For a fraction of the cost of employing a human worker, plastics processors can lease Rapid Robotics’ new Rapid Machine Operator cobot, which is ready to use out of the box, with no systems integration or special programming required.
Designed to work with injection molding machines, pad printers, ultrasonic welders, parts inspection equipment and various other machines, each Rapid Machine Operator costs $25,000 to lease for a year, providing a return on investment (ROI) in three to four months, according to Rapid Robotics.
“The Rapid Machine Operator is a complete game-changer for contract manufacturers,” CEO Jordan Kretchmer said. “It makes them more competitive overnight, so they can win more bids and grow their business beyond anything they’d thought possible.”
Within hours of delivering a pretrained cobot, Rapid Robotics can have it set up and ready to work with all the required fixtures, grippers and cameras. Users choose a machine type from the touch-screen interface and input variables specific to the project. The cobot can quickly be reconfigured for new tasks. Further, the Rapid Machine Operator’s built-in computer vision system locates parts and automatically optimizes motion paths to shorten cycle times, the company said.
Rapid Robotics is touting the cobot as a way for companies to compete with offshore manufacturers and compensate for a shortage of skilled machine operators.
After handling the setup, Rapid Robotics provides free support and remotely updates the cobots with new capabilities every month. Additionally, Rapid Machine Operators share intelligence in real time through the cloud, so the entire Rapid Robotics fleet becomes more valuable the longer it is on the job.
“Each Rapid Machine Operator automatically learns and improves its performance as it works on a job,” Kretchmer said. “It shares those performance gains and capability improvements in real time with all other cobots in the Rapid Machine Operator fleet via our cloud infrastructure.”
The company’s intelligence systems allow each cobot to adapt to inconsistencies in the work environment, reducing errors due to slight changes in the work cell, he said. The intelligence systems also enable any Rapid Machine Operator to perform any task that another cobot in the fleet has done before, without additional setup.
“All Rapid Machine Operators everywhere become more valuable by sharing performance gains in real time,” Kretchmer said. “The customer also benefits from economies of scale. The more Rapid Machine Operators a customer has, the greater the effectiveness of a single human operator who can oversee numerous cobots at once.”
Rapid Machine Operators are already on the job in the plastics industry.
“We looked at automating machine operator tasks before, but, as a custom injection molder, the costs were prohibitive,” said Tammy Barras, president of Westec Plastics Corp., Livermore, Calif. “Rapid’s solution was the first we’d seen that just worked, at a price that made sense for our business. We were pleased with how responsive the Rapid team is and were quickly able to start seeing value.”
Westec has three cobots — nicknamed Melvin, Kim and Nancy — performing a variety of tasks.
Melvin started work in January 2020 performing pad printing and now is helping with hot stamping in line with an injection molding machine. Kim came online in May and is dedicated to de-gating parts from a four-cavity tool. Nancy arrived at the end of December and is being trained to weigh, approve and apply a label to an assembled product before placing it into a carton.
Barras said that naming the robots makes them easier to refer to and more “personal” for their human coworkers. While she chose the names Melvin and Nancy randomly, “Kim” gets her moniker from celebrity Kim Kardashian. Westec had considered buying a Cartesian robot (Kim Cartesian) but the name stuck when it purchased “Kim cobot” instead.
“One of the best things about Rapid Robotics is that any of our cobots can easily be moved from one project to the next,” Barras said. “Kim already ‘knows’ how to perform Melvin’s tasks,” making the cobots interchangeable.
Without providing specifics, she said the ROI is very quick, considering that, unlike human workers, the cobots can work 24 hours a day.
Each cobot has taken the place of one machine operator. “However, this is needed, as we can then use this operator on a more complicated task,” Barras said. “Our cobots work with our team members, they do not replace them.”
Kathy Hayes, associate editor
Rapid Robotics, San Francisco, 628-201-4954, www.rapidrobotics.com