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Donnelly Custom Manufacturing Deploys Rethink Robotics’ Baxter to Perform Repetitive and Time-Consuming Tasks

Donnelly Custom Manufacturing, a recognized leader in short-run injection molding of thermoplastics for industrial OEM’s, is leveraging Rethink Robotics’ two-armed Baxter robot for flexible automation at its facility in Alexandria, Minn. Donnelly’s focus is on short-run injection molding for customers with low to medium volumes, as well as an array of related engineering and manufacturing services. This requires a high level of flexibility and agility to deliver on vital customer needs and expectations.

Two Baxter robots have been deployed on the manufacturing floor to perform tasks that are often both time-consuming and repetitive, but must be performed without error. This frees up Donnelly’s employees to focus on more value-producing tasks and activities. Robots are integrated to perform tasks such as removing parts from a conveyor belt and stacking each part on customized stacking devices, as well as counting and packing finished products for shipment to customers.

As short-run production requires the ability to switch between tasks and handle different objects, it was crucial for Donnelly to find a cost-effective automated solution that could shift to a new task in a matter of minutes as the production line changes.

“In short-run molding, implementing automation to keep up with demand is expensive and laborious, as our production lines and product mix shifts quickly every day,” said Ron Kirscht, president at Donnelly. “Baxter is able to switch tasks easily and adapt to this variable factory environment, allowing us to remain competitive on global pricing while delivering custom products on time to our customers. This also frees our employees to think more creatively and gives them the chance to work on more complex tasks and problem solving.”

Founded in 1984, Donnelly is equipped to handle more than 13,000 mold changeovers per year; molding machines in this environment may be changed multiple times per day, and the average runtime for a mold at Donnelly is 11 hours, with a median runtime of just seven hours. This creates layers of complexities that require specific and strategic competencies in short run manufacturing to be able to effectively run a variety of different molds, materials and parts. While this made introducing automation into the process very difficult, Donnelly has continually innovated to meet this challenge.

“Integrating traditional automation into a lower-volume, high-mix operation like Donnelly’s is incredibly difficult,” said Jim Lawton, chief product and marketing officer at Rethink Robotics. “By using our smart, collaborative robots, manufacturers like Donnelly are able to keep up with demand by addressing the complexity with a low-cost solution that can deal with variability and shift between tasks quickly.”

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