Suffolk-based baby health product producers, Philips AVENT, needed to upgrade and go all-electric, so when it came to sourcing IM kit, they turned to Sumitomo. We looked at why…
Philips AVENT has taken a confident leap into all-electric injection moulding, installing three 100 tonne IntElect machines from Sumitomo
(SHI) Demag at its Health & Wellness Suffolk production plant. These three systems were acquired solely for the production of the protective caps and mouth shields for AVENT baby soothers, manufactured in 20 colour variants using a food grade polymer.
As the facility’s first all-electric installation, Matt Panton, Senior Process Technician admitted to being a little tentative about switching from hydraulic machines and how the figures would stack up. “Naturally, with any manufacturing of baby products, precision and quality is paramount and every component we produce here is thoroughly trialled and tested,” emphasises Matt. An early stage trial using an 8-impression shield mould tool on an IntElect machine quickly appeased any apprehension.
Running a like-for-like production scenario the team was staggered by the energy savings, recalls Matt: “As well as reducing the cycle time by 3.45 seconds, the energy saving climbed to 65% when we ramped the IntElect up to its full speed! Even though we are using the same tooling technology, we have increased our moulding capacity across the component variants with an average cycle time reduction of 30%.”
The three new IntElect’s slotted effortlessly into the Suffolk plant which houses over 100 injection moulding machines, including a large number of hydraulics from Sumitomo (SHI) Demag. Working around the clock, often seven-days a week, two of the latest additions produce dummy caps, and the other protective mouth shields. This limits the number of tool changes, commented Matt. “Here in Suffolk we produce over 50 million soothers a year. It’s big volumes and therefore we need our machines to run quickly and consistently.” These AVENT soother caps are produced on 16-impression moulds at an average cycle time of 10 seconds, and 8-cavity moulds are used for the soother shield with a cycle time averaging 15 seconds in the new machines.
As well as being noticeably more hygienic due to the lack of hydraulic oil, all three IntElect machines are equipped with activeFlowBalance to ensure a more even filling of the mould. Matt explains: “For the soother shield especially, activeFlowBalance delivers a much more balanced shot across the tool. Before this we would have achieved a similar balance by adjusting the temperature. Now there are less manual adjustments and tweaks for our technicians to perform.”
When it comes to scrap, Matt also believes that an all-electric system lowers waste because, unlike some of the older hydraulic machines, they run continuously without the interruption of resets.
Matt also valued the unique software developed several years ago by the UK engineering team at Sumitomo (SHI) Demag. The special food-
grade polymer used for AVENT’s dummy components is highly heat-sensitive – if the press stands still for any length of time the polymer goes brittle, resulting operatives having to purge the degraded material from the mould. “The team customised a managed shutdown solution for our retired hydraulic Demag machine to overcome this issue, and when we came to the all-electric installation the engineer of this timeout solution visited us on site and fitted it to the new machines,” explains Matt. “It’s especially reassuring to know I can contact someone who is based in the UK, so highly knowledgeable and will come up with a solution whatever the issue.”
Being familiar with the technology interface and equipment also helped in the transition to all-electric, claims Matt. “The NC5+ control panel is not that much different to the Demag NC4, which the technicians are familiar with. From their perspective, the machines are easy to use.”
Furthermore, James Hines from Sumitomo (SHI) Demag delivered a second training day in mid-May, spending time talking to the technicians on how to optimise the processes. “Until this point, we weren’t properly utilising all the functionality and speed,” says Matt.
Shortly, the team will take delivery of three nimble robotic sprue pickers to efficiently remove any waste material and parts from the mould. And if the interest from colleagues is anything to go by, Matt doesn’t think the switch to all-electric will stop here. “As a company, Philips AVENT has a strong sustainability policy. As well as increased production efficiencies, a 65% energy saving has a significant environmental impact.”
For any organisation still hesitant about switching to all-electric injection moulding, Matt’s advice is: “Go and have a look at one running. Take your moulds and try them out. When you see the savings, it’s a bit of a no brainer!”