printing?

Most 3D printers that are on the market are 3 axis machines. At Ai Build we are using 6 axis KUKA robots to be able to have more freedom in the way we 3D print large objects. By having very precise control of 6 axis independently gives us enough flexibility to decide not only where the material is deposited but also which direction it is deposited from. As opposed to conventional way of layer by layer 3D printing, we can extrude material spatially in mid air which saves material, time and money.

What is currently driving the development in this technology?

At Ai Build we are developing robotic hardware and software to make best use of KUKA robots. On the hardware side, we are building end effectors for 3D printing that can extrude multiple materials at very high speeds. And on the software side, we are writing algorithms to find the optimal toolpath for KUKA for robots to efficiently create large objects from CAD files.

What advantages does the use of KUKA 6 axis robots give Ai Build over traditional technologies?

Combination of KUKA 6 axis robots and Ai Build’s robotic hardware/software allows us to 3D print large objects (up to 3.1 meter radius) at an unprecedentedly high speed and low cost.

How has robot technology benefited Ai Build and their development within the market place?

Traditional use of 3D printing is limited to small objects, prototyping and medical applications due to the limited size and speed of commercially available 3D printers. By increasing the production speed and reducing the costs of 3D printing large objects with robot technology, we are taking 3D printing into new markets such as construction. This enables architects and engineers to manufacture complex designs more freely than traditional methods.

What do you see as the future development trends for 3D printing with robotics?

Our vision at Ai Build is to make Construction smarter and more affordable by developing AI & Robotics technologies. We believe that the robots will become more autonomous with the advancements in Artificial Intelligence, computer vision, internet of things and cloud connectivity. By going beyond automation and giving distributed autonomy to robots, we will be able to create our built environment in much more efficient ways.

Other 3D projects that KUKA have supported include a college project in Florida during which KUKA robots and 10 3D printers supported the build of the Silky Concrete Project. In this instance a KUKA Aglius KR6 R900 model.

The project allowed students the opportunity to work with new technology and develop skills within robotics and materials science. Creation and assembly of the 3D printed piece were heavily reliant on the efforts of the KUKA industrial robot. The structure, also known as the Pavilion, stands at 5.4 x 4.3 x 2.5m.

As we enter a new industrial revolution in the plastics industry, the demand for plastic materials is set to increase. From medical implants to football boots designed to fit individual feet. The evolving technology that is automated 3D printing provides KUKA with some exciting opportunities to move into new markets as we provide manufacturers with the opportunity to develop new products and remain competitive.

As we look back on 2016, the investments that we have made in developing our robotics systems and solutions have certainly paid dividends as we cement our position as a UK leading provider of automated manufacturing solutions. Year on year we have seen a steady rise in the sale of robotic units. We have doubled market share in the general industry sector between 2012 and 2015, and expect to build on that momentum this coming year – with record results. This growth has been supported by both upsell and new systems, pleasing for us as we embrace significant growth in 2016, but also for our customers whose growth we are able to support though the implementation of business intelligent automated solutions.

If you wish to discuss your automated manufacturing requirements, or are interested in collaborating with KUKA in a 3Dp project, please contact 0121 505 9970 or email sales@kuka-robotics.co.uk

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