Today in our editorial series, Leadership in factory automation, we turn to a dynamic Queensland contract manufacturer that is automating the production of lead acid battery components. Here Peter Roberts profiles the Evolve Group.
Like most busy contract plastics manufacturing firms, Brisbane’s Evolve Group has had to get very good at flexibility.
Switching from one product to another, made for different companies with completely different demands, in runs as small as a few prototypes to hundreds of thousands of parts requires ultra quick die changes.
As the managing director of the Evolve Group – and any one of a number of his own manufacturing and recycling businesses – Ty Hermans explains: “We have more than 1,500 active injection moulds at any one time which could be used across 30 automated injection moulding cells.
“As you can imaging we have a lot of die changes going on. – very efficient, very fast die changes is one of the things you just have got to do.”
And working for others Evolve is always being challenged by its customers to do better, including by Century Yuasa Batteries – Australia’s oldest which turns out more than 1.5 million lead acid batteries a year – yes, despite the hype of lithium they still make those!
The batteries are made up of numerous small and large components, from a few hundred grams in weight to as much as eight kilograms.
Evolve instituted some ‘very basic automation’ as far back as 2014 for Century Yuasa, said Hermans, but in the intervening period the plant has made big strides, with three and six axis robots and automated machine loading and unloading.
Advanced manufacturing accelerator the ARM Hub is Evolve’s digital innovation partner, providing insights and solutions around the adoption of digital solutions in product and process.
Said Hermans: “So our engineering and design teams had a challenge – we wanted to design the ultimate production cell.”
A key part of the new automated cell is the layout of the equipment to ensure smooth product flow for loading and unloading, as is redesigning the parts for automated manufacture.
In the latest iteration for Century Yuasa, the machines are equipped with machine learning capabilities, vision systems and run 24/7 without human supervision.
“Any time a part is produced a robot picks it up and places it in front of a series of cameras that check for size, colour and imperfections.
“This is one job the robot does better than the human eye.”
Evolve developed a similar system for the explosives initiators it manufactures for chemicals and explosives group Orica.
The quality of these seemingly insignificant plastic parts is critical for efficient, and safe mine blasting…and checking every one is something that humans simply cannot do.
Hermans is buoyed by the recent resurgence in interest in Australian manufacturing, and views automation, onshoring and producing unique products of the highest quality as keys to our future.
“Back in 2014 we learnt how much of a struggle it was to find people with deep automation knowledge.
“Now there are a lot of companies doing it and the experience level here is going ahead in leaps and bounds.”
Pictures: Evolve Group
@AuManufacturing’s editorial series – Leadership in factory automation – is brought to you with the support of Bosch Australia Manufacturing Solutions, and the Innovative Manufacturing Cooperative Research Centre.
Subscribe to our free @AuManufacturing newsletter here.