Prysm Industries, a family-run contract plastic injection moulding company based in Dandenong, Victoria, deployed a Universal Robots UR5 industrial robotic arm to perform labelling tasks for its houseware production line. Since installing the UR5 in 2014, Prysm has seen increases in productivity, employee satisfaction, product quality and cost savings.

For more than 40 years, Prysm has manufactured containers such as garden pots and ice cream containers for companies across Australia. For businesses like Prysm, providing a high-quality product while keeping costs down can be a challenge. With many of the items produced at Prysm headed for some of Australia’s largest retailers, consistency and accuracy are paramount.

“Many of our products require an adhesive label,” said Matthew Murphy, Production Manager at Prysm. “Previously, skilled operators would stand in one spot for hours at a time and apply labels to products every six or seven seconds. We decided to automate this repetitive task in order to reduce costs and to free up our staff for more varied and engaging activities.”

During the search for an automation solution, Prysm was introduced to Universal’s technology by Sensorplex, a Universal distributor for Australia.

“We helped Prysm select the UR5 as the best solution for their production needs and the payload they required,” said Herbert Ho, Director of Operations and Technology at Sensorplex. “We have since provided Prysm staff with basic training and we’re available for any ongoing support they may need.”

“The UR5 offered everything we were looking for in a robot,” said Murphy. “It has the flexibility to perform the tasks we need without being overly expensive and it has given us a quick return on our investment.”

A flexible, cost-effective solution                                                                                                                                   

According to Murphy, Prysm has achieved significant cost savings as a result of deploying the UR5: “Every day the UR5 is in operation Prysm saves $550 in labelling expenses alone. And the payback period for the robot was less than 12 months.”

Murphy noted that the UR5’s ability to work in confined spaces and to be easily repositioned are two of its best features.

“Our UR5 is typically positioned in a small corner at the end of a production line. It has no problem moving around and folding over on itself in a very tight space,” he said. “We have other robots on our production line and they only stay in one spot since it’s too difficult to move them and not worth our time. Our staff easily reposition the UR5 every two-to-three weeks to accommodate various production requirements.”

Like all UR robots, the UR5 can be reprogrammed for other tasks in a matter of minutes. A graphical user interface with a teach function enables operators to simply grab the robot arm and show it how movements should be performed. The user-friendly interface then allows staff to drag and drop the routines to do their programming.

“When we do not require it for labelling, we use the UR5 to move and stack products,” Murphy noted. “It’s extremely easy to reprogram. The interface has a simple layout and uses non-technical language that everyone can understand. Plus, the robot can be reprogrammed either by moving its arm to show it how a movement should be performed, or by using arrows on the touchscreen. Even for our employees with no previous experience with robots, it has been quite easy to pick up.”

Safe for employees

In contrast to traditional industrial robots, Universal’s small and lightweight robotic arms can work safely alongside staff (subject to a risk assessment). A state-of-the-art force limit safety feature automatically stops the robot from operating when its movement is obstructed. The robot will not exert a force greater than the limit specified in the adjustable safety settings, which can be set from 100-250 newtons for a UR5.

“The safety of our staff was a major consideration when choosing an automation solution,” said Murphy. “Knowing our employees can work in close proximity to the UR5 without a safety cage or concern for their wellbeing gives us great peace of mind.”

Prysm now uses the UR5 for all labelling projects. Positioned at the end of the production line, the UR5 picks up a container and orientates it in front of a labeller. Then, depending on the shape, the UR5 either runs the container across or around the labeller. With the UR5 handling all labelling needs, Prysm’s employees can focus on running other machines and engage in more interesting tasks across the factory floor.

“Using the UR5 ensures that labels are consistently applied crease-free and far more accurately than in the past,” Murphy said. “Plus, it can operate for days on end without stopping and our employees feel a sense of pride from having learned how to operate the robot.”

Murphy added that the UR5 has proven to be a huge selling point for Prysm: “It has helped us get quite a bit of work. People are really impressed by what the UR5 is able to do and it’s proven to be a point of difference to other moulders out there. It shows that we’re a little bit ahead of everyone else.”

Prysm is planning to deploy a second UR5 soon, this one dedicated to minor assembly projects.