Why Should You Add Robotics to Your Painting Process?Follow article
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Modern technology has vast implications for the future of automation, and that’s true for all industries. Machine learning and artificial intelligence, advanced robotics, IoT, and data sensors can all be combined to create a highly responsive and artificial system. You might not think so, but collectively, they can empower sophisticated robots which can handle all manner of tasks, including painting, whether commercial or creative. Painting robots, in simpler terms.
While it’s certainly neat to think about a robot painting the walls of your home or office, it’s the commercial applications that will be so influential. Imagine machines applying multi-layer coatings and finishes for products, vehicles, heavy equipment, and more. These systems already exist, too. One six-axis robot can even paint 3D materials with complex shapes.
Because painting robots already exist, we’ve passed the “how?” and moved on to the more important question of “why?”. Why would companies be interested in deploying or installing them as part of a conventional process?
Unprecedented Accuracy and Consistency
Depending on the process, finish, and materials, it’s not always possible for manual labourers to apply paints or coatings error-free. Some of the reasons for this are obvious, like fatigue. But it’s also dependent upon the materials and processes utilized.
WB Coatings’ six-axis robot, mentioned earlier, was originally developed for this purpose. It was created to improve quality and maintain precision during a process that humans cannot sustain reliably.
It’s designed to add a super-thin finish to interior vehicle trim as a decorative element. To work, there must be a slim, yet evenly layered, coating. And the properties are much too precise for humans. Beyond that, robots are also much faster, often more effective, and they don’t wear or tire over time, even during repetitive or rote duties.
It means that painting robots can truly deliver an unprecedented level of accuracy, consistency, and quality, and that’s all achieved without increased operational costs.
Even with paints and coatings that use natural ingredients, it’s not ideal for workers to be subjected to or spend a lot of time near the fumes. It’s also not beneficial for them to come into contact with said materials and paints.
Painting robots, on the other hand, can handle this without incurring the same dangers or health risks. They can work for longer hours, continuing at the same pace and efficiency, which also significantly improves output.
And while it can seem like these robots are replacing human workers, that’s not true at all. They are, in fact, being deployed alongside human counterparts, and could essentially be called “cobots,” or collaborative robots.
One robot deployed at Professional Finishing in Richmond, California, labours away alongside its human colleagues, delicately painting and sanding various items. It means human workers are now free to handle more complex tasks, and also no longer have to bend, crouch, lift, twist, or be subjected to awkward movements to do their work. Instead, the robot does all of that, and more effectively.
For years, painting and coating teams have used simple machines to mix and blend various compounds, or they’ve merely done it by hand. But some of the more complex materials and processes call for advanced routines.
This is where solutions like Plural-Component Metering equipment come into play. They mix multi-source components — such as two-component or three-component compounds — within a usable spray system, just before application, so they can be applied almost right away.
Now, imagine if those systems were merged with advanced robotics, like a spraying robot that could instantly apply and evenly layer the resulting finish onto vehicle bodies, products, equipment, and so on. The entire process would be automated, from start to finish, with smarter and more effective paint mixing, as well. The mixing process then benefits from the same level of efficiency and speed, while ensuring human labourers can spend their time elsewhere.
Yesterday’s robots might have been severely limited in what they could do and what kind of specifications they can meet. That’s no longer the case, especially when they are supported by data-driven solutions and both cognitive and neural network platforms — otherwise known as machine learning. The robots can be customized to complete a huge selection of tasks, with varying levels of efficiency and requirements. For example, companies that wanted to reduce waste could continually improve the deployed systems to make that happen.
A Chinese automotive factory did exactly this to improve its sustainability efforts. Instead of water-based paint, they swapped to dry spray by installing customized painting robots, which circulate air and absorb the spray with limestone. The new method reuses 95% of the air, with limestone recycling, and offers an energy savings of up to 60% per year. The emission of “volatile organic compounds” has also been reduced by up to 63%.
All of the above sounds great, but generally, bringing on more equipment also means bringing on the maintenance and service responsibilities of that gear. In a conventional setup, where the robots are owned and serviced in-house, a proper maintenance crew would need to be employed, trained, and supported.
But that’s not necessarily the case in today’s landscape. Robots-as-a-service, or RaaS, is a very real thing, which essentially involves leasing or deploying pay-as-you-go solutions to handle operations.
The painting robots don’t have to be purchased, maintained, and supported by in-house teams. Instead, painting companies can rent the equipment from a provider, who subsequently cares for it or replaces it when there’s a failure. It’s also a more affordable option for smaller companies and operations that are either just starting or breaking into the market.
Automation and Painting Robots Improve Industrial Operations
Coming away from this guide, you’ll understand why painting robots, and the advanced technologies that support them, are so beneficial in the industrial painting and coating space. They offer never-before-seen levels of efficiency, accuracy, and quality. They also vastly improve safety for workers and human labourers. They’re even smarter and better at various tasks, like mixing and beyond.
While those benefits are promising, a major obstacle might be acquiring, installing, and maintaining the robotics in-house. Fortunately, there are other options, like robots-as-a-service, which allows companies to offset the responsibilities to a major provider while still reaping the benefits of the hardware.