Many professionals don’t think much of airbrushing when it comes to industrial painting. Sure, some professional painters use sprayers to apply paint quickly to large areas, but most impressions of air brushing revolve around delicate and detailed artwork. Airbrushing is utilized to paint art pieces on motorcycle gas tanks and at tanning salons, and is typically perceived to be as much art as science. In fact, the word “airbrushing” has become synonymous in many cases with digitally retouched photographs, where software and not an actual airbrush is responsible for making a person’s skin appear smoother or teeth appear whiter. But the robotics integrated with some new airbrushing machines are beginning to blur the line between what is reliant on human skill and what can be replicated by a machine.
Using an airbrush to paint means that air flow and air pressure have replaced pile and thickness when it comes to the tools used to apply the paint. Whereas a brush or roller is dipped in paint and the paint is transferred from the roller or brush to the substrate, an air brush actually passes the paint directly to the surface using air flow. As a result, there is very limited loss of paint or wasted material as there may be with a traditional brush. Airbrushing also allows the painter to more easily manipulate the thickness of paint application by adjusting the flow of air and paint. Consequently, the same paint can be used to apply a thick coat of crimson and a light, soft pink all by controlling airflow. The same tool can be used to paint a thick, dark line and a wide, amorphous landscape.
Interestingly, new advances in airbrushing robotics take this technology further by automating color-blending. As a result, a single air-brush machine can quickly and accurately produce a wide range of colors for most any job. The idea of mixing colors in a sprayer is almost as old as airbrushing itself; however, machines that run programs that perform this process are significantly faster and more exact than their human counterparts. Rather than pausing between brush strokes to change out colors, an automated mixer attached to an airbrush can seamlessly calculate not only the required mixture for a new color, but also factor in the paint that might still be in the reservoir, making a perfect transition seem easy.
The practical application of these robots is widespread, but not as you might imagine. At the moment, precision airbrushing robots require a large footprint to work in and are difficult to move, setup, and calibrate. As a result, most technology of this type is limited to factories and process facilities on a large scale. Handheld airbrushes still remain useful in scenarios like those listed above.
For example, in the video below, a robot equipped with an airbrush is able to paint precision lines of varying thickness and density with both speed an efficiency. While the robot’s work is impressive, the machinery necessary for it to work is far too substantial to be considered a mobile paint tool.
So what does it mean for the professional painter? Airbrushing is clearly being replicated with better and better results by robotics and machines. High level color mixing software and algorithms created to let machines replicate human paint work mean the gap is shrinking between professionals and robots. The greatest challenge for those that try to develop robotic alternatives is in the size and scope of the machine. As illustrated, robotic airbrushes are large, heavy, expensive, and require expertise to operate. As we’ve seen in many other cases, the machines may be on their way, but there are still significant challenges to address before they replace paint professionals entirely. Click here to learn more about robotics in the industrial paint sector!