K 2016 Digital design and automation influence moulding productivity
United States - Trends shaping the North American plastics industry include growing use of advanced digital design and manufacturing software and increased automation of production. Recent developments give companies throughout the product chain more ways to optimise operations, speed products to market.
Software has long played a role in product and mould design, and automation has always been a way to increase production efficiency. What is different now is that more design software incorporates high-tech features such as 3-D simulation and analysis and even virtual reality imaging. These capabilities help users develop and rapidly fine-tune the manufacturability of parts and moulds before money is spent cutting steel.
In automation, the trend is primarily one of moulders adding increasingly affordable robots to their lines. For years robots were large, fast, specialised systems that were costly to acquire and required expertise to program. In what can be called a “democratisation of automation,” the cost of many robots has been declining, making them ever more affordable. Programming is also simpler – in many cases it can be done with a smart phone or tablet computer. And in one advance, “collaborative robots” have been developed that are safe enough to work alongside humans and simple to program.
A number of factors influence the gains in design software and robotics. One is the digital revolution that promotes the connectivity of machines and data throughout a factory. Another is the growth of advanced materials that may combine counterintuitive properties like high strength and lightweight. Since unconventional designs are often required to realise the potential of these materials, engineers need software that allows them to develop innovative shapes.
Examples of suppliers that pursue advanced digital design and manufacturing capabilities include Siemens, whose NX PLM Software provides multiple features and program offerings. NX software is a platform to which designers, moulders and toolmakers add on integrated software for applications throughout product development.
Among the programs are design capabilities with 3-D simulations; software that calculates warping, cooling, shrinkage and deformation in tooling design; manufacturing software for mould development; costing tools; NC software for machines; CAM software for production; and quality control software.
Siemens says that NX software reduces design time an average 30%. Paul Brown, senior marketing director for the NX Product Engineering Unit, says that software integration lets users move seamlessly from concept to design qualification, mould development, and machine production. The efficiencies and cost savings in mould making especially can make companies more competitive with offshore mould sources.