VANDALIA, OH — When Delphi Automotive Systems decided to move eight 1,500-ton injection molding machines to its Interior Systems plant here, the engineers had a few concerns.

They knew the track record for the presses was less than stellar because the gantry-style robots that fed and extracted parts from them were unreliable. “We looked at their downtime with the old robots, and we wanted to make improvements,” says Ben Turzynski, senior manufacturing engineer in charge of injection molding and paint operations at Vandalia.

The decision was to spend a bit more for articulated arm robots, which provide greater flexibility, have more human-like motion control and are three times faster than gantry robots. And, most important, they required less space overhead in a section of the plant with a low ceiling.

There wasn't much room for error, as the presses at Vandalia would churn out door panels, map pockets and inserts for General Motors Corp. pickup trucks.

Two and a half years later, Mr. Turzynski says it was the right decision. “Our downtime is very minimal,” he says. “We're very happy with the robots, and they do not have a lot of maintenance. The robot is the highlight of the transfer of these tools.”

Delphi's supplier for the 11 new M-16iT robots is Fanuc Robotics North America of Rochester Hills, MI.

Carl Miller, account manager for Fanuc, says articulated arm robots are becoming popular in Europe and Japan. At Vandalia, the statistics support Delphi's switch to the new robots. Cycle time has improved 12%, and the new robots need only 5.5 seconds to remove a part from the press; the gantry robots needed 13 seconds.

And quality has improved. The articulated arm robots extract parts from the molds and successfully handle them 99% of the time, compared to about 90% for a gantry robot. “Sometimes it would miss the part,” Mr. Turzynski says of the old gantry. “A lot of times it was a setup issue. If it was not set up properly, it would close on a part and cause tool damage.” And more downtime.

The result? “We are getting higher quality parts,” he says.

With the success in door panel production, Delphi Vandalia hired Fanuc about a year ago for a similar solution in production of steering wheels. Because of ergonomic issues, Mr. Turzynski says it was better to automate the process of loading and unloading steering wheels from the press. “It needs to be on a cycle that is very consistent, and the robot provides the consistency we need,” he says.