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New Automation Technologies Enable Innovation

From new compound formulations to exciting updates to our manufacturing processes, it’s a great time to be at AirBoss! We’re always striving to innovate and improve where we can – and thanks to some interesting new automation technologies, we’ve seen that there are definite improvements that can be made.

In particular, we’d like to focus on a new manufacturing approach that leverages automation to improve operator safety, improve production yields, and helps achieve consistent, top-of-the-line quality. Whether you’re an existing AirBoss customer or simply a curious reader, you won’t want to miss this!

Our Process and Where We Began

To understand why we’re so excited about our new automated manufacturing solutions, we need to step back and explain the features – and drawbacks – of traditional manufacturing.

Under traditional systems for molding rubber parts for the automotive, energy, oil & gas, and defense industries, businesses rely on large injection molding machines to handle the bulk of the work. These presses (usually 510 or 810) have many parts moving in tandem, often between 24 to 64 components.

These presses feature longer cycle times (8 to 15 minutes, typically) with substantial need for operator input. In this machinery, molds must be pulled out and reloaded by hand before a new cycle can begin.

Compare this with our new approach, one based on robotic molding cells, and you’ll quickly begin to understand the advantages.

Automated Manufacturing Through Robotic Molding Cells

“The main difference is that the molds are typically quite small,” says Christopher Laycoe, AirBoss Engineered Products General Manager and SVP, “the machine itself that does the molding is quite a bit smaller, 110, and a robot does all the loading and unloading in addition to moving the molds from the injection machine.”

Rather than requiring an operator to manage the steps by hand, the robotic cells guide production, with the machine injecting a new set of parts every 42 seconds. This system produces several advantages to our manufacturing processes worth noting:

  • Improved quality control with smaller, easier-to-service equipment
  • Reduced production times for each cycle
  • Better operator safety & less need for manual equipment management

While robotic molding is best suited for higher volume product runs, AirBoss’ system is designed to manage and run small batches while maintaining quality and efficiency. In fact, we are currently in the process of implementing a second robotic molding cell.

“The main focus is speed, quality, and consistency,” says Laycoe. “Rubber is very sensitive to process changes, and especially time-related process changes. Our quality control team loves the system, as we can incorporate additional checks and controls without being dependent on manual quality control processes.”

The new robotic cells are expected to provide AirBoss with a much-needed blend of efficiency and quality. Our production targets with robotic cells range 50-100% higher per hour than our manual manufacturing processes.

Additionally, the robotic mold cells are easier and simpler to maintain, with smaller components and built-in retooling capabilities. Overall, the system streamlines our operation and lowers production labor costs per piece.

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Innovation Never Stops at AirBoss

Of course, transformations like these come with their own challenges. The new robotic manufacturing processes require new training from our teams with more focus on maintaining/using automated equipment.

Fortunately, investing in our employees is something AirBoss is passionate about. We’re currently working with a local college and robots supplier to acquire additional training for our technical and maintenance staff. Moving forward, this ongoing education will become even more important to our team.

“As we’ve changed through COVID-19 and labor has become more scarce for everybody, I think this will help us have less dependency on available labor resources going forward,” says Laycoe. “It makes us more flexible.”

This flexibility will be critical for AirBoss in the coming years as we plan to phase in additional robotic cells for manufacturing and, possibly, further upstream for inserts and other components. Automation has allowed AirBoss to expand its capabilities and improve its capacity, helping us stay competitive in a market that demands innovation. And while this is one of the latest advancements improving our process, it’s by no means the last!

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