Automation at Sussex IM
Like most injection molders today, Sussex IM employs a lot of automation to complement our talented staff. With minimal hands-on involvement, automation not only frees up molders and operators to focus on other tasks, but it also provides efficiency, reliability and cost-cutting value.
At Sussex IM, we have seen the power of automation first-hand. From fully automatic to manual, Sussex IM is no stranger to automation. Utilizing cobots, named after cartoon characters including Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck, Sussex IM reduces variability to ensure the product has the highest quality possible.
Complete Control – The Benefits of an In-House Engineering Team
While automation in injection molding is familiar, few have an in-house manufacturing engineering team. By designing and building our automation in-house, we have complete control, from what the equipment does to how it operates. When there is a new system to install, our in-house engineering team has the expertise to go beyond just developing it. Utilizing expertise to monitoring the automation, our team constantly evaluates for possible opportunities for improvement. At Sussex IM, we are committed to implementing enhancements until the system operates at peak performance before being given to the manufacturing team.
One of the most considerable advantages of our in-house manufacturing engineering team is speed. When a problem arises, our in-house techs and engineers, who developed the automation, can quickly resolve any manufacturing issue, which improves equipment uptime. At Sussex IM, we can make online changes to our PLC programs while the equipment is running, and in some cases, we can also make minor changes to our robotics programs while the robot is running.
Having in-house capabilities also helps to create efficiencies. One of the best examples of this is when our manufacturing engineering team saw an opportunity with a manual line at Sussex IM that required 12 operators per shift. After heavily automating the line, the update has reduced the number of operators needed to just four, who focus on the replenishment of materials and tend the automation instead of doing the physical labor required. The added automation also helped to reduce the repetitive motions required by the operators when running manually.
With the experience our team has had over the years, it is easy to see how automation increases efficiency. To highlight this, we have another production line that has automatically labeled and packed more than 130,000,000 parts over the years. The equipment labels, stacks, and then automatically places the parts in the box at a rate of 60 parts/minute or 28,800 parts per 8-hour shift. Without automation, this process would typically take four operators to keep up with the demand. Adding automation reduces the operators to just one.
At Sussex IM, we feel collaboration is crucial to achieving product goals. Our manufacturing engineering team further adds value by working closely with our project engineers and customers to find the best way to manufacture their products.
Sussex IM’s Automation Process
After receiving a new project, we assign an engineer to be the lead. The next step includes a brainstorming session to define the scope of what we want to do with automation, processes and people. This meeting creates a clear vision of the manufacturing process to produce the product and the required amount of automation.
The amount of automation on the shop floor depends on several factors:
● Volume (number of parts produced per minute or year),
● Part complexity
● Quality requirements
● Amount of capital available to automate
● Space available
● Length of the customer agreement
Sussex IM considers all factors of a project. Once our team has a vision, we explore the equipment necessary to incorporate decoration, assembly, testing, and more. After collaborating internally and with our customers, our team will apply the right amount of automation to provide a solution manufactured to exact specifications.
How Sussex IM Utilizes Automation for Medical Molding
It is no secret that the demand for medical products has grown within the last year. To address this, Sussex IM will continue to grow our medical capabilities, utilizing our new ISO Class 8 clean room. The addition includes particulate filtering, positive airflow capabilities, and additional environmental controls.
In manufacturing, whenever a medical product is involved, there are added considerations. Our dedicated team understands there is no room for error. Although creating automation for clean rooms can prove particularly challenging, we are confident in our abilities.
For manufacturing engineering, the challenges usually include extended lead time and added complexity. For example, when using automation for medical reasons, there is a requirement to build traceability inside the product so it can be tracked as it travels through the automation, which increases the intricacy of the controls system.
When automating a product inside a clean room, one additional necessity is to specify the different materials and how they will be machined and coated. It is also vital to consider the ease of cleaning equipment to ensure it remains clean and uncontaminated. Additionally, every clean room requires verification that the robotic tooling does not contaminate a medical product during the part handling.
As we continue to add automation to our medical applications, our team will incorporate best practices and train in equipment verification (including IQ OQ PQ) related to clean room applications. We anticipate more projects being added to our clean room in the future as the medical industry continues its high demand for products.
The Sussex IM Advantage
Whether it is a decoration, assembly or automatic packaging application, Sussex IM strives to make sure we add value to the products we make for our customers. As experts in injection molding, we can seamlessly add automation to your project to streamline the process.
Working collaboratively, we take the time to fully understand your requirements so we can create a tailored plan to deliver a product that exceeds expectations. We recognize that customers have other options to satisfy their injection molding needs, but we also know that we are not your average injection molder.
Automation – FAQs
How many people make up the in-house engineering team? How much experience does the team have?
Our current in-house manufacturing engineering team consists of six members, led by our director, who has more than 25 years in the field with a strategic emphasis on automation. Sussex’s Senior Manufacturing Engineer has 30 years of experience with the Sussex company. Our team also includes two manufacturing engineers with 20 years and seven years of experience, respectively.
The team also has two secondary / automation tech specialists that assist the engineers with the in-house fabrication, assembly, and debugging of the automation that our manufacturing engineering team designs.
What does the manufacturing engineering team at Sussex IM do?
Each member of the engineering team can design all aspects of the mechanical system. Additionally, our team can design the control systems, all the PLC and robotic programming and the integration of vision systems. The ability to contribute in all areas including, mechanical, electrical and controls engineering, makes the team very cross-functional.
What’s the expected lead time for a new automation capability?
The lead time for engineering a new automation capability depends on multiple variables. Depending on the size and scope of the project, lead time can be four to 20 weeks.
After we know the project requirements, we begin designing and building the automation process – which usually takes around 12 weeks. However, when a medical product is involved, the lead time to design automation will be longer than the standard 12 weeks.
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