High-speed electronic axis spices up automation

27 August 2013

When PCE Automation was challenged with designing a new handling system for automating the manufacture of a brand new concept of spice jar lid by plastics manufacturer RPC Halstead, it turned to Festo for technology and advice.

The ‘Spoonkler’ lid for Bart Ingredients, is a flip-top cap that can be opened in two ways – either to reveal a collection of small holes through which the spice can be sprinkled, or a full opening wide enough to fit a teaspoon.

The cap presented some handling challenges requiring an innovative mechanism designed by PCE with support from the Festo application engineering team.

“A particular challenge of the design is the cap’s opposing side hinges, which enables it to be opened in either spoon or sprinkle mode,” explained Julian Tarratt, sales manager at PCE Automation. In addition to the hinges, there were a number of additional challenges and constraints. The robot had to be designed with a small footprint so it could fit easily next to the plastic injection moulding machine and second, to remove the tooling from the plastic moulding machine, a crane needed to fit between the machine and the robot. The robot arm that collects the moulded caps therefore needed to be completely retractable from the moulding machine, to allow the crane access when required.

Finally, the machine required more operations than are typically used in alternative cap moulding applications in order to close the caps’ two opposing hinges, which need to be shut directly after moulding.

PCE Automation designed a side entry robot that uses a high-speed electric axis and pneumatics. However, as the electric axis needed to be fully retractable, one of the electro-mechanical belt drive axis had to be adapted. An innovative method of piggy-backing two linear electric axes together, to form a telescopic arm that could be fully withdrawn from the injection moulding machine, therefore enabling the crane easy entry, was designed.

The process sees 12 caps injection moulded. The Cartesian robot arm enters the moulding machine to remove the un-folded caps and once returned to the automated machine, the first hinge is folded shut. The machine then uses pneumatics to accurately and reliably move the caps to the next process, where the second hinge is folded, before being transferred to the conveyor at the end of the assembly line.

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