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One of the more inspiring aspects of the AirBoss enterprise is the company’s drive to innovate in ways that push technology boundaries, challenge traditional processes, and advance manufacturing efficiency.

According to AirBoss Engineered Product’s Manufacturing Engineering Manager, Robert Angeles, it’s this process innovation that keeps the company successful on a global scale.

“We’ve really increased our throughput,” explains Angeles as he comments on incorporating new technologies. “This is 100% because of our lessons learned.”

One way that AirBoss recently upgraded its manufacturing capabilities—with efficiency and safety in mind—was to add two new automated robotic molding machines to the floor that Angeles calls the “auto cells.”

AirBoss Robotic Autocell
AirBoss robotic manufacturing

What is an Auto Cell?

AirBoss has worked with equipment supplier LWB Steinl Machinery for a number of years to procure state-of-the-art manufacturing machinery. Different LWB Steinl pieces of equipment can be found throughout AirBoss facilities in Canada and the United States.

So, when AirBoss saw the opportunity to quality-test and roll out even more advanced technology—from a partner that had proven reliable in the past—procuring that technology was a no-brainer.

Enter the auto cell. On the surface, an auto cell unit is a self-contained, automated injection molding robot. Enclosed in a safety cage and powered by large robotic arms, the auto cell station would look right at home in a futuristic assembly plant. And that’s essentially what AirBoss has become with the addition of two of these units.

“It is a very new technology for us,” says Robert. “The technology itself has been out there for a period of time, so it’s not brand new for the industry, but it’s super brand new for how we’re trying to do our manufacturing process.”

AirBoss’s exhaust isolator auto cell unit, tailor-made for this particular molding process, is a combination of the following:

    • A small (100 ton) molding press
    • A series of eleven heating stations
    • Two robotic arms
    • Arm attachments and tools
    • A metal insert to be molded over with rubber
    • A demolding station
    • A closing and curing station

The auto cell’s arms—with their specialized attachments and precise programming—swing and rotate inside the cage while it assembles, molds, moves, cools, extracts, and resets with automated precision.

AirBoss robotic manufacturing

The Auto Cells Improve Efficiency and Safety

Angeles explains that before the installation of the auto cell units, his team of manufacturing floor workers did everything by hand. He recalls this being a mixed bag for two reasons:

First, workers were able to mold around four to five times the number of products in one batch. This, in theory, meant more product was being produced. That’s a good thing.

Unfortunately, this older process was actually slower than the constantly-moving, 24/7 auto cell method because it meant longer curing times and increased downtimes as each batch of product was extruded from a larger press.

The second reason why the traditional method just didn’t work for Angeles anymore had to do with worker safety. Instead of each molded product being extracted automatically after cooling, as is done now with the auto cell units, his team had to knock out each molded piece manually. Plus, any extra rubber still attached to the machine had to be removed by hand. This meant that workers had to interact directly with the machinery and were more likely to be injured or burned if they weren’t careful.

Fortunately, the auto cell units took most of the human interaction out of the equation, which, in turn, has enhanced both efficiency and safety. This leads to AirBoss being able to successfully manufacture even more products. Smaller batch molding might seem slower and less efficient, but the always-moving nature of automation means turnover rates are much higher, and production has actually increased.

“The prior approximate total cycle time was really long,” explains Angeles. “A human hand had to reach inside the tool multiple times every cycle. And then, not to mention, it was manually driven. Production time was totally dependent on how fast a machine worker could go.”

Compared to the prior, traditional method, the automated auto cell is a complete game-changer.

“Now, it’s pieces per minute,” says Angeles. “The old tool required a longer cure time. Longer open time. A longer total cycle. The auto cell is a four-cavity tool, but I’m getting four parts every thirty-eight seconds. And our operators are no longer operating around a hot tool.”

To Robert Angeles, the benefits of incorporating auto cell units (both now and in the future) are invaluable. He and his team have plans to see more of the auto cells installed where AirBoss needs them most.

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