Rise of the Machines – A Look At Emerging Robotics in Industrial Painting 4

*Rise of the Machines is a weekly article series that discusses and details technological advances in the professional painting sector.   Check back each week for a new installment!*

At least once a week I am asked for my view on the new technology being introduced in the commercial painting sector.  Friends and colleagues ask my opinion on new products, often wondering, “Would this product save me time or money?” or “Is this new product going to help me do a better job and keep my customers happy?”   Some ask if I’ve used a certain new sprayer or reviewed a specific new compressor.   Others ask me my view on new automated processes and wonder if robots are a threat to the commercial painting professional.  

Robotics is a growing technology in industrial painting. Just as humans used to hand-manufacture all varieties of machinery (like automobiles and appliances) before giving way to robotic assembly lines,  many professional painters wonder if they are right to be afraid that robotics and automated systems will eventually replace their work altogether.   Is it simply a matter of time until the declining costs and increasing quality of robotic paint technology change the face of industrial painting and make the professional painter a thing of the past?

My answer?   Not a chance.

Look no further than the fact that paint brushes and rollers remain popular among paint professionals despite the fact that sprayers are often quicker to complete a job.  The line of demarcation between painting as a craft and painting as a repeatably controlled process is where skilled painters will not only survive but also thrive over time.  Conversely, the painters most likely to be replaced by machines are those that perform work that can be standardized and calibrated.   It’s possible that assembly-line painting of items like automobiles, furniture, or appliances will increasingly be handled by robots.  However, painting the interior of a new home or powder-coating a custom made piece of industrial machinery will continue to be done by hand.  

Think about all of the different types of painting that take place amongst professional painters and the specialized paint materials required for each job.   Painting an assembly line of tractors before they are shipped to a dealership is a substantially different process then applying stain to the trim on a set of high-end kitchen cabinets.    Applying a coating to an outdoor structure to protect it from the elements requires very different specifications then painting the awning of an office building.  The cost of calibrating a machine for a one-time, unique paint job is simply too expensive to justify.   As a result, paint professionals that excel at this kind of specific work will always be in demand while painters that focus on oft-repeated jobs may be more vulnerable to automated replacement.

A paint professional performing a custom paint job on a sports car.

Image Courtesy of Camara Zone

That’s not to say that robotic paint systems won’t continue to perform work that was previously performed by a painter.  Automated paint machines and robots are used for a reason: in some cases, they drastically reduce material costs and create repeatable, high-quality results.  Furthermore, the scope of work that can be done by machines with excellent results will likely increase as well.  But as in any craft or mechanical pursuit, there will always be skills that are impossible to replicate with a machine.   Additionally, there will always be environments, situations, and specifications that will never be cost-efficient enough to justify the introduction of mechanical or automated paint technology.   As counter-intuitive as it seems, basic economics suggest that a painter adept at producing great results on irregular, uncommon job types will continue to increase in demand.

In the coming weeks, Rise of the Machines will examine emerging technology in the industrial paint sector.  We will look at different automated processes and the equipment used around the world from factories to studios and all points in between.   We will be breaking down trends in the machinery and technology affecting paint professionals, from handheld sprayers to industrial robots .   Our hope is that the Rise of The Machines weekly series will outline the benefits of new technology in painting to help you, the professional painter, possess the tools and knowledge necessary to thrive in a competitive and changing profession.   Please check back each week for another installment of Rise of The Machines, as well as other interesting and insightful posts on commercial painting.


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