Laminex has been an iconic Australian brand for over 85 years. Growing from a small tin shed in suburban Melbourne fabricating insulating sheeting for electrical circuit boards, it has evolved to the large-scale operation it is today with multiple manufacturing plants right across Australia. The company is known for its longstanding expertise as a leading manufacturer in top quality decorative surfaces, and the company’s success can be attributed to an ongoing focus on product and manufacturing innovation.
Throughout its history, Laminex has continually adapted, reinvesting in the skills, safety, performance, and capacity of its plants through new equipment, training and development. The company’s evolution began following World War 2 when founder Robert Sykes began to look to adapt his techniques to make new products. He traveled to the USA to research the fabrication of decorative laminates and began producing Australia’s first interior décor product range in the late 1940’s.
With Australia’s cities booming, new house builds burgeoning and the need to produce affordable furniture escalating, Sykes’ foresight to innovate was astute. He established the Cheltenham factory in 1952 and installed a cutting-edge hydraulic press to enable quicker production and expansion of the product range to meet market demand and improve returns.
The quest to improve and streamline production continues today. Product quality and consistency is paramount and is carefully monitored throughout the manufacturing process from raw materials to finished product. These days, production is aided by robotics, and Automated Solutions Australia partnered with Biesse Australia to provide Laminex Australia significant benefits through an automated system designed to improve throughput.
For this specific opportunity, Laminex was looking for a highly versatile solution to handle varying load sizes including a full panel or a steel sheet, smaller panel configurations and all the cut panel configurations.
ASA installed an automated manufacturing cell employing a Fanuc R2000iC/270F robot complete with a vacuum gripper enabling it to perform multiple operations. To extend the robots along the X axis, the cell includes a floor mounted rail incorporating a servo drive motor controlled by the robot, caterpillar track to allow the cables and hoses to move with the robot and a robot carriage plate for mounting the robot.
The cell controller incorporates an Allen Bradley PLC, a PILZ safety PLC and Ignition HMI. The PLC is programmed to interface to a highly functional operator control station and diagnostic terminal for the cell, as well as monitoring the cell safety devices and machine access door interlocks using specialty safety I/O cards connected to the overall control system.
In addition to a long reach of 2655mm, the Fanuc R2000iC/270F robot also has a large payload of up to 270kg, boosting its flexibility and enabling it to handle a full panel or a steel sheet, and also the smaller panel configurations with suction cups for all of the cut panel configurations. The robot is also able to tilt panels for operator inspection of the underside in the infeed area. Depending upon the stage of operation and the operators determination of the panel quality, the robot returns the panel back onto the infeed conveyor to head into the trimming facility, it is then either stored as accumulation stock or it can be rejected.
This facility allows Laminex to offer cut to size panels to the customer, from 600 x 600mm in 300mm increments, up to a size of 1800 x 3600mm.
A reject panel is one that for whatever reason, has been pressed with a visual blemish. By handling the panels with the robot rather than the moving them by conveyor, the boards are inspected firstly on the top surface prior to being flipped and tilted by the robot for close inspection on the underside of the panel.
The robot services the inspection area, a panel storage that can hold many hours of production, and the outfeed area.
The storage area can store and retrieve panels from a storage area allowing for storage or rejected panels and incomplete batches. The scheduling software managed by Biesse and Laminex can continue to feed the saw from the incoming production press or from the storage area when the press is stopped. In the event that the saw is stopped for cleaning and servicing, the press can continue to operate with panels being sent to the storage bays.
Panels that have been trimmed in the saw are picked from the outfeed conveyor by the robot and stacked perfectly onto outfeed pallets ready to be strapped and shipped.
The saw removes sharp and messy edges from the panels prior to handling and the robot removes the challenge of handling panels which weigh up to 180kg per piece all within the cycle time of the press that produces the panels.
The main benefits to Laminex of this automated process is the increased quality and throughput they’ve achieved. Eliminating manual handling and servicing the inspection area robotically has provided a significant reduction in the time and effort required to process the panels whilst improving quality control.
The successful results achieved by this automation has meant the cell is now just another step in the process that delivers world’s best decorative surfaces from Australia to the world.
As further testament to their success story, in 2018 Laminex was recognised in the Architecture and Design annual survey as the eighth most “Top Trusted Brand”, as well as being voted the number 1 top trusted brand in the Laminates, Solid Surfaces and Veneers category. These accolades indicate how the brand leads the way within the industry demonstrating social, safety, and environmental responsibility.
“We have been really pleased with the type and functionality of the robot that was chosen for our project. It has multiple options for picking up and stacking different size panels to meet current and future requirements of our customers. The service from Pat and his technician Ben throughout the whole process from installation, commissioning and after sales care has been tremendous. We have had a couple of minor changes or updates we wanted to implement and we have always received prompt service with a great outcome. I would not hesitate to recommend the team at ASA for any future automation requirements.”
Geoff Hanrahan, Manufacturing Manager – HPL