Ecotile, a manufacturer and distributor of interlocking floor tiles, has fully automated its manufacturing process using a single FANUC Robotics robot working between two Sumitomo (SHI) DEMAG injection moulding presses. Using advanced gripper design from systems integrator Hi-Tech Automation has allowed Ecotile to overcome handling issues associated with flexible PVC.
Two years ago Ecotile made the decision to begin manufacturing tiles which it had previously imported since 1995. High Euro exchange rates, lack of flexibility in design and colour options together with a desire to have greater control over quality and margins were all drivers to begin manufacturing in the UK.
The new manufacturing facility was set-up over a 12 month period initially using operators to unload mouldings from two Sumitomo (SHI) DEMAG 500 ton presses. “From the outset the plan was to automate the process and following a tender process we selected a solution proposed by robot integrators Hi-Tech Automation”, explains Ecotile’s operations manager, Michael Ollivere.
Hi-Tech Automation supplied a single robot, A FANUC Robotics M710iC, mounted on a seventh axes, to handle mouldings through the complete process from press to pallet. Handling the PVC tile was a core focus to the success of the system – at a temperature of 63°C at ejection from the press tool, the gripper design was critical to success.
“Hi-Tech Automation’s plastics sector expertise proved essential at this stage - too much vacuum created marks to the tile so the gripper was designed to grip the outer edges of the tile while still in the press tool. This development process was exactly why we chose to work with a plastics specialist integrator”, continued Michael.
Once the gripper locates the tile moulding it moves it to a desprue station and then positions the tile in a cooling rack. The process is repeated with the second press on demand. After a set period in the cooling rack the robot is able to use a vacuum to pick up the tile and palletise it in one of two palletising areas. The gripper is also designed to place a cardboard protection tile between layers.
Each palletising area is configured to be isolated for pallet collection, when complete, without stopping production.
Overall the manufacturing cell has provided many benefits for Ecotile and its customers, Michael explains, “We can now run batches of any size, colour or design and the robot provides a consistently high quality product. The system has an 60 second mould cycle and operates 24/5. If required we have the ability to run the system for a full lights out shift – for example unmanned and lights out over a weekend.
“When we started this project we were well aware, from past experience, that automation projects rarely run completely smoothly but that they generally always get there – this is why we took particular care selecting the automation systems integrator – working closely with FANUC Robotics we had confidence from day one when simulations were carried out that Hi-Tech Automation would complete the cell successfully.”