Implementing an Injection Molding robot: A practical guide for beginners

August 31, 2023
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Assessing your Injection Molding process for a robot

Once you’ve decided to automate your injection molding process, the first step is assessing how it will integrate into your current operations. Take a close look at your production flow and identify any repetitive or labor-intensive tasks—these are prime opportunities for automation. You’ll also want to examine:

  • Part handling: Does loading and unloading parts require lots of effort? A robot can swiftly move materials to and from the molding machine. For parts that require additional components or inserts, the robot can accurately place these inserts into the mold cavity before the plastic injection process. This ensures parts are loaded as quickly as possible and without breaks - even 24/7.
  • Post-processing: Tasks like testing, inspecting or labeling molded parts are ideal for robotics. Robots can be equipped with sensors, cameras, and vision systems to perform quality inspections on the molded parts. They can identify defects, such as surface imperfections, dimensional inaccuracies, and color inconsistencies. Defective parts can be sorted out, contributing to better overall product quality and freeing your human inspectors up for more valuable tasks.
  • Idle time: Are there lulls in activity where your injection molding machine sits idle because no one is available to man it? A robot can run the machine during downtime and boost productivity. Program the robot to handle time-consuming jobs and free up your employees for higher-level work.

Safety first: Safeguarding for Injection Molding robots

Conduct a risk assessment

A risk assessment will identify potential hazards for introducing robotics in your specific production environment. Consider things like:

  • The high temperatures and pressures used in injection molding which can damage an incorrectly-rated robot
  • Space to ensure your robot doesn’t collide with other equipment
  • Sharp edges on molds or materials which can injure human operators working around the robot
  • Slippery floors from excess plastic or lubricants which can cause issues for your robot or staff

Focus on safety

You can mitigate many of the risks involved with robotic Injection Molding by following strict safety standards to avoid injury:

  • Install emergency stop buttons for the robot within easy reach of operators in case of emergency
  • Consider installing safety fences to prevent direct access to the robot during operation, especially if handling large or sharp injection molded pieces in confined environments
  • Train all staff on proper safety gear like insulated gloves, eye protection, and steel-toed boots when operating near the robot
  • Consider a “Collaborative robot” - or Cobot - which comes with built-in collision-detection features. This allows the robot to halt operations when your human operators walk into its path mid-unloading.

Programming tips and pitfalls for Injection Molding robots

Programming an Injection Molding robot can be a tricky task. Whether you hire a robotics programming expert to help you or opt for a robot with no-code programming software. 

Test the robot's full range of motion

Make sure to test the robot at the extremes of its work envelope, known as singularities. At full extension or retraction, a robot can behave unpredictably. Run your robot through various positions at different speeds to ensure smooth operation before production.

Start with simple pick-and-place tasks

When first implementing the robot, focus on straightforward pick-and-place applications. This allows operators to become familiar with the robot's movements and capabilities before advancing to actually removing parts from a working Injection Molding machine. Trying to have the robot interact with the machine before your operators are sufficiently skilled can lead to damage to either machine.

Simulate your robot first

You don’t have to waste valuable time and materials testing your robot in the real world from the get-go. Instead, simulate your robot in a virtual environment which usually comes with most forms of robot programming software. This means you can test if your robot moves properly, follows the pre-defined paths and generally behaves as expected before you let it loose on your shop floor.

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Maintenance tips for your new Injection Molding robot

While you’ll be familiar with keeping machinery maintained and working, robotics introduces some new items to keep in mind. Here are a few robotics-related maintenance tasks to add to your checklist:

Clean and lubricate

Any robot you buy will come with a lubrication schedule, explaining exactly how and when to apply grease or other lubricants to the joint. Your chosen gripper (end-effector) for your robot will have its own, separate lubrication schedule. 

Check sensors

Inspect the robot's sensor lights and adjust the sensory distance if needed. The sensors help the robot detect obstacles and avoid collisions. Small pieces of debris on a lens or guidance system can easily lead to the robot. 

Additional tips

  • Consider enrolling in robotics courses or certification programs to build in-house programming expertise.
  • Choose a robot manufacturer with maintenance and part supply built into the sales process.
  • Keep a rolling log of your “defect rate” - i.e how many parts are defective in post-processing. Deviations from this defect rate are often an early warning sign that your robot requires urgent maintenance. 

Performing routine maintenance and care for your Injection Molding robot will minimize headaches and keep it running productively for years to come. Be sure to factor maintenance costs into your robot budget and choice of model.

Integrating human workers with the Injection Molding robot

Integrating an Injection Molding robot into your manufacturing operations will require restructuring your workflow and retraining your staff. While robots can work independently, they are most effective when collaborating with skilled human workers. Here are some tips for integrating your new automated team member:

Have operators work alongside the robot during initial production runs. This allows them to monitor the robot’s performance, make any necessary adjustments to the programming, and ensure high-quality results. Operators can then gradually hand over control to the robot as they gain confidence in its abilities.

Designate part of your floor space as a human-robot interactive zone. Establish clear pathways in this area and install protective barriers to safely separate workers from the robot. Only authorized, properly trained staff should be allowed access to the interactive zone. If you’re short on space, a Collaborative robot like we mentioned earlier is adept at working safely alongside your team.

Provide robotic safety training for all workers. This includes how to properly activate and deactivate the robot, set up interactive zones, handle robot errors or program changes, and respond in an emergency. All workers should understand how to operate the robot, even if their role doesn’t require interaction with the robot.

Document standard operating procedures (SOPs) for working with the Injection Molding robot. SOPs provide step-by-step instructions for essential tasks like starting a production run, removing finished parts, handling waste materials, and basic troubleshooting. These help ensure consistency and safety compliance.

Next steps

So there you have it, a practical guide to bringing an Injection Molding robot onto your team. While it may seem daunting, if you methodically work through assessing your current process, address safety and risk, learn some basic programming, and establish a maintenance routine, a polishing robot can be an efficient and cost-effective addition to your operation.

Interested in bringing an Injection Molding robot to your own business? RO1 by Standard Bots is a great choice for factories large and small:

  1. Affordable: RO1 is the most affordable robotic arm in its class, starting at almost half the price of incumbent competitors. 
  2. Powerful: RO1 is faster and more precise than competitors, despite having the highest payload capacity in its class at 18 kg.
  3. Collaborative: RO1 comes equipped with safety sensors and built-in collision detection, for safe operation anywhere on your shop floor.‍

Speak to our solutions team today to organize a free, 30-day onsite trial and get expert advice on everything you need to deploy your first robot.

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