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Robot delivers 18 month ROI

Robot delivers 18 month ROI

Taking the plunge into robotic automation has produced a dramatic change for plastic promotions manufacturer CHX Products. Based in Bodmin in Cornwall the small manufacturer employs just 15 members of staff. Since installing a robot cell ten years ago, CHX has transformed from struggling to keep up with the competition to a leading maker of plastic promotional merchandise in the UK and international markets.

Previously, the company's manual-intensive production process had meant it was struggling to match its competitors' prices and turnaround times, leading to business being lost, particularly to overseas rivals. The processes of moving the products around, applying heat transfers and cutting and boxing were all handled manually, incurring time and cost.

The challenge was clear. CHX needed to drastically cut its costs and lead times in order to boost competitiveness and improve delivery times. In need of a solution, the company was inspired by an exhibition stand held at a plastics injection show by Geku Automation, an ABB Robotics systems integrator, which had experience of providing automated solutions for similar applications.

CHX duly contacted Geku, which proposed installing a Geku SR250 beam robot to de-mould the parts and an ABB IRB140 to print and remove the moulds from the runner into a container, with the waste being dropped into a granulator for recycling. The fully-automated process took just three months to complete from the original order through to the installation. This included Geku's design work, machine building, fitting the system and subsequent testing and troubleshooting.

The end result was a faster, less labour-intensive manufacturing process. With the Geku S250 and ABB IRB140 in collaboration, the picking and placing, printing and cutting was performed at a much faster rate, shaving almost a whole week off lead times and enabling greatly improved turnaround of customer orders. CHX took full advantage of the freedom brought by the cell and began operating on a lights-out basis. This added a lot more capacity.

The cell helped CHX Products achieve its original goals of reducing its production costs and minimising lead times. A third objective to reduce waste was also met, with all scrap plastic being dropped onto a runner to be granulated and re-used by the machine within seconds.

In addition, the robots have helped to reduce the company's environmental footprint. By making the product much more consistent, the amount of waste produced was dramatically reduced. Not only that, but CHX's ability to turn products around cheaply and quickly means that UK companies can now order plastic promotional products cheaply without having to get them shipped in from abroad.

CHX was also surprised at the fast return on investment, which was estimated to have taken just 18 months. A further upgrade in 2013 was to add vision capability, enabling prints to be positioned precisely according to their design, and so delivering production improvements.

CHX has also started planning how it can further develop its services to keep up with the demands of tomorrow. The company is now looking at incorporating an ABB FlexPicker to put pins on the back of the badges in the next 12 months, a process which is currently done by hand.

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